Detroit Performs

S10 E5 | CLIP

Artist Virgil Taylor

Artist Virgil Taylor finds inspiration for his wearable art in Ancient Middle East and African cultures.

AIRED: June 08, 2020 | 0:06:59

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- I play with fire, I zone out on working with metal,

it is, it spoke to me.

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I'm an artist.

I'm not a jeweler and there is a difference.

I have friends that are jewelers that are brilliant.

Some of the stuff they do

I could never do, I don't have the patience

nor the temperament for it because materials talk to me.

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I grew up in Detroit around Central High School.

My mom was a huge art fan and so it was also

when I think back about it now

nothing in our house ever went unused.

We were always creating stuff and so

I guess I had a natural aptitude for it.

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I had a very interesting life

but I wasn't doing my craft all the time.

I'd come back to it, I'd do it

and in this particular facility,

Burmingham Bloomfield Arts Center,

I was in my 30s when I discovered this place

and so I start, this place started

getting me back into it.

I have an affinity for certain types of jewelry,

most of the stuff that inspires me

comes out of the ancient Middle East.

That's kind of why I call it the ancient craft,

ancient Africa or African nations,

Middle Eastern nations.

My inspiration tends to be around

those regions, those processes

I have an affinity for ancient techniques.

I went to Africa last year

and spent time with the Maasai.

I was really honored to do that

and fascinated by their processes

because they're so raw.

I mean when you have people making

like annealing metal over dung ovens

I mean which is pretty fascinating to watch.

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I do a lot of really organic stuff.

I'm very fond of happy accidents.

You know a lot of times other people

will go for refining something

I'm like no no no no that's perfect,

leave it just like that

it works for me so I don't strive

to make art that is real refined.

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I have a ring that I'm working on now.

I had no clue when I started with this ring

what I was gonna do and I ended up with a stone

that I had no idea I was gonna get

but it just kinda all evolved

and the final touches are this evening on that piece.

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I have a client that's Ecuadorian.

I did some pieces for, I did a bangle bracelet

for him that was really interesting

and the design ended up being

my interpretation of an ancient Ecuadorian palatial aqueduct

and so it was filled with a blue resin.

It was done in copper, 18 karat gold and sterling silver

and so the resin that I used in it

is blue so it looked like it was a pool at the top

and it looked like there was blue running through the veins

because I cracked it open.

I had another client, a young man

she was very close to was killed in the naval accident

off the coast of Japan a few years ago

and she went to his funeral at Arlington

and they gave her one of the shell casings

from when they did the 21 gun salute for him.

I was in that President's Honor Guard,

I was in the unit that did that

so when she sent me the shell casing

and she was like I need something made out of this

and then I took the shell casing

and turned it into part of that bracelet

so it came out pretty remarkable

I was really proud of it.

That's tremendous honor for me

and I have had people give me their

parent's jewelery or grandma's jewelry

or you know different pieces.

I got this urn that I'm getting ready to do.

That's just a huge honor for somebody

to entrust that kind of thing to me.

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I recently have been doing some

bracelets that are African,

different parts of Africa but they're currency jewelry.,

with the wearable currency jewelry.

Some people get a little miffed because

when they see them a lot of time they see

it as representing slavery

but the reality of it with those

bracelets though was that yes

they sometimes were involved in slave trading

but the people that were using those

bracelets in these wearable jewelry,

that had little or nothing to do with slave trade.

That was a method of people

currency wearing it because they didn't

have pockets and things and so they would

wear these things and sometimes

it would be a display of wealth

people would barter with them,

so would be the equivalent

of us wearing dollar bills

or hundred dollar bills on our wrist.

So I've been doing some of those recently,

I've been casting those.

The beading that I do, I typically

use African trade beads.

They're typically ancient and they have

a value and a lot of significance.

So the stuff that I create

has some historical significance or

some meaning to me was when I create it.

It's more than just a beaded bracelet

or a beaded necklace.

I feel like it's where I come from,

it resonates with me, it always has.

For me, working with any of those materials

is the ability to take something

and create something beautiful,

that someone will enjoy

and other people will marvel at and look at

and say oh that's so beautiful or interesting or whatever.

It's just always cool.

I guess it always resonated

with me that why are we attracted to jewelry

and just why do we sing, why do we dance,

why do some things make us happy?

And wearable art or jewelry

for me, is just part of that beautification.

Traditionally, humans like to

embellish, they like to beautify themselves

whether it be with paint,

if you go back and look at

old cave drawings people would paint

themselves with mud or whatever

and then they would adorn themselves

with bones or beads or rocks

or whatever that they found,

feathers that they found that were beautiful

so there's something to me that resonates

with us as humans about beauty.

About the embracing of beauty.

For me I think it's a reflection of our psyche,

our desire to always embrace the beautiful.

And so jewelry, wearable art is just another

component or aspect of that.


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