Featured Member

Each month a new Featured Member is chosen from the completed member profiles on our website. Their interview and work is highlighted on our blog and social media.

March 2017

  • Olivia Shih
  • Olivia Shih
  • Olivia Shih
  • Olivia Shih
  • Olivia Shih
  • Olivia Shih

Olivia Shih

Oakland, Ca

Tell us a little about yourself.

Born in the US and raised in Taiwan, I’m an artist, jewelry designer, and writer currently based in Oakland, California. In my conceptual work, I explore the imprint of sexism on our daily habits, often through alternative materials paired with metal armature. Questioning the construction of gender and reinterpreting feminism are the driving forces behind my work.

I know some artists say they aren’t interested in political or confrontational issues, but identifying as an artist is a political act in itself. Instead of valuing the financial stability and familiarity of a 9-to-5 job, an artist might choose a part-time gig with little upward mobility in exchange for more creative running room. The artist values flexibility, creativity, and ultimately, freedom of expression, which is intrinsically political.

As Aristotle aptly puts it, humans, by nature, are political animals.

Your recent jewelry collections are a big departure from your conceptual artwork. What’s the story here?

At this point, I feel as if I’ve been in school for too long, and I want to explore the world outside of academia. My jewelry business is one of these ventures, and although there is no apparent link to feminism, the business is inspired by inquisitive women who speak their own minds. The carved acrylic collections, in particular, inject an undeniably bold presence into everyday life.

Which materials do you create with most and what is your attraction to using them?

With my conceptual work, I enameled white tiles and secure them to metal armatures with grout. Mass-produced tiles were the texture of my childhood in Taiwan, and I’m fascinated by its conflicting nature. Tiles were introduced to Taiwan as an implementation of modern hygiene; it is an uniform and easily cleaned surface–the visual equivalent to white noise. Due to humid weather and frequent earthquakes over the years, these tiles have peeled off or gently bulged out on walls, taking on almost human characteristics.

In my jewelry business, I utilized the belt sander in carving wax, moved onto carving wood, and ultimately, to acrylic. The more I work with acrylic, which is a type of plastic, the more attracted and repelled I become. Plastic has permeated every aspect of my life. This material is alluring in its shiny, bright newness, its ability to be molded into practically any object, but plastic also converges into floating islands in the middle of the ocean. How should we react to this addictive material?

How long have you been working in metals and what brought you into this field?

After I got my bachelor’s in creative writing in New York, I realized that I never felt like I belonged in that city. So in 2012 I pivoted and headed to the west coast, where working in metals really grounded me. Making an object with my hands gave me focus, and the bay area gave me an open-minded and welcoming community. It surprises me to this day how supportive and sharing the people in the metals community are!

What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in metals?

Make mistakes! If you never melt a bezel or overfire enamel, you will never know what the limits and potential of these materials are. As my professor Deb Lozier says, if you can repeat a mistake to create a consistent result, the mistake becomes your technique.

My second piece of advice is to try everything. This means interning at a gallery, working as an artist’s assistant, volunteering at a conference, etc. Each opportunity is a chance to see what truly fits you. Think of it as trying on a ring. You won’t know if it feels right unless you try it on. Taking on different roles in the metals field will also give you a feel for how the industry works and where your niche is.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now I’m focusing on building my jewelry business and writing for Art Jewelry Forum, but I might consider grad school in a couple years. It would be incredible to return to an environment custom made for explosive creative growth!