Monday, 29 October 2018

PETER CHANG Obit Nov 2017 The Herald

Peter Chang was the Faberge of the 21st century. His jewellery creations were unorthodox, outlandish, outrageous, extravagant, witty, sexy, and off the wall. Once seen, never forgotten. High voltage colour was his trademark. These objects d'art were large, flamboyant, stylish, post-modern. Meanwhile Chang himself was quiet, always unobtrusive, a hard working, shy genius whose smaller pieces took 400 hours to make.  
He came be called 'the Scottish jewellery artist' because he lived here for 30 years, but in fact arrived in Glasgow in 1987 when his wife, Barbara Santos-Shaw was appointed head of Printed Textiles at Glasgow School of Art. He met his wife at a party in 1968. They were together nearly 50 years, and married in 1998. It was a very happy and creative partnership,  "He was witty, kind, gentle. It was truely wonderful - given a few bickerings!" she says. 
Already well known, soon his studio workshop in their southside home was a beacon for museum curators and collectors worldwide. 
 His unique visual language came from his imagination. Part Chinese but British born, his oriental ancestry is evident in his innate love of decoration and pattern, and his handling of exuberant colour and exotic shape. Chang trained as both sculptor and printmaker,. After a first degree in Art and Graphic Design at Liverpool 1963-66, he left for Paris to study printmaking at the famous Hayter Printmaking Atelier, followed by a postgraduate in sculpture and printmaking at The Slade, University College, London. It was all a far cry from his modest, even humble beginnings. Only after years working on sculptural projects, interiors and furniture design, did he turn to jewellery in the late 1970s, first making earrings for his wife. 
As a top rank international artist, Chang's work is in the collection of museums in Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, China, Hawaii, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, in New York's Metropolitan, the Smithsonian, Musee des Arts Decoratifs Montreal, Graves Art Gallery Sheffield, British Council, National Museum of Scotland and numerous private collections, especially in America. He was the winner of many awards: 1989 1st prize Scottish Gold Award, 1991 Merseycraft 1st Prize, 2003 Hoffman Preism Munich, but the one that really put him in the spotlight was the 1995 Jerwood Prize for "lasting significance and daring brilliance." 
 Ironically the day after his death last week art transporters collected work to ship to Rome where his show will open 14th November at the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XX1 Secolo. Recent exhibitions have been at the Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris and in Germany at the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, yet as is the case for so many artists, Glasgow and Edinburgh failed to appreciate his gifts.  
Mention jewellery, the majority think of gold or diamonds. Chang's raw materials are rather different: commonplace plastic off cuts, worn toothbrushes, old felt-tip pens, broken rulers, razors - anything acrylic. In the 1970s living in his home town of Liverpool, much of it was obtained from shops in Liverpool’s Chinatown. Red and yellow were popular colours in that community, and this colour combination often features in his work. From these unlikely beginnings, as if by magic, he created reptilian bracelets, mosaic broaches, cloisonne earrings and baroque mirrors of exquisite beauty.  
Chang used plastic because he wanted something that would reflect the age we live in, and additionally was throwaway. Wood or silver impose their own character. Plastic is anonymous and could be moulded, modeled, sculpted into surreal objects of Medici splendor, Tiffany elegance or crazy frivolity. Chang saw himself as primarily a visual artist who sought to create a synthesis between sculpture and wearable jewellery, but fantasy was always important. Star wars with a dash of mythological beast, lizard skin with leopard spots. 'Object-making is a non-verbal attempt at balancing the intellect with the intuitive,' he explained.    
 I watched Chang’s work for 30 years, visited his studio many times and saw his work develop in complexity and sophistication. Recent work demonstrated a shift to more rigorous, minimal forms, with sculpture again coming to the fore. 
Chang's material may have been modern, his creations avant garde, but his skills were ancient, painstaking and time consuming. Transforming tiny fragments of brightly coloured acrylic into intricate, immaculate curved brooches or bangles, their surfaces reminiscent of amorphous marine life with the odd fin, horn or pompom, is long, hard, and, it transpired, dangerous work. 
He never used much in the way of machinery, believing he had more control with the hand, using planes, rasps, needle files, sandpaper and polish.  However his technique of building up layers of resin and, over the years, before masks were common, breathing in the fumes, did badly damage his lungs, a tragic price for such fabulous work.   

Like all fine art, Peter Chang's work provokes an intense physical response: a compulsion to touch, a need to smile and wonder. His unique objects also project an unusual wit and humour. "I like to incorporate a bit of fun: spice it up. People take things too seriously" he once told me. So in the end this deep-thinking man, modest, often silent, leaves us with upbeat works of a cheeky joyous optimism that is rare indeed. 


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