Artist Files: Todd Turner
Much about contemporary fine jeweller Todd Turner upends expectations. His studio is in a modest arcade in Western Sydney, a serene, light-flooded sanctuary with ceiling-high windows that frame views of Parramatta’s central business district.When we visit during a late winter’s morning, he is mulling over the precise placement of tiny diamonds around a rose quartz, hand-carved by lapidary artist Doug Menadue. But instead of jewellery, he’s discussing the benefits of boxing. “I used to do it competitively when I was younger, but now I’m interested in the discipline of it all,” says Todd, who still wakes early to train and mentors youth at the local PCYC. Discipline and dedication are clearly paramount to Todd, and his approach to jewellery – handmaking each piece from scratch – is deeply rooted in the responsibility he feels as a practitioner of this centuries-old tradition. To do so requires an incredible amount of physical strength and endurance, one he derives from activities such as boxing.Todd had an early start in the world of fine jewellery, leaving school at 16 to undertake a gold & silversmithing apprenticeship. This head start gave him the time and space to pursue other interests, and by the time he’d finished his apprenticeship and moved to London, he was writing articles, publishing short stories and poems, studying music, and reading “enormous amounts of literature”. At one point he picked up the mandolin, which he attributes to his love of folk & country music, also his inspiration for words and poetry.
“I look at that time as a mini renaissance. It was the beginnings of who I am today.” Alongside his jewellery practice, Todd found success as a celebrated poet, having won the Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize, the Blake Poetry Prize and the Henry Kendall Poetry Prize. Both his poems and his jewellery speak of a connection to nature, absorbed via his family’s farming origins at Koorawatha on NSW’s Western Plains.Todd continues to be deeply immersed in the world of poetry – particularly the life and works of John Keats, the English Romantic poet, who Todd has recently rediscovered. When asked if jewellery can match the artistic depth of poetry, he responds,
“Poems are made by breath and jewellery is made by hand. When you design a piece of jewellery you know exactly what it’s going to look like. But you never know what a work of art or a poem is going to be until you apply the last full stop.”
And yet, the immersive devotion required for jewellery-making is a continuous point of interest for Todd. And it’s when a piece of jewellery is worn on the body that it comes alive.
“The human body is both in form and movement possibly the most intimate and subversive arena for art,” he says. “The body transforms into the stage for art and design.”
Todd’s process often begins with the stone, and he sees his role as working the stone into a better version of itself. In the case of the aforementioned rose quartz, the diamonds are placed to enhance the delicate essence of the stone, rather than adding opulence or material value.
“Most of the jewels I work with are abundantly opulent already, even in their natural state,” he says. “I’m often simply seeking to ground them, guide them into subtle forms. You can do a lot with very little.”Archive, his upcoming exhibition for Courtesy of the Artist captures the full spectrum of his abilities, spanning pieces he’s created over the last 20-plus years - including new works from his Tor collection. It’s a fitting name for a collection Todd says is more “geology than gemology” – a tor is a rocky outcrop rising spectacularly from the ground. His pieces will showcase a combination of diamonds, emeralds and opals. Once again, he links poetry and his jewellery practice with his connection to nature.
“I’m taken by the natural state of uncut gems, I’m always astonished by their natural beauty,” he says. “There’s something very poetic in that.”
Todd's 'Archive' collection will launch at the Strand on 14 October 2023 at 1-4pm.
Courtesy of the Artist
Shop 122, Level 2
The Strand Arcade
412-414 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000