Right Now: Emily Frances Barret

Having recently completed a two-year residency at Sarabande at the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation—a post that included a “massively subsidized studio space” just behind a wharf off the canal in East London—jewelry artist Emily Frances Barrett recently moved into a new space of her own in an old factory building close to Hatton Garden, which is London’s Jewelry District. We talked to Emily about the one-of-a-kind pieces she made this past spring (now live on our site) as well as her new space, her art and studio practice, and the ongoing process of remaining flexible and adaptable within all the world’s unrest. 

“Of course it’s a very surreal and terrible time for so many people, so I feel very lucky in many ways as financial insecurity, existential crises, and general disillusion with the world and are nothing new for most of the creatives I know. It’s a new landscape for sure, a time for adaptation, innovation, new ideas, new approaches, and lateral thinking—but isn’t that what creatives are best at?”

“My daily approach is always No.1: Try and stay somewhat sane! I tend to think if my body is working well then my brain will follow. I try and do some form of exercise most mornings; I love outdoor swimming, running, cycling or a good session in the gym. I’m never short on ideas but in terms of moving forwards, I try to ‘think less and do more’. Overthinking can be a creative killer for me and in the end my gut instincts always knows best.”

“For me, I need my studio to be a place where I can forget about the world outside and focus on purely what’s in front of me. I want to feel like I’m in a really cozy safe cocoon. I tend to either listen to music or a podcast, depending on what I’m doing; I need silence for when I’m reading and writing. Because I work alone I can create whatever environment I need, which is great, though being on your own can also lead to cabin fever. Working solo requires balance like most things, but it’s still one I’ve yet to attain.”

“Everyday is different because I’m always working on a variety of things so I usually work on things in order of priority. I tend to focus better later on in the day, so if I have things I really need to concentrate on I leave them till later. When it comes to orders it’s a fairly obvious process, though when I’m working on new ideas or experimenting I need lots time in order for things to take their own direction. In that case I won’t start things unless I know I can get deep into it for several hours or preferably the rest of the day and night. I love working late but I also love early mornings, so I change it up depending on the weather. I can jump out of bed if it's sunny but I hate getting up in the dark!”

“I’ve just built a mezzanine and have been busy tarting the place up. I want to make it an inspiring environment where I can lose myself in my work. As Autumn is in full swing so the cold, grey, shitty English Winter is just around the corner, which means it’s the perfect time to put my head down and work through it. We are just entering a second lock down in London too, so all the more reason to make the one place I’ll spend most my time, the nicest it can be.” 

“Being an Artist first and foremost, I’m happy to be outside of ‘Fashion’ and only occasionally dip my toe in it. I’ve seen how the seasonal fashion cycle puts a lot of pressure on young designers, so it’s not something I really want to be a part of. Jewellery is less seasonal so it makes sense to be independent of industry calendars if you can. I’ve never worked in collections as such; my first ‘collection’ really came about organically rather than being made within a structured process. Having worked like that in the past I can definitely see there’s benefits to working in collections such as creating a range that has a common thread throughout and be able to plan a more balanced range to suit different occasions—everyday as well as more out there/statement pieces. I can also see how it would save time and money, as planning pieces means less waste in general, so it’s something I’m excited to try out and see if it works for me.”

“The chain rings that Pylon has now come from a series which incorporate found, Mudlarked objects, with semi precious stones and silver. Mudlarking involves scouring the foreshores of London’s River Thames for objects that get washed up as the tides come in and out. As people have been throwing things in the river for thousands of years some really amazing stuff surfaces. The rings I made for Pylon include a lot of pottery fragments, which I love as they give you a little window into the past but never the full story. You wonder what was it originally a part of? A plate? A tea cup? Whose was it? How did it end up in the river? Who was the last person to touch it before me?”

“These pieces are really fun to make as everyone is different. I usually start picking out a piece I’ve found that feels special for some reason, then I’ll see what other elements work with it and go from there. I don’t sketch the designs out as I prefer to respond to the materials in a more intuitive way, it’s quite an organic process. Sending pieces off to live another life is always nice, once a piece is made I’m happy to see it leave the studio and make space for new pieces.”