From the steps of her studio in Peckham, we sit down with Matilda Little, to discuss her journey into jewellery.

Words by Harry Langham
Photography by Ksenia Burnasheva

Looking at the work of the South London jewellery maker Matilda Little, one is immediately struck by the surety of her style. An alluring cocktail of recognition and disorientation, consistency and dynamism, order and chaos, it is a style that speaks directly to the clarity of its maker’s vision. It is, in short, impressive, and would be in any case. But all the more so for the fact that it is the product of an artist still grappling with their craft. A painter by trade, it was little over a year ago that Matilda swapped brush and canvas for scalpel and wax, and though you would not know by looking at them, her pieces are the product of an artist still grappling with the possibilities and challenges of their craft. From the steps of her studio in Peckham, AIME sat down with Matilda, to discuss her journey in jewellery.

Matilda’s route into jewellery-making, it transpires, was something of a circuitous one, and can be traced back to the idiosyncrasies of her painting practice. “As part of my process,” Matilda explains, “I would begin by sculpting an object and then painting it. No one would ever see the sculpture, but after a while I started experimenting with lost-wax casting, which is a technique that involves carving something out of wax, and then getting the wax form cast. It can be done in your bedroom, so I started doing that and made a couple of rings. I was just playing about really, but suddenly my friends were all asking to buy them off me. It was a very natural progression.”

But however accidental this journey might have been, Matilda was immediately inspired by the challenges of this new discipline. “Working with metal requires a completely different way of thinking about things. For example, I think the fact that I was suddenly working with a more limited palette really helped me to concentrate more on form, without having to worry about juggling colour at the same time in the way that you have to with painting. It definitely helped to focus me.” But Matilda’s attraction to jewellery-making goes further than this. “There is also something about the size of jewellery which drew me in. Unlike with a big painting, you get to see the way that people react to a piece of jewellery, the way they handle it – it’s a much more personal experience for everyone that comes into contact with it. I found that very inspiring. If you go to a gallery, you can look at a painting on the wall, but it’s not the same. Most people can’t even afford paintings.”

At various points throughout our conversation, it becomes clear that Matilda has an acute awareness that her work is not a one-way transaction. She takes pleasure in the abstracted relationship between maker and wearer. “My pieces aren’t shiny and smooth, but they’ve all had my hand on them. It’s a real labour of love, and when I see someone wearing something that I have made, it’s so fulfilling, and you do kind of feel like you have a strange connection with these people. That’s something that was so out of reach with painting, and it definitely made me fall in love with jewellery that much faster.” 
But although her painting may have taken a back seat for now, the themes and forms that preoccupied her earlier work persist in her jewellery designs, particularly in their representation of the human form in all its abstract and imaginative permutations. For Matilda however, there is a sense of dissonance between her own perception of the bodyliness of her work, and that of most viewers. “When I was painting bodies at university, for some reason I didn’t ever see them as bodies. To me they were just objects because I was painting them from these little figurines that I had made. I’ve always been really interested in the space between a figure and an object and how abstract or direct that space can be. I completely get it that everyone looks at my work and sees bodies, but for some reason I just don’t see it that way.” In the light of these comments, it is fascinating to return once again to her designs. Her forms teeter on the edge of human recognisability, forcing the viewer to look and look again, to reorientate and question their perception, as if searching for shapes in the clouds.

As such, her works privilege a diversity of perception, celebrating individuality both in the eyes of the viewer, but also in the means of their making. One of Matilda’s favourite parts of the technique of lost-wax casting is that, as she laughingly puts it, “you really don’t have a clue how it’s going to turn out. It could look shit or it could look great. You are working with a piece of wax that’s completely blue, but once that is cast in silver, it might look completely different. I really enjoy that element of chance, and feel that I have a totally different relationship with it to other jewellers who would prefer everything to be perfectly measured out. I’m just not like that at all. I want the element of chance to come through.” But for all this emphasis on accident, it is abundantly clear that Matilda’s work is not thoughtless and accidental. Rather, Matilda is an artist who thinks deeply about the nature of her craft, and perhaps even more so, about the oft-overlooked afterlife of her creations. And though she may still claim to be finding her feet in jewellery, the assuredness and uniqueness of her vision promise great things for the future.

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