Tessa Metcalfe is a London based artist working in jewellery with an obsession for pigeons. Triggered by the recollection of a childhood memory, the humble bird became the perfect symbol for the neglected and the overlooked. Celebrating the common beauty of the everyday, a metaphor for an unjust class system that glorifies only the rich, all wrapped up in an escapist childhood fantasy of mythical birds and their feral lust for jewels. Tessa accidentally stumbled into jewellery making after teaching herself taxidermy on YouTube in her bedroom to make herself a pigeon hat. Since falling in love with the practise she has been developing her self taught approach ever since.
"For me being self taught preserves the initial love and passion for a subject that I find the over analysis of a creative education can sometimes destroy. I've never been told the right way to make something, so I make it up. When I have an idea I work out how to create it myself. Sometimes I make things backwards, and I often make mistakes, but you learn from them, I love the process. And I've never liked being told what to do."
Tessa's work is heavy in dark humour. She embraces the irony of the luxury objects she creates. Working from something considered to be so disgusting: the foot of a dead pigeon. She takes the fantasy further by hand-making miniature rings to adorn the pigeons own claws and painstakingly giving her vermin birds their own gold manicures. She draws parallels between the birds instinctive desires and our own feral lust for jewels.
"When I first took my pieces to shows, people would pick up my rings and say oh how beautiful, and then I'd tell them that they were cast from a pigeons foot, and they would drop them in disgust and look at me with horror. And I thought, yes, it's working. The object hasn't changed, but the narrative has, and now its no longer beautiful but abhorrent? That is what I want to question, the narrative people are given to believe. Its boring to make something beautiful, beautiful. But to change how people look at something, that's interesting to me."
After reading books on making jewellery, many late nights working away at her bench, mistakes, burning her own claws, and building her dream into a reality, Tessa finally made the move to join a professional jewellery workshop in the heart of London's jewellery quarter, Hatton Garden. For the first time she saw how real jewellers worked. Although thoroughly petrified at first it was here that she watched the finely trained goldsmiths around her and over time absorbed the knowledge of the trade and fine-tuned her own skills. In turn a couple of these guys also learnt to appreciate Tessa's instinctive and unconventional process. Tessa still works closely with Ryan Nelson both learning from one another's very different styles.
"The thing about Ms. Metcalfe, is that she doesn't look like she knows what she's doing. But she does."
- Marcus McCullen, fine gemstone dealer, Hatton Garden.
Her true passion for antique jewellery and respect for the craftsmanship and techniques of her trade gives Tessa's pieces a timeless feel and the respect of a modern day heirloom. Her provoking narrative is told by her playful choices of oversized precious stones, witty use of symbolic cuts and her attention to the detail of her beloved birds story. The pieces demand a closer inspection, they are both serious and humorous, fantasy and reality. She pokes fun at the traditions of her trade and with every piece makes you question why it is that something is considered beautiful at all?
"I think it's important to retain a level of irony and humour when working with ridiculously expensive, emotionally charged and essentially useless objects. They can bring such pleasure, carry messages of love, pain, loss. They hold our deepest stories and fantasies, and yet always are just a small and expensive piece of metal and stone."