Born in 1963, Rie Taniguchi is a Japanese metalsmith and naturalist who creates fine jewellery and compositions embracing her passion for wildlife and conservation. Her art is deeply engaging and her characters are carved with simple and clean lines, and charming, and sometimes disarming, expression. Her exquisitely sculptured composite scenes include wearable pieces, often brooches, and her jewellery collections are so life-like and animated, the wearer becomes, by default, both storyteller and puppeteer. Rie works mainly in Sterling and Britannia silvers and often details her pieces with gold, enamel, semi-precious stones and sometimes textiles; many are also ingeniously articulated.
I am thrilled to now own a piece of Rie’s work; she's a snow leopard brooch, semi abstract and called ‘Climbing Mum’. The surface of her muscular body is deliberately pin-punched to capture the texture of the thick fur and the matt finish evokes its softness. The boulder on which she climbs with such purpose is reproduced in sharp-angled ebony that depicts the unforgiving landscape. I think it’s a masterpiece. There were six copper prototypes and countless drawings before Rie was happy to proceed with silver. She emails me about her recollections; “I watched snow leopard footage from the first 'Planet Earth' series tens of times and made so many drawings, this one was one of my favourite”. She concludes humbly, “..thank you for giving a good home for my snow leopard.”
Earlier this month, I met Rie at the Barbican Centre, minutes from her home in London. She looked a little tired and she volunteered she had not slept well; her creativity is her pre-occupation and I got the feeling that she had spent the early hours alone in her thoughts. Rie was brought up in Nagoya, Japan, the historical centre of Japanese artisan die-resist or shirobi textiles. One of her earliest memories was of the river tinged blue or pink with the colour from the dyers up stream. As a child Rie read and reread all the books she found on animals…then sought out books on insects. She eagerly awaited each week the sole 30-minute natural science programme on TV; and she drew, and drew.…” everyone draws when they’re little; I just never stopped” she explains.
Rie studied graphic design in Japan and came to London in the late 1980’s, attracted by the music scene. She studied metalwork at the renowned Sir John Cass School of Art and later gained an MA in silversmithing, jewellery and allied crafts from London Guildhall. Today she works from her studio at home, which she shares with clothing designer/maker Ian Batten whose wonderfully tailored clothes she wears and models ( see top image). She works prodigiously and incredibly finds time to compose essays about the wildlife she portrays.
Rie is a self-described maker of objects, whose work displays the innate Japanese sensibility and humility to see both art and soul in the natural world. She predominantly models in fine silver, as it responds subtly to sculpting at miniature scale. She meticulously researches her subject, often lesser known and threatened animals, birds and marine life. She watches countless hours of documentary footage, reading voraciously, and delving into her memories and mythology to prepare her drawings which will ultimately give life to the 3-dimensional work of art. Rie exposes her huge respect and love of the natural world, “When you find out more, your relationship changes… sharks, crocodiles, gharials”. I had to ‘look up’ gharial and I discovered that it is a critically endangered.
Scroll through her wearable collections comprising brooches, necklaces, earrings, pins, and cufflinks. It is remarkable to see many of the pieces are composed with props that add whimsy or gravitas as she sees fit. The sleeping dormouse cufflink is curled next to its leaf, the wolf brooch is in its ubiquitous Little Red Riding Hood red cloak, a necklace shows a humming bird hovering to steal nectar. The illustrative power of these pieces is breath-taking yet her brand of passion for the natural world is not activism but gentle provocation of interest; “I like to show the beauty in the animal. I try to express the essence of life with satire and playfulness, showing animals in their environments and to make it ‘life-like’ rather than realistic” she explains.
Where can you find her work? Rie exhibits this year at Goldsmiths’ Fair, London and has done so for nearly a decade; this is no mean feat as each year the artists are rigorously selected to attend. Rie also contributes work to other exhibitions and galleries in the UK ( notably CAA in Southwark) and internationally, including Japan and USA, and is attracting growing attention from jewellery lovers and collectors. To many, her art, quality, and depth of her craft is deserving of the title ‘master goldsmith’ and we agree. When I see and touch her work, I am reminded of one of the few remaining Samurai sword makers who says about his work “It’s a difficult task, but it’s an honourable one”.
Rie's work can currently also be found here, online at Woldstone.