Tell us about yourself.
Although I trade as “The Justified Sinner”, my real name is Dauvit Alexander and I’ve been a jeweller for about 30 years – as you’ll see in the next question. I’m based in Scotland and in addition to being a jeweller, I also have the privelege of teaching technical jewellery skills to students of all levels at North Glasgow College, which includes groups of students with learning difficulties. More recently, I’ve just returned from the USA, where I was teaching at Edinboro University and The Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh.
My own work is mostly made from found materials, especially rusty steel and iron, which I like to treat as if it were precious, combining it with silver, gold and gemstones to create works which are usually bold and uncompromising.
When I’m not actually being a jeweller, I spend a lot of time getting ready for being a jeweller by doing research and gathering materials!
When you decide to become a jeweller?
I became a jeweller by accident, really. My mum was very friendly with a jeweller called John Gilchrist who worked in the village where I grew up. One summer, he was looking for someone to work in the shop and clean the workshop, stuff like that. I was about 13 or 14 and wanted a job for the summer holidays from school, so John took me on. Before long, I had been shown how to polish, then how to solder and it just grew from there. John kept employing me at holiday time, even when I was at University (studying horticulture!) and eventually offered me a full-time job. I really always wanted to be a gardener but on reflection, I’m glad I became a jeweller.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I suppose I am a historian of sorts. Stylistically, I’m obsessed with the late middle-ages and a lot of the “look” of my work comes from this period, especially as it was in England and Italy. In terms of themes for my work, it is almost all music and literature. The last two major pieces I made were music-based, “Cold Genius” on an aria from Purcell’s opera “King Arthur” and “A Forest” which is based on the lyrics of a song by The Cure. I’m often inspired by materials too: a lot of my work used found, rusted iron and steel and the shapes of these can lead me to make pieces, where the material leads the way. Sometimes these pieces develop another theme, but often they are just what they are, such as the iron and garnet ring that I wear all the time which was made from a corroded nut that I found in the street.
Recently, I’ve been looking at a lot of Hip-Hop jewellery and while I’ve not really decided how to incorporate some of the ideas of that style into my own, I’m intrigued by the similarities between “Hip-Hop-excess” jewellery and that of the Renaissance, especially in respect to projection of masculinity, faith, wealth and power.
What jewel do you most cherish?
Strangely enough, it isn’t one I made myself and is one of only two pieces of work which I wear and which I didn’t make myself, a jewel has a real history to it.
One of my students brought in some scrap silver to melt down. It included a handmade arts-and-crafts style silver and moonstone cross dated 11/11/18 and engraved “M.F.R from R.W.T.” which I could not bear to see destroyed. The student was adamant that it was going to be scrapped and in the end, I exchanged the piece for a similar weight of scrap and a loose moonstone. I don’t know why this piece is so important to me: I have no idea who “M.F.R.” or “R.W.T.” might have been but there is something very beautiful about the piece itself, something very romantic about the date and something exciting about saving a poignant piece of history from destruction.
Name some books, movies or music you specially love.
I read a lot – as I don’t have a television – and listen to a lot of music. My reading tastes are very varied and I love pulp detective novels from the 1920s when I’m not being too highbrow. My all-time favourite book is James Hogg’s “Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner”, which contains the best portrayal of the devil in literature. Other authors I like include Wilkie Collins, Umberto Eco (I made a piece on his “Mysterious Flame of Queen Loanna”), Georges Perec and Alasdair Gray.
Musically, I keep coming back to Henry Purcell. I can’t even say what it is about his music which draws me to it, some element of humanity, some spark which compells me to listen. There is always music on in the workshop while I’m making – it was quite unbearable for anyone else while I was making “Cold Genius” as “The Song of Cold Genius” was played over and over for about two months! – a mix of things as varied as you can imagine: Bowie, Berio, Gossip, Handel, Miles Davis, Marc Almond, Messiaen…
How do you promote your work? What is the role of social networks and the Internet?
In a way, the internet has been the making of The Justified Sinner as a jeweller. I know that sounds like a huge claim, but I think it is true to say that my career took off when I discovered the power of social networking. For anyone who is working outside the mainstream – both the commercial mainstream and the mainstream of “Contemporary Jewellery” – it is very hard to reach a public. One of the things at which the internet excels is niche marketing and within its very open format, it is possible to create your own niche. With judicial use of social networks, anyone can create a buzz and target it to people who will be interested.
For my own part, all of this happened accidentally. Initially, I built up a following using Flickr and posting photographs of my work. People seem to like to be able to see pieces as they are constructed and they also like to know a bit about the person who is making the piece and I started keeping a jewellery-specific blog on my website. From the exposure on Flickr and through the blog, I started to sell through Etsy and then joined Crafthaus. More recently, I’ve been using Google+ and Twitter to keep people informed of what is happening at the bench. I’ve avoided the more obvious social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace as I feel that they are rather cluttered and generic. Specific social networks, such as Crafthaus or Klimt02 cater to the needs of makers and are much more useful. Additionally, the internet keeps me wholly up-to-date with competitions, calls-for-entry and people with whom I should keep in contact.
I think that anyone involved in this sort of publicity needs to be very, very mindful of the information that they put out there. It seems that the internet never forgets and the ability of search-engines to cross-reference everything you’ve ever written is frightening!
Name three jewelers you would like to see interviewed here.
What do you find most surprising about your life?
When I was very young, I wanted to be much, much older. I wanted to be like the men my dad knew, who wore suits and smoked cigars and played cards. That seemed cool. In a way, I never lost that feeling and now as I approach 50, I’m amazed to find that it actually IS cool to be this age. People take me seriously: they ask to show my work in galleries, to photograph it for books, to buy it. So I don’t smoke cigars or play cards – though I do like wearing suits – and there is something very appealing about this veneer of sophistication hiding the fact that inside, I’m still only six-years-old.