Paul McClure: Jeweler of the Intimate
You have it or you don’t. Paul McClure has it.
He’s been rocking pins on his lapel for years and it’s only now that fashion trends are catching up to him with men flashing theirs on the runway and at swanky red carpet parties.
Some of his pins are his art, others are from artists often only known to the contemporary jewelry cognoscenti. His extensive collection is a who’s who of worldwide contemporary jewelry: Ramón Puig Cuyàs, Pamela Ritchie, Mirjam Hiller, Hyunseok Sim, Donald Friedlich to name a few.
Art jewelry is meant to challenge us — it wants us to think beyond the adornment/beautification element (which, to be honest, is really what most of us magpies are looking for in jewelry). The artistic intent can be a tad overwhelming at times for the uninitiated — even to the point of, “What’s that about??”
However, making the effort to understand the artistic reference, getting into the head of the artist, figuring out where he’s coming from and what his message is adds a very rewarding and enriching layer of intimacy to the work.
There is an ongoing debate concerning wearability. Is a necklace that can only be worn in the context of an art exhibit or a theatrical performance still jewelry or is it just plain art?
Paul is adamant that his pieces have to be wearable. The intimate contact between the piece and the body of the wearer is a fundamental part of his practice. He does not deny that it can be just an object when resting on a shelf but the moment it is worn on the body, that’s when it has its purpose matched.
Intimacy is a pervasive concept in Paul McClure’s art jewelry. I visited him in his atelier, an intimate space in spite of a large window opening onto a busy street (I’ll admit to always feeling intimidated when entering an artist’s sacred space). You sense that the meticulous tidiness of the space is a way to ‘keep in line’ his prolific mind. It is like a cocoon with books, photos, sketches, prototypes and in-process pieces orderly lined up on shelves and walls. When sitting at his bench he is surrounded by his objets, tools and machinery, and can almost reach them all without having to leave his chair.
Paul’s inspiration is in the invisible body — that part of us that’s hidden, small, difficult to access and only reveals itself through third party intervention: scanners, x-rays, slides, DNA sequencing, medical imaging. Think cells, viruses, proteins, veins and ribcage. “The anatomical and microscopic worlds are where I find a beauty and complexity I want to materialize through adornment.”
Paul is a matter-of-fact kind of man: “Disease is part of our life. Cancer, AIDS, strokes… We should not deny it. But why can’t we make it beautiful? By making jewelry about ugly things, I bring it out of the darkness, I aestheticize the ugly.”
And beautiful his jewelry is. And joyful. He reinterpreted the capsid (the protein coat of a virus) into 3D printed flowers of a naïve design in fresh colors — he has robbed the virus of its lethal properties to make it into body adornment. The accumulation of the “flowers” on a silver chain references the multiplication of cells. But if you are an optimist like me, you see a field of daisies.
In his own words: “Through the formal language of biology and chemistry I create a microcosm of the human body in my work. Although the resulting jewels are not scientific models that illustrate specific principles, they adopt forms derived from observation at the microscopic scale. The manipulation of these forms creates a language of ornament appropriate to our era of scientific knowledge and faith.”
And if you ask me, I’d wear these gorgeous mutating genes, veins and viruses on my lapel any day.
In 2001, the mapping of the human genome was a culturally significant event. At its most basic level, it is just another way to visualise the body, to “see” who we are. Paul refers to it as the perfect selfie. His wedding band is engraved with his and his husband’s DNA sequencing. One of his current project involves cutting out the shapes of chromosome pairs on fluorescent acrylic sticks of various length that will be arranged into a collar necklace. Fancy wearing your own humanity inside out? A great conversation starter I imagine.
After completing his BFA in Halifax under the mentorship of legendary jeweller Pamela Ritchie, Paul pursued his studies in Barcelona and Dublin. His resume is too long, rich and varied to be detailed here but suffice to say that he received the Saidye Bronfman Award as part of the 2015 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, has pieces in the permanent collections of many museums and is avidly collected by those in the know. He is Professor and Program Coordinator, Jewelry Studies at George Brown College, the largest jewelry program in North America.
Needless to say that I am extremely delighted to announce that Paul has agreed to be our artist- and curator-in-residence during our October 2019 trip to Barcelona. His deep knowledge of the field, the cities and artists will considerably enrich our trip and make it an unforgettable experience. The trip will take place October 10th to 18th.
If you wish to commission a piece from Paul or view his collection, you can email him at or call him at 416.910.7285.