Stories told in silver
A conversation with Melbourne-based artisan Adah Kelleher-Roulston
Growing up under the impression that she was a witch, and dressing in accordance, Adah Kelleher-Roulston is no stranger to the art of titivation. After spending her early years dressed in long, black satin slip dresses and buckled, pointy-toe shoes, it makes sense that the artist found her calling in the making of beautiful things.
Kelleher-Roulston is a jewellery virtuoso—a someone who refuses to be welded into a fixed, predetermined shape. Based in Melbourne, Australia, the self-taught artist creates bespoke, handcrafted pieces, using traditional, ancient, and contemporary techniques.
In an abandonment of the standard definition of beauty, Kelleher-Roulston’s collections are characterised by an amour between brutality and romanticism; pieces that are defined be a hard-edged, eclectic elegance. Taking intangible memory and emotion, and transforming it into the physical, the artist strives to translate her life experiences into her body of work; passing on her stories to the wearer.
KATHRYN CARTER: How did you dress when you were a kid?
ADAH KELLEHER-ROULSTON: When I was young, I believed I was a witch and dressed accordingly. I wore a long black satin slip dress, had long tangled hair, and wore buckled pointy-toe shoes. As I grew up and went to school this style slowly died out. I then developed an interest in various subcultures over the years. I wanted to be a punk when I was 10, mainly for the shredded clothing. Then a Goth when I was 11 or 12, mostly because I just wanted the pale skin. And by 16 I’d become a total hippie, draping myself in large quarts crystals, that’s when I began wearing a lot of jewellery. However, I could never fully commit to any particular subculture, [so] I tended to just pick the elements that intrigued me [from each] and built them into my life. This eclectic approach is how my style evolved to where it is now.
KC: What drew you to jewellery design?
AKR: I grew up travelling with my parents, all over Europe and through parts of the Middle East. My mother has a fascination with Ancient Egypt, and thus I grew up surrounded by Egyptian art and was taken to Egypt when I was 10. My father loves art, in particular paintings from the Baroque and Renaissance eras. I say all this to say that from a very young age I was exposed to visuals of such immense grandeur and detail that I became obsessed with the idea of adornment. From the ruff collars in 16th-century portraits to the golden ornaments of ancient Egypt, I was obsessed with the idea of adorning and decorating the body.
KC: How did you go about teaching yourself your craft?
AKR: I started out studying Jewellery but hated the way that they teach the craft; I used to ignore my teacher and sit in class melting things that I was meant to be keeping pristine. After giving up on classes, I turned to friends of mine who were jewellers as well as researching traditional methods. A lot of the times if I can’t find the ‘correct’ way of
doing something I just create my own techniques.
KC: What is your earliest memory of noticing somebody’s jewellery?
AKR: No one in my family ever really wore much jewellery. [So] I think my first memories of jewellery would be in museums and art galleries, looking at antiques from various parts of the world. The first rings I started wearing however, were inherited from my grandmother, who apparently had a vast collection of jewellery despite never wearing any.
KC: Would you call yourself a designer, an artist, a craftsman? All of the above?
AKR: I think ‘artist’ would best describe the way I work. I don’t approach a piece with the notion of it being a wearable or commercial product; I am trying to translate a non-physical idea or concept into something physical.
KC: There is crudeness to your designs, but there is also rich romanticism. How would you describe your aesthetic?
AKR: There are so many ascetic influences behind my work it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what goes into it, most of my work is often quite unconscious and not created with a particular aesthetic in mind. Brutalism has a huge impact, as does tribal art, and even minimalism. My work is a clusterfuck of various ideas and aesthetics.
KC: It’s beautiful (and rare) to see that you design pieces left in a state of unprocessed, organic beauty. Why is this artistic imperfection—this accent of flaw—such an integral part of your work?
AKR: I think it comes from the way I work. Because I’m self-taught, in the beginning I made a lot of mistakes, but found that sometimes these errors were blessings in disguise. I also like to work with the Japanese aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi, which put simply, says that objects become more beautiful when nature has impacted them. An example of this is kintsugi—the art of repairing broken pottery with gold to highlight its flaws. The cracks, the breaks and the traumas that something, or even someone, lives through are what create beauty and character.
KC: Are your pieces designed with a particular kind of wearer in mind? Or do they exist as their own beings, so to speak?
AKR: I like to design without anyone in mind; I often like to create pieces that look as good off the body as they do on.
KC: Your pieces appear quite structurally complex—like wearable pieces of sculpture. Are comfort and wearability factors you consider when designing? Or is this less important?
AKR: Some of my pieces can be quite heavy or bulky, but nothing is uncomfortable to wear. I have, in the past, created pieces that you would have to commit to wearing, as they are very uncomfortable. [But a lot of these end up in my personal collection, as I have no issue with enduring extremes of discomfort if an outfit calls for it.
KC: How do you start a piece? Do you start with a theme, a snippet of a daydream, maybe a material?
AKR: Each time is different; sometimes I have a vague idea or an image in my head of what I wish to create. I never sketch or start a design with a fully formed idea in mind. I like to work with the materials towards something and see where the materials go on their own. Sometimes the result is close to the intention, often I will end with a piece that is nothing like what I had in mind but is far superior.
KC: Do you design pieces as one-offs, or as quasi-collections?
AKR: Some work is designed as one-off pieces; I will often make unique pieces for the important people in my life. I mainly work by building a body of work; I don’t like to work seasonally and rather I add new pieces in with existing ones as a progression. However I only do limited castings of each piece, and as everything is made by hand, each has characteristics that are entirely unique.
KC: The ways that men and women have adorned themselves with jewellery over time have changed dramatically. Do you ever look to the past when researching your collections?
AKR: I have spent years researching traditions surrounding jewellery and collecting various forms of antique and ancient adornment from around the world.
KC: What do you love most about jewellery (as a form of self-expression, adornment)?
AKR: My love of jewellery comes from its history. Throughout human history, we have always adorned ourselves for various reasons. Whether it’s [been] for protection, for religious purposes, to show status, or to be used as currency, jewellery has played a significant role in the socio-cultural evolution of human kind.
KC: What inspires you?
AKR: My experiences, I’ve travelled all over the world, often in pursuit of antique jewellery to add to my collection. Every piece that I have collected along the way only serves as a reminder of the experiences I had acquiring them. The first rings I started wearing, that I inherited from my grandmother, none of which fit me so I would wear them on every knuckle. The old enamel bracelet I found in Morocco after spending hours sitting on the floor of a jewellery store in the middle of the Sahara, only to realise the sun was setting, and I was stranded there. The Tibetan Gao boxes that I got from a woman on a roadside in the middle of the Himalayas, not long before I almost died of altitude sickness. I have so many memories surrounding jewellery. For me, jewellery isn’t something superficial; it encapsulates the life I have lead and the people I have met—that’s what inspires me. I always strive to translate these experiences into my work so that I can pass these stories on to the next owner.
KC: Do you have any muses?
AKR: I am not joking when I say that there are so many I can’t list them. But in short, I have always been inspired by anyone who has a true sense of self. I think it is exceedingly rare throughout history to find characters that truly lived life on their own terms, and understood who they were. I believe this is what creates the best sense of style, regardless of the particular aesthetic. People who truly know themselves have always inspired me.
This story was first published on Fashion Glossary UK.