The jeweller and metalsmith Joaquim Capdevila (1944) is one of the Catalan mentors of the New Jewel, a reformist way of understanding the jewel as a means of artistic expression. As a consequence, the creations become unique pieces, halfway between painting and sculpture. Now the Design Museum of Barcelona presents “Joaquim Capdevila. Jewellery 1959-2019”, a retrospective exhibition that looks over his six decades of artistic production and more than 130 pieces and will be on display on floor B until November 17th. We talk with the jeweller and Pilar Vélez, Museum manager and curator of the exhibition.
In 1970 the first exhibition of independent jewellery took place in Barcelona, where you presented your work. 50 years after, the new exhibition of the Museum is dedicated to you. How do you feel?
JC: Positive. The exhibition shows the pieces I have been making all these years for exhibitions abroad and never seen before in Barcelona. Gathering and displaying them at the Museum is an interesting reason for people in Barcelona to see them.
Since the beginning of your career you developed your own line of work, distancing yourself from what could be considered traditional jewellery making. What inspired you?
JC: There was no will to do anything different, but the intention of doing what one thinks with no restriction. This is the motivation: total freedom.
How do you think of jewellery?
JC: Jewels have existed since the beginning of mankind. I think they are pieces that we look forward to having in order to strengthen our personality. We don’t usually wear something we do not agree with. A dialogue needs to be established.
You are a mentor of the New Jewel in Catalonia. What did this understanding of the jewel mean?
JC: After the Spanish state decided that apprentices had to join social security and have a salary, the jewellery studios did not want to keep having apprentices. It was then when the jewellery schools arose. The most pioneering were in Germany, The Netherlands, and England. The technique was not learnt as well as in the workshops, but students were more linked to the plastic arts of the time and therefore the creativity was greater. The New Jewel appears as a result of this situation.
Your creations are the plastic expression of reflections and life experiences. What did you want to explain through jewels?
JC: There is always a motivation. The artistic creation of making something new is never for no reason. There was a time when, as we are now talking about the climate strike, concrete was the evil, because everything that was being built was made out of concrete. This is why I made an exhibition to make clear that nature would always survive, beyond concrete.
There are pieces, for example, fruit of the impression I took from a trip to Prague. I was surprised by the green and blue roofs of the domes. When I came back, I made a series of pieces, one of whose is the logo of the exhibition, that recalled the roofs of the Eastern cities.
In 2000 I was asked to do a new collection for an exhibition, the very first one I was doing in the new millennium. I thought that the first men of the new millennium were children. Then, I asked for drawings by kids from schools I knew. I made a collection that was very interesting for me, because above all else kids give you ideas you would never think of, they have a lot of imagination. For example, there is a piece of a car with a man holding a fishing rod, another one driving and the last one cooking, all of them in the back.
From the sixties on you introduced unusual materials in goldsmithing and jewellery. Why?
JC: Doing what you want with no limit makes you follow your instinct if you feel that some wood or a piece of fabrics will work with something you are doing with gold or silver. It is a natural way to find a material that you think will help you do something concrete. But never the other way round. I have never had the will to make jewellery out of plastic or paper.
Why did you find those materials inspiring?
JC: For me there is no difference, they are useful for what you want to explain. In my case, I always liked pieces that transmit a certain warmth, because, I think, it will be on someone’s skin.
What about the painting?
JC: I always liked that painting was a part of my works, because it is a personal expression that one has to do with one’s hands. Jewellery production can be done either with your hands or working in teams, producing something you thought and designed. Painting cannot be done by anybody but you.
In the last period, the collections look into the memory, into oneself. What is the result of this introspective?
JC: When you are young, you have a greater perspective of what you have ahead. When you get older, you lose friendships, suffer from illnesses. You see that what is left is short, the future looks black. I made this last collection thinking of this. The pieces are black and in each of them there are little memories of things I made in my studio years before. It is a future that is coming to an end and a gaze back into my memory.
How did you experience this evolution over six decades? What is the next step?
JC: I have been very lucky. I have worked since I was 14 years old, and I am 75 now. Many times I said: “This is the last exhibition” and later on I have made a new one. I do not know how to stay quiet as time goes by, I am always excited about making new pieces. Without pressure or rush, I do what I feel like, as always.
Pilar Vélez, the manager of the Design Museum, is the curator of the exhbition. What is on display?
PV: This exhibition dedicated to Joaquim Capdevila is a retrospective of 60 years of his work, from his youth in the familiar studio until now, with his latest collection. The retrospective shows throughout these years how he has become a mentor of the new concept of the jewel, taking a leap and thinking of it as an artistic expression, beyond being simply decorative and ornamental as it traditionally was seen. That these objects are in addition useful, as in wearable and a means for people to identify and personalize themselves, gives an added value to the exhibition.
There are some of his works in the Museum's collection, such as the collection “The trees of the memory” (1997), the brooches ‘Covered-Uncovered’ (1991) and ‘Prague’… What is the interpretation on Capdevila’s work that the exhibition offers?
PV: The exhibition aims to put an emphasis precisely on the singular value of the contemporary jewel, that goes beyond the conventional and decorative jewel. The pieces are in lots of cases thought to be part of a collection, but at the same time they are very individualised and personalised. To make this exhibition, we had to contact several collectors and owners, and each of the pieces is made for that person. This means that, behind the elements that the artist introduces in the jewel, many things are hidden, he makes an artwork full of symbols and references. They are very lived pieces and Capdevila himself loves to talk about it.