The pandemic years have proven to be a catalyst for a local artist couple to stretch their boundaries and even combine their talents in some surprising ways. The results of these new forays and collaborations are on view at West Tisbury’s Field Gallery in a group show that includes work by jeweler Ken Pillsworth and photographer Jhenn Watts — both of whom have been represented by the gallery for years.
Along with Watts’ photos, which are taken with an antique large-format box camera, and Pillsworth’s gold and silver necklaces, earrings, and rings, the Field Gallery is spotlighting a series of landscapes on titanium by the latter, and some jewelry pieces designed in tandem by the two artists.
Pillsworth’s foray into a new art form was a natural progression for him. Using a jewelers’ torch and an unconventional medium, Pillsworth has discovered a unique way to make two-dimensional art. Of his recent series, which he calls “Flame Paintings,” Pillsworth says, “I’m taking titanium and heating it up to different temps to create different colors.”
He first started using the torch process in jewelry making, creating miniature works of art on titanium disks set in sterling silver, and fashioned into necklaces or earrings. The pieces resemble tiny landscape paintings. “I stumbled on this technique, and it came clear to me right away from the colors — these are sunsets,” says Pillsworth.
From there he started experimenting with much larger pieces. Using the small torch as a tool, Pillsworth heats the titanium to bring out various colors. Heating the metal results in a chemical change called anodization, which brings out a spectrum of colors depending upon how much heat is applied. It’s a painstaking process to carefully “paint” the titanium surface to create a desired image.
Pillsworth’s “Flame Paintings” reproduce the colors of the Vineyard — blues, browns, and yellows, with touches of pink in sunset skies, and white speckling and ripples to represent clouds and sunlight reflected on the water. It’s impressive to see how much subtlety of color, blending, and even fine lines Pillsworth has managed to produce with the process.
The frames are similarly enhanced through a technique called shou sugi ban, where the wood is charred to produce a darkened surface that retains the patterns of the wood grain. “I love that the black makes the titanium pop out,” says Pillsworth.
It’s not surprising that the jeweler and artist was inspired by the shores of the Vineyard. He and Watts spend a great deal of time walking the Island beaches in order for her to find the perfect vantage points for her photos. “During the pandemic, especially, we got used to taking long walks on the beach,” says Watts. Examples of her stunning views of Island scenes are included in the show.
The couple’s collaborative spirit can be found in a series of necklaces and earrings. Together the two designed delicate, colorful strands, using tiny gemstone beads and gold or silver accent beads. Some are simple, single-strand necklaces, while others serve as a platform from which hang small gemstones or silver pendants designed by Pillsworth. “We usually go to the Tucson gem show together, and walking around, I was seeing all of these beads that I loved,” says Watts, who has used her photographer’s eye for color in the designs.
“It was a natural for two people dropped in a house together,” she says of their newfound project. “We had collaborated before, and this was the next natural progression for a joint effort. For me, it’s an interesting turning point.”
As well as the collaborative jewelry line, examples of Watts and Pillsworth’s solo work — her photos and his gold and silver abstract-design jewelry — are included in the show, along with Rachael Cassiani’s beautiful contemporary Vineyard landscapes, and are worth a visit to the Field Gallery’s season opener show.
“Artists Premiere Show” featuring the work of Ken Pillsworth, Jhenn Watts, and Rachael Cassiani, will hang through July 12 at the Field Gallery, 1050 State Road, West Tisbury.