Victoria McIntosh

by Insiders Dunedin

We met jeweller and artist Victoria McIntosh in her studio in the Lure building on Lower Stuart Street. Walking into her studio is a visual feast; sunlight streams into the space, vintage spoons, old graters, dolls, glass objects and even a kayak occupy the room. A number of amazing posters showcasing Lure’s past exhibitions are dotted around the walls, nude charcoal figure studies and antique photographs take up the remaining wall space. Everywhere you turn there is something interesting to look at. Victoria’s work ‘tells stories through found objects’. She is a self-professed hoarder but is ok with that label. 

Victoria apologises for suffering from a case of Monday-morning-itis. She was up to the small hours of the morning working an application for an exhibition in Munich. She is feeling a little jaded from all the writing and having just returned from her latest exhibition opening at Auckland’s Masterworks Gallery. Despite this Victoria is chipper and very welcoming as we sit down and look through her back catalogue of her work. Piping nozzles, icing tongs, pegs, human hair, old buttons, women’s underwear and hosiery are all transformed into intriguing pieces of jewellery and small scale sculptures. 

Victoria’s work explores a range of ideas, her starting point is often from her own experiences and perception of the world. The notion of female beauty, adoption, gender inequality, body expectations and the gap between reality and the ideal are all tackled in her work. Victoria’s work has been exhibited in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery’s Rear Window was titled 'liar liar pants on fire...' twice and has she exhibited in the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum prior to its renovation. Victoria’s most recent piece of work to have been shown in the Rear Window was created for an exhibition at Masterworks. The 5-foot-square work was created by burning 102 wooden pegs then dressing them in pieces of rubbish. Objects found in the street; sycamore seeds, bottle tops, cigarette butts give each of the charred pegs a unique identity. 

The process of the Blemish exhibition that was recently featured in Spring 2014 issue of Art New Zealand involved a year and a half of thinking, a year of collecting and six months of solid making. Victoria’s work talks about issues that we often ignore or glaze over, for example, the pay inequity that exists in New Zealand, the expectations of femininity and the perception of gender. She is drawn to vintage objects and works with what has already been made and embellishes them to create a narrative to encourage viewers to question the way our society operates. Victoria creates a diverse range of works in which she uses a broad range of materials to tell different stories. Spoons are heated and stretched then cross symbols are stitched into them with cotton threaded through holes that have been punched through the silver. Victoria says from a young age her Mother and Grandmother’s traditional views towards women's handcraft were instilled in her. This is something she reeled against in her youth, however is grateful to have been taught those skills. She was taught to sew at a young age, however had to wait until adulthood until  she learnt the craft of metal smithing. Using soft materials is something that she really enjoys, working with fabric and thread offers the release from working with the hard nature of  metal. Working with different materials adds a narrative to the pieces. Each of the materials she uses communicate certain things. The physical properties of each of the materials help to feed ideas into each side of Victoria’s practise. On the whole, whether it is an object or jewellery being created there is a key link to the relationship to the body. 

As well as exhibiting her jewellery in the space, Victoria works part time at Lure. She enjoys being able to interact with customers and understanding what they are interested in buying. Ann Culy, who set-up Lure has been a great mentor for Victoria over the years. The support that Victoria has had by working in a community of jewellers has been invaluable in honing her craft. Victoria says she is very fortunate to have a space that is ‘unashamedly me’. Having a dedicated  space allows for her to collect and examine all her items in her own time, she jokes that she hopes a documentary is not made about digging her out of the studio. The studio is Victoria’s ‘happy space’ it and enables her to let her creative ideas flows. Draws labelled ‘scrap plastic’ and ‘scrap metal’ are home to the discarded, they wait to be reused in one of Victoria’s creations. Humble objects like wooden spoons are removed from their original contexts where we would not look at them twice and are displayed in a new way so we can examine that history that is held within the object. The burns, scars and wear that come from years of use are embraced in the works. 

Victoria began her training in 1989 under Marilynn Webb’s guidance at the Dunedin School of Art. She studied printmaking and became very interested in bookmaking. Once she finished her Diploma Victoria moved to Auckland to follow her passion for learning to be a bookbinder. She apprenticed with Michael O’Brian in Auckland who now lives in Oamaru and spent two years learning the craft of traditional book binding. The skills Victoria learnt as a  book binder are still used today in her jewellery practise; each of the boxes her ornaments come in have been carefully crafted by hand. After working in a number of hospitality and retail jobs in Australia and the UK, Victoria decided to go back to the Dunedin School of Art to study jewellery with Johanna Zellmar and Andrew Last. After spending two years as a picture framer, she decided to go back to Art School to study jewellery. A year after she completed her jewellery degree, Victoria began working out of the Lure building. The space the has allowed her to grow as a creative. The building is full of like-minded people with varying experience-levels and early she had access to shared tools and machines that she might not have been able to use otherwise.

An amazing experience for Victoria was response that her work in the Toitu Otago Early Settlers Museum. The conversation that is generated by her exhibitions is one of the most important things that she gets out of her work. Victoria says your realise that people can relate to the narrative expressed by the objects she has created and allows them share their own personal narratives.

Victoria work is available from Lure in Dunedin and Masterworks in Auckland. Victoria can be contacted via her website.

Submitted by Jon Thom



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