izWorks founder Liz Swig has a long history of making things happen in the art world, and always for a good cause. Lately, she has set her sights on collaborating with artists to create limited edition collections of jewels. The list is impressive – among the artists to work with Swig are Rashid Johnson, Cindy Sherman, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Kara Walker, to name a few. Now, Swig is delighted to debut the latest – a collection of seven pieces designed by Robert Longo. The jewels are on view at Sotheby's East Hampton Gallery through 27 June and available for immediate purchase on Sotheby’s Buy Now. We recently sat down with the duo to talk about the collection, what led them to art, and ultimately to this collaboration.
Robert, how did you start out as an artist? When did you first realize you were creative?
Robert: Being creative was my way of navigating the world. As a dyslexic person, I struggled with reading as I grew up. Drawing was my way of educating myself and communicating with others. Art and its history gave me a purpose and became my religion.
Liz, how did you become interested in art and involved in the art world?
Liz: I've always been interested in art and design and film. I was an art history major and I started collecting right out of college. In fact, the first piece I bought was from Metro and it was a Cindy Sherman. I also bought a Louise Lawler, and then I went on down to 303 Gallery and bought a work by Pruitt and Early.
Later, certain museum boards and institutions asked me to get involved. I took fundraising for them very seriously, and I loved my experience and time on all of these boards – Creative Time, the Whitney, the Israel Museum, Film Society, the Joyce.
How did this lead you to start LizWorks?
Liz: I realized I was producing and putting together events that I really got pleasure from. And I got the crazy idea in my head to create artist-designed plates and dinnerware, and to treat the table as a canvas for artists, which could then be sold to benefit a cause or institution. The first projects I brought to Bernardaud were Jeff Koons’s Split Rocker vase and plates from his Banality series. Then, while I was on the board of Creative Time, I connected them with Bernardaud for projects with Julian Schnabel and Kara Walker, with a portion of the sale proceeds going back to Creative Time.
I started my company after that. I wanted to do artist-designed eyewear, taking the idea of the abstraction of art and the literalization of vision, and bring them together. I was obsessed with doing that with Sugimoto, and I had a vision of taking his incredible seascapes and theater images and translating them into eyewear with Selima Optique.
Simultaneously I started working with Vik Muniz on Happy View, an eyewear project – also with Selima Optique – that was colorful and Brazilian and playful and entirely different. From there, I got this idea that the charm bracelet needed to be resurrected. I put a wishlist together of female artists – Rachel Feinstein, Barbara Kruger, Wangechi Mutu, Shirin Neshat, Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, Mickalene Thomas – and they all said yes. It was a charmed experience, each artist was amazing.
Liz, what is the creative process when you’re working with artists?
Liz: It's a give and take of ideology and trust. I feel privileged and honored by the trust the artists give to me. I don't take it lightly, and I thoroughly enjoy it. It really is, "This is what I'm thinking. What are you thinking?" And we get down to it. And it's as simple and complex as that.
And what drew you both to this collaboration?
Robert: I’ve come to learn that Liz is a very intuitive maker. I really followed her lead. I was hesitant at first to do a jewelry collaboration, which I’ve never done before. But I was excited to work with Liz on this project after I saw Liz’s collaborations with Rashid and Cindy. Rashid’s jewelry pieces were quite extraordinary and the fact that part of the proceeds went to charity showed me that this project would be a way to do some good, beyond merely making beautiful objects.
Seeing Cindy’s cameos brought back childhood memories of snooping and rummaging through my mother’s jewelry box, and finding my mother’s cameos. They turned out to be cameos that had been handed down to my mother from her mother from Italy. I remember how naively excited I was to discover these special objects, considering it proof that we must be rich.
With my drawings and sculpture, I try to donate money to different organizations related to the content of the work. With this project with Liz, I was thrilled to have another opportunity to support Everytown for Gun Safety and Planned Parenthood.
"I am interested in how this jewelry project provides a different approach to the intimacy in how images of my work are consumed."
Liz: I had wanted to work with Robert for a couple of years – I thought his work would translate incredibly in this scale and in the mediums that these pieces are in. In general, his scale is huge, and while it's huge, the precision and intensity and intimacy of the hand is so powerful.
What also interests me is the dance between new and old, contemporary and traditional. To take what's so vibrantly contemporary in Robert's work and channel it in these traditional materials of the cameo and a pendant and a ring, is so fascinating to me.
The imagery that we chose of the rose and the bullet embody the ideas of fragility, vulnerability, strength and beauty. The bullet hole and rose are equally ravishing and flower-like. I love that dynamic. It was a true delight bringing this project to life and adding this dimension to Robert’s work with him.
Robert, why is art important in reflecting what is happening in society?
Robert: We are living in such polarized times. There is so much horrific trauma in the world that we see daily in the media, and it’s easy to scroll past important, yet fleeting, images. With drawings, I attempt to slow down images. As an artist, I feel a moral imperative to preserve the images of these ugly moments in our history with the hope that I can urge the audience to take a position and to ultimately create change.
Could you describe the collection?
Liz: The collection comprises seven pieces, made in limited editions of 15. There are four rose pieces, which consist of two rings, a pendant and earrings. The cameos are carved from sardonic shells and punctuated with tourmaline stone, which I love – the stone has a spiritual quality to it. Each piece is hand-carved by a master carver.
The bullet hole includes three pieces, a ring and two pendants – one with a chain and one with a great leather cord.
The bullet is handmade from black jet stone, which was very popular in the Victorian era, but not used much since. On top of it is a tiny layer of gold that is hand painted with the bullet hole. Ceramic enamels give intensity to the black on the piece, that has a shiny finish, and the rest is matte. The artistry of these pieces is to be celebrated.
Through the whole collection, I’m trying to reach a non-gender state with jewelry.
It's a give and take of ideology and trust. I feel privileged and honored by the trust the artists give to me. I don't take it lightly, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Robert, how do you feel about your work in the scale and medium of jewelry?
Robert: I’ve focused primarily on charcoal drawings for the last 20 years (which are more closely related to traditional painting than to drawing). Charcoal as a medium is quite poetic, the medium of cave drawings. My drawings, which I consider to be truly sculptural, get built up with so many layers of charcoal dust and powder. The way the drawing comes to life is by erasing, carving the image out of it. Through making large-scale charcoal drawings of highly emotive images, I have been exploring how the intimate medium of drawing can slow down the consumption of images.
I am interested in how this jewelry project provides a different approach to the intimacy in how images of my work are consumed. In working on a small scale, I find it interesting to consider how the content is so much bigger than the object.
What’s next, what are you working on now?
Liz: My wishlist of future collaborations is infinite, stay tuned!
Robert: I have an exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum which opens July 1st and is on view until the end of February.
My exhibition at the Guild Hall Art Museum in East Hampton opens August 6th. The show will be made up of my Gang of Cosmos series from 2014 – large-scale charcoal drawings based on Abstract Expressionist paintings – as well as more recent works that seek to echo our current state of affairs and pose questions about our national and environmental narratives.
My gallery of 40 years, Metro Pictures, is closing at the end of the year. My first exhibition at my new representation, Pace Gallery, opens September 9th.