Friday, June 20, 2008

Interview - Melanie Katsalidis

Melanie Katsalidis in her studio behind the Pieces of Eight Gallery in Fitzroy North

Pieces of Eight gallery and shop

The Design Files is such a great way to contact and meet some of the most incredible creative people.... I find myself constantly inspired by the people I have the good fortune to research and interview for this site... and today's interview is no exception! Melanie Katsalidis is someone I find incredibly inspiring on so many fronts... she established her gallery and shop Pieces of Eight, in North Fitzroy in 2005, enlisting her architect Dad to turn a beautiful old industrial building on Brunswick st into a gallery, shared studio space, and a first-floor apartment. When you see what has evolved at Pieces of Eight in under 3 years, you'll understand my enthusiasm!

Pieces of Eight is a gallery and artist studio specialising in handmade contemporary jewellery and object based work made by Australian and international artists. Melanie carefully selects the artists represented at Pieces of Eight, and curates regular exhibitions, as well as managing the day-to-day needs of the retail side of the business. She also manages the shared studio space behind the gallery, in which 6 jewellers (including Melanie herself) create their work. But first and foremost - Melanie is a jeweller, and although she struggles to find time to create her own work these days (understandably!), its her background as an artist that gives her a unique approach to the running of a creative business.

Melanie's vision for her business is so clear and uncompromising... even the smallest details are carefully considered. For instance - Melanie showed me how she designed the jewellery display cases in such a way that the locks are invisible, hidden underneath each section of cabinetry. This took some careful planning and sourcing of the correct hardware - but I completely understand Melanie's fastidious attention to detail! After all - although everything on display at Pieces of Eight is essentially for sale, the space is run more like an art gallery than a retail space. One continuous display case runs across all walls of the shop at eye level - so you're not bombarded with product as is the case in most retail spaces. Each piece on display is unique and handcrafted... and Melanie knows the background of every single artist like the back of her hand! During my visit, she reeled off information about each piece of work so quickly and so fluently I could barely scribble it down in time!

But of all her successes, I think Melanie's greatest achievement has been the creation of a collaborative working environment as a central part of her business... I would love to work in such a wonderful, inspiring space! It's clear that Melanie's passion for object-based artwork and jewellery extends far beyond her own creative output, and I think one of the gallery's greatest strengths is the support it offers local artisans and jewellers.

Read on for an insight into Melanie's creative inspiration, the challenges she faced in setting up her business.... oh, and there's about a million photos too. :)

Current work by Rachel Gorman - a collection of ceramic stud rosettes (top), and enamelled copper and silver brooch (bottom).

Images from the incredible workspace of Rachel Gorman (who shares the studio behind Pieces of Eight with Melanie and other jewellers).

More of Rachel Gorman's beautiful workspace - I love her ordered collection of delicate trinkets and materials...

Work by Laura di Florio and Alida Cappellata forms the current window display at Pieces of Eight, entitled Through the Window. Both artists use photographic media as a central component in their work - di Florio's work uses layers of photographic images and perspex, whereas Cappellatta uses discarded metal film canisters to create delicate forms inspired by the organic forms. This exhibition runs until June 21st 2008. More info here.

Work by Japanese-born, Melbourne-based jeweller Yuko Fujita... I love the organic nature of these pieces, and the muted colours. Yuko creates these using silver, ceramic and handtinted silicone (those coloured 'cup' shapes are actually squishy and flexible silicone pieces!). The result is truly stunning and so unique. Yuko Fujita is having a solo show at Pieces of Eight in September this year... stay tuned!

More from Yuko Fujita - for some reason her work reminds me of underwater creatures like anenome and seaweed...

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

After studying the International Bachelaureate, I was still unsure about what career I wanted to pursue, so I studied Arts at Melbourne University, majoring in Art History and Cinema Studies. While I really enjoyed the course and the campus, I missed physically making things and so I began making jewellery as a side project and selling my work through a few independent fashion stores and craft shops. As I came to the end of my Arts degree I knew I wanted to get some formal training in jewellery and pursue it further, which led me to study Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT University. After this I got some business skills by doing the NEIS course and working full time as a jeweller with a part time job in retail on the weekends. The opportunity came up to establish a big shared studio at 635 Brunswick St, and before I knew it I had also made the commitment to open a gallery in the front of the space. It just seemed like the right time and place.

You’re a jewellery designer, and you also manage and curate the work of other jewellery designers for your own gallery/studio. How do you balance your own creative output with the running of your gallery and workshop? How do you find these two roles complement each other?

Trying to fill the two roles is a huge challenge. The gallery currently takes most of my energy and attention as there are so many aspects of the business to manage. As I result I find myself spending less time at the bench as I have less time and head space to make my own work. However I am probably now more time efficient than I ever was, and my plan is to give myself more time for my own jewellery/artistic practice as we become more established.

Being an artist myself means I probably make different decisions than a strictly business-only person. Firstly I have an understanding of materials, process and the realities and pressures of being an artist. I also am happy to do certain things that I deem important, but may not be financially driven, like the way we produce a catalogue for every exhibition we hold. This is about documentation and giving longevity to the work which will only be exhibited for four weeks, although it’s taken months to put together.

Melanie's own workspace... including her dentist's drill (seriously!) with all the necessary attachments. Who knew jeweller's used dentist equipment!? The bottom image here is Melanie demonstrating using the drill... bzzzz. ouch!

A lot of creative professionals say that they love the creative side of their job, but hate the paperwork and the ‘business’ side of things. Do you struggle with things like marketing and promoting yourself or your store, keeping your accounts in order, managing staff or other designers? What advice would you offer emerging designers about establishing a creative business?

The business side for me is very important and needs my constant attention, but my passion is for the more creative aspects of the business like curating the exhibitions and helping artists develop their work for the gallery. The business side however can be really interesting and it has been a huge learning curve for me, and I love seeing the results of the huge amount of energy I have put into things.

Since I have been on a tight budget I have had to do many things myself that I will be happy to delegate to others in the future. Doing things like marketing, advertising and book keeping myself has meant I’ve been in total control of all these aspects which make you think critically about the business and how you are running things. Although I look forward to passing these jobs onto professionals in the future, I at least now have an understanding of how these things work.

I would advise emerging designers to look into leaning some basic business skills if they want to have their own business. The government run NEIS course I highly recommend, or go to Small Business Victoria. Also, be professional in how you market yourself and approach clients/galleries. Have your own business cards, a blog or website and take good quality images of all your work.

How would you describe your own style of jewellery design?

Clean, architectural, geometric and fluid.

Melanie's own work uses silver, gold, oxidised silver, and well as powder coating (that's the red you see in the images above). Powder coating is an industrial technique where paint is essentially 'baked on' to metal surfaces at high temperatures. Melanie has also started using black pearls in her work more recently.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

So many, it’s hard to list! I have very broad interests in diverse things, and although my work is very different from these people, I am inspired by: Droog Design, Japanese contemporary culture, artist James Turrell, Tadao Ando’s Chichu Art Museum, artist Anish Kapoor, jeweller Sally Marsland, jeweller Manon van Kouswijk, Caravaggio, Mesopotamian sculpture, musician Goldfrapp, chef Karen Martini, the modernist house at Heide and the gardens, the people around me, my grandmother’s crazy knitting projects, being in love.

Where else do you find inspiration – ie books, magazines, your environment, travel, your family and friends?

I love my home which is my sanctuary, my retreat. I really enjoy travelling and would ideally travel twice a year. I am currently very drawn to Japan and have been there my last two trips overseas. My dad is an architect whose influence has been more subliminal than direct. My creative friends are always inspiring to be around, as is the workshop behind the Pieces of Eight gallery where 6 jewellers work independently. I buy lots of magazines and especially like IDS, Another Magazine, Urbis, Dazed and Confused, Surface, Object, Russh and Monument.

Michelle Cangiano is a jeweller as well as teacher at RMIT. Her pieces incorporate acid etched illustrations which are then embossed onto silver sheets to create delicately textured surfaces. In the top image you can also she her carved, faceted shapes made of painted huon pine.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Checking my emails while I eat breakfast, opening the gallery, making cups of tea between taking care of lots of little things. Often I meet with artists who are dropping off new stock or showing new works, tend to customers and reply to lots of emails! There’s also lots of other things to do like clean jewellery, photograph work, re-arrange displays and work towards the up-coming exhibitions.

Lucy Folk's whimsical designs are all inspired by food! Much of Lucy's work employs a fascinating technique called 'electroforming' in which a particular food item (pretzel, dorito, burger ring etc) is encased and preserved within layers of 24 carat gold. This means inside each pendant/brooch/earring is the actual piece of food! Incredible! Lucy also carves super-light, soft jelutong wood into food-inspired shapes like salami slices and fruit pieces. Be sure to visit Lucy's gorgeous website for more lovely images.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Establishing Pieces of Eight and the reputation we’ve been cultivating.

Pieces of Eight display cases

Object-based work by Melbourne printmaker Julia Silvester. The top image is part of a beautiful collection of work combining layered lasercut timber, printmaking and illustration... The bottom image is from a series of glasswork Julia has sandblasted with medieval botanical imagery.

What's the best thing about your job?

Meeting great artists, visiting their workshops and selecting new artists to represent. Also curating the exhibitions is always an interesting process and hugely satisfying.

And the worst?

The stress can wear me down and getting sick is my body’s way of making me stop.

What would be your dream creative project?

Something which gives me the chance to travel and select participants for an exhibition here in Melbourne, and then the exhibition would travel to various fantastic galleries internationally, with me in tow!

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

Expanding and growing the business. Developing my own work. And throwing a great big party when I get married early next year!

I love these chunky, faceted silver shapes by Krista McRae. I also really love the display layout - Krista created the clear faceted display blocks for her work to sit on. They complement the work so well! Beautiful.

Krista McRae's beautiful (and very tidy!) workspace in the Pieces of Eight shared studio - I love those faceted silhouette shapes on her wall...

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

My birthday dinner in April was at Kin in North Carlton, a new restaurant run by old family friends who’ve known me most of my life. Amazing, memorable food.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

If I’m not working in the gallery, I’m making pancakes for my fiancĂ© and myself while trashy music videos play on the TV. Otherwise enjoying a late, long brunch with friends. My current favourite cafĂ© is Mixed Business on Queens Pde, Clifton Hill.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Cocoro Japanese restaurant and ceramics on Smith St, Fitzroy. Great food, lovely people and on a Sat night you can watch the drag show at Trade Bar across the street which is quite entertaining, especially without having to listen to the music!

Object-based artworks by architect Mark Szulgit and artist Julia Adzuki. Mark is originally from New York and Julia is Australian, and the pair are partners in work and in life. They're now based in Sweden, and are gaining international recognition for their ice sculptures and involvement in Sweden's famous ice hotel!

A big thankyou to Melanie for all her time with this interview! Be sure to visit the Pieces of Eight website and also their blog for lots more info, as well as in-depth profiles of some of Melbourne's most exciting contemporary jewellers and artisans.

I should also mention that Melanie is taking part in Craft Victoria's 'speed dating' development event for craft practitioners entitled Making out, which takes place on August 15th at Craft Victoria in the city. The event is an opportunity for emerging craftspeople and designers to present ideas and gain advice from established craft and design professionals like Melanie! More info here if you'd like to participate.

LASTLY, Pieces of Eight have just confirmed they'll be taking part in a studio open day with Craft Victoria as part of the 'Month about Making' festival in August. So if you want to see more of Pieces of Eight behind the scenes, pop down on Thursday August 21st between 1.00pm and 5.00pm!

Pieces of Eight
635 Brunswick st
North Fitzroy

9497 8121

Open Tues - Fri 11.00am - 6.00pm
Saturday 11.00am - 5.00pm


  1. What a great post! I just took some metalsmithing classes at a similar studio in Auckland called Workshop 6, and since then have been very interested in jewellery collectives. Great questions, cool photos. I've got to get to Melbourne!

  2. Hey thanks so much Brooke! I was so inspired by Melanie's gallery and especially the studio she shares with other jewellers... I love snooping in collaborative creative spaces!

    Yeah you must come visit Melbourne :) Much more fun than Sydney.. hee hee. If you are ever planning a trip this way do not hesitate to email for a list of all my recommendations! x

  3. aaahh I love Pieces of Eight but I've never been inside! i'm gonna go now because your blog has inspired me! thanks Luce x

  4. Where does the time go ??? I drop into your blog and then get thoroughly absorbed in the articles and this one was absolutely fabulous. I get lost in all the links, as it is always so great to get some insight into just what inspires creative folk such as Melanie, so I meander through the links to the mentioned restaurants, artists of all different persuasions, register myself on Melanie's website etc and time just vanishes. I know I won't be the only one that will get on down to Pieces of Eight. Should I curse you Lucy for taking up my time ? Nah - thanks for cooking up such great stuff and making us so proud of Melbourne !

  5. Toohey and Maddy you are so sweet! :) Thankyou for such lovely comments :)

    I know what you mean... it's so easy to lose a whole morning following the links!

    This is a particularly long article though... I couldn't help it! I was so inspired by Melanie's business and her beautiful workspace and gallery... it's too easy to get carried away.. :)

  6. What a fascinating article and such beautiful work! I really enjoyed reading it.