ABOUT LEGENDS AND NECKLACES
Once upon a time, there was a young and vain woman who only cared about her physical appearance. One night, a ragged old lady dropped by her house and gave her a sumptuous gown with the sole condition that after three nights she would take it back with whatever the dress was covering at the time. The vain woman agreed without giving it a second thought. She put on the gown by herself and noticed only later that it was not as easy to take off, so on the third night, when the old woman came back, she was still wearing it. The old woman suddenly turned into the devil and claimed the young woman’s soul. At the very same moment, Saint Barbara appeared out of nowhere and fended off the Evil. The Saint kicked the young woman up to Heavens (German: “Stoß im Himmel”) to make her repent and live a modest life.
This week, I went to the house of the vain lady myself (yes it is located in Vienna) but luckily nothing bad happened. The place now hosts a beautiful studio for art jewelry whose name stayed true to its legend: STOSSIMHIMMEL. There I met Izabella Petrut, a Transylvania-born artist who has been part of Atelier STOSSIMHIMMEL since 2013. Izabella guided me through the studio while showing her passion for all things jewelry in every single sentence.
Alexandra Vaduva: What spurred your interest for arts and crafts?
Izabella Petrut: I really don’t have an exact answer (laughs). In high school I specialized in Mathematics and Physics but somehow at one point I wanted to become an artist. I studied at the University of Art and Design in Cluj Napoca, Romania. I got interested in jewelry while doing an Erasmus exchange programme in Macerata, Italy. When I came back to Romania I decided to focus my Master’s degree studies on jewelry. Somehow, one step led to another. After graduating from my Master's degree, I studied at Alchimia, school for contemporary jewelry in Florence, Italy, where I could better focus my studies on what contemporary jewelry really is.
AV: How can you describe the transition from Mathematics and Physics to arts? Do you think it would’ve been better to study art from the beginning?
IP: In certain aspects it wasn’t difficult at all. I wanted it badly and I worked a lot for it. I think talent is nothing without hard work. If you study arts from a very early age it can sometimes be a disadvantage, because some schools and teachers are mannerists or impose a certain style that is maybe not always the most suitable for some students' interests. If you get involved in arts later, as an adult, you will already have developed a certain craziness and you will already have accumulated enough experiences in life, or even a certain style. When you don’t know how to do something, you do it “badly” in such a “good” way, that it becomes unique and hard to reproduce. I think that one can start studying art at any age, without the fear that by just not having the same artistic experience as most artists, one would make lower quality work. There are lots of examples in art history of people changing their careers for arts as adults and who proved to be extremely valuable to art history and culture, regardless of whether they started making art as children or not.
Necklace: “Carousel”. Collection: “Innocent”. © Izabella Petrut
AV: How did you decide to move to Vienna?
IP: My boyfriend did an internship here 8 years ago and he enjoyed the city a lot. After living together in Florence for one year, we wanted to move somewhere else, so we thought about Vienna. This city offers an abundance of great events on everything we both love: contemporary art, design, architecture, technology and more, so we were easily convinced to move here.
AV: What was it like to start a new life in Vienna? Was it difficult to find a job in the artistic world here?
IP: I felt at home from my very first week here. I knew Michelle Kraemer from, one of the members of STOSSIMHIMMEL), from my studies at Alchimia, School of Contemporary Jewelry in Florence. I told her I was looking for a studio place and soon she called me to tell me a place has opened up at Atelier STOSSIMHIMMEL. I was lucky to find a studio place so quickly.
AV: Can you tell us a bit more about Atelier STOSSIMHIMMEL?
IP: STOSSIMHIMMEL was founded in 1996 and during the 19 years of its activity, there were various jewelry artists working here. Apart from the legend of the vain lady who supposedly lived here, this building hosted a girls’ boarding school and later on, a women’s club. It seems like a continuation to the story that nowadays the place is again dominated by women: there are 8 female resident artists working here at the moment. We each have a different approach to art jewelry, we work with very different materials and we each have an authentic way of expressing ourselves through jewelry.
AV: Where do you draw inspiration from for your collections?
IP: There are artists who work on the same subject for a longer period of time but I don't like to stay with one theme for a long time. I like to experiment. My graduation project in 2012 at Alchimia was inspired by my personal love story. At the moment of my graduation, we had been together for 10 years and during this time he had a few pairs of inline-skates that I took apart, some of them slowly, others more brutally. I transformed them into brooches and necklaces. I chose the colors to represent our memories: denim blue, grey, and dirty white. Another collection was called “Innocent” and it was about my disapproval against violence against animals. In this collection I used plastic animal toys, because toys are innocent. I also used different techniques and treatments, such as painting or gold leaf. My latest project is very feminine and it’s about how difficult it is to live in the present and understand the meaning of “now”. Most of the times, we either obsess about the past or future, so we’re not really here and now (at this point, the interviewer feels a bit guilty).
Necklace: “Helping time pass”. Ring: “Repetitive, indefinite, infinite present”. Collection: “Here and now”. © Izabella Petrut
AV: How can you define the role of jewelry in a woman’s or a man’s life?
IP: There are different reasons why people wear jewelry. One friend was saying it’s a conversation starter at parties. Art jewelry usually doesn’t go unnoticed. But it also doesn’t necessarily have to have a purpose. It’s like when you buy flowers for yourself, you don’t buy them because they will produce oxygen in your apartment. You just like them and you want to have them. It’s the same with art jewelry. You go to a gallery, you see something and you want it. It’s easy! Then if it becomes uncomfortable or ephemeral, you put it in a drawer or a showcase. It can be a spontaneous process or you can think about it for weeks and it haunts you. But either way, you have to have it.
AV: All your pieces are hand-made. How long do you usually need to finish a piece?
IP: I usually work on more pieces at the same time so I don’t know how much it takes me to make a piece. Some items require more time because they need to dry over night or because they need lots of layers. There are times when I feel that a piece needs to be something else, so I transform it. It’s work in progress.
“Awkward cruel Barbeque” detail. Collection: “Innocent”. © Izabella Petrut.
AV: Who are your customers? Do you sell more in Vienna or abroad?
IP: It seems that we have more and more customers. Most of them are tourists who buy pieces they can easily wear, but we also have regular clients who simply love our aesthetic, or collectors of contemporary jewelry. People over 40 are my best customers because they don’t care about what their friends might say. I don’t create for a certain client or just with the purpose of selling. I exhibit and sell my work in Vienna during exhibitions and fairs for contemporary jewelry, or in galleries and concept stores. I also exhibited in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Romania, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.
AV: What is the difference between art jewelry and fashion jewelry?
IP: There are many different directions when it comes to jewelry. Some easily identifiable paths in jewelry are fine jewelry or goldsmithing, fashion jewelry and art jewelry, amongst other styles. Here at Atelier STOSSIMHIMMEL we don’t care about trends. We cherish authenticity and express ourselves through jewelry. Art jewelry is usually one of a kind or small series of pieces, many times, but not always in experimental materials and technics, and sometimes very conceptual, to the point of questioning whether it still is jewelry or maybe it should be called performance, installation, or sculpture.
AV: How would you describe your job? Do you keep regular hours or does it also happen that you come to the studio spontaneously at the weekend just because you feel inspired?
IP: I usually work at home in the morning and go through my e-mails, update my website or edit pictures. During the afternoon I’ll be at the studio to work on my pieces. There are days where I don’t feel like working and come here to clean the utensils. But as soon as I’m here I start working because when I’m here the inspiration comes. (laughs).
Brooch: “Sun rise on the beach”. Brooch: “That night with the shooting stars”. Collection: “A love story”. © Izabella Petrut
AV: How do you see the future of jewelry? Do you believe technology will play a bigger role?
IP: It already does, for example there are necklaces that send signals to the police in case girls get attacked. I think it’s great if designers can make jewelry fulfill certain functions, but it’s just a different branch of jewelry making than what I’m doing. I’m excited about the next technological developments but on the other hand, I don’t want to force a subject into my work just because it’s popular at the moment.
AV: Do you have any advice for artists coming from abroad who plan to settle and work in Vienna?
IP: I think whether you’re born in Vienna or you come from abroad, my advice is to work work work and not to lose your faith and courage. It doesn’t matter where you live, artists face the same challenges everywhere.
Visit the gorgeous jewelry atelier STOSSIMHIMMEL at Stoss im Himmel 3/3a, 1010 Vienna. Read the legend of “Stoß im Himmel” in German here.