Artist's Biography of John Urban
All it took was a little
bad luck. But sometimes bad luck can force a change in direction
that leads to good luck in big bunches. If a garage mechanic hadn't
wrecked my truck in 1971, I wouldn't be doing Jewelry today...
My love of working with my hands is something I picked up from my
father. As well, early in my life, my parents noticed I had an
ability to do very delicate things, and they encouraged me, while
suggesting I might one day become a surgeon. Many years later, after
finally completing my pre-medical school studies, I decided that was
not how I was meant to express this ability. I changed direction,
and tried photography, pottery, and then, sculpture.
Right about here, is where an incompetent garage mechanic
intervened to change my direction in life from sculpture to
Jewelry-making. It was the winter of 1972, and I had brought my
pickup truck in to a garage in Montreal for servicing. The mechanic
didn't put the correct antifreeze mix in, and during a bitter cold
spell, the engine block split. I was left with no means of
transporting the large chunks of raw soapstone I needed for the
sculptures I was doing then. I had little money - those were hard
times - and no transportation.
Someone repaid a loan I had made with the smallest motorcycle
known to man, a Kawasaki 90 cc. I lived 15 miles outside of the
city, and delivered what work I could fit on this tiny motorcycle to
places in Montreal. Things weren't going well, and I decided to
rethink my situation. 'What can I make that's small, and sculptural,
that I can create from materials I already have?' Soapstone, wood,
bone and some shells were all I had to work with. Up to this point,
I did not like Jewelry. However, I had recently seen a beautiful
bone ring made by an Inuit, and that had given me an idea.
I had a bunch of bones I'd
collected for a sculptural project that would have never fit on my
motorcycle. So I scrapped that idea and considered using some of the
bones to make miniature, portable sculptures - in other words -
Looking at Jewelry as miniature sculpture changed my attitude
towards it, and I began experimenting with bone and abalone shell
Although beautiful, bone was
impractical. At this point I realized the advantages of working in
silver. I approached a friend who was making silver Jewelry at the
time and bought some silver and tools from him, along with a
five-minute lesson on the intricacies of soldering jewelry. I
quickly went to work making a variety of silver and abalone
Jewelry, discovering silver to be an excellent solution to my
technical problems. To my great joy, my Jewelry began to sell too.
I began to realize that silver had a lot of potential. It was
satisfying to work with - I had come to like Jewelry!
For a while I experimented with disc Jewelry. These rings and
bracelets had a thick silver wire core, on which silver or gold
discs were strung like beads on a cord. The discs were
free-spinning, except at the ends, where they were soldered onto the
wire core. Although precious stones are nice to work with, I also
appreciate the possibilities of lightweight acrylic resin used like
a gemstone, where stones would be too heavy, or impractical. These
earrings took an awful long time to make however.
Eventually, I drifted towards Celtic patterns and designs, as I
was impressed with the messages they appeared to conceal. Not ever
having written any books, apart from copying Bibles, the Celts
developed ways of using visual symbols to tell a story. Accordingly
the components of this image, stylized Irish wolfhounds, Cormorants,
or plants became the vocabulary. The way they are used becomes the
grammar of the message.
- John Urban