leroy luar – the local jeweller changing the game on silversmithing
December 21, 2018
Despite my disdain on the current toxic Instagram landscape, one of the things I always look forward to is stumble across new Insta-gems of profiles by local creatives. Uncovering new talents in Malaysia are quite the rarity, even more so with the one-aesthetic-centric approaches many new talents seem to employ to guarantee their appeal to the mass tastebuds. On one of those random occurences, Leroy Luar’s instagram (@leroyluar) popped up on my explore page and with its raw and organic aesthetic , immediately assumed that it might belong to a jeweller based in Berlin or any of the Scandi countries. Little did I know, after a quick hello to enquire on the pieces, it belonged to a Malaysian of the same name, granted with an interesting background story to go along with the unique creations displayed on his Instagram page. I took my time to dig into this imaginative gemologist to uncover how Leroy took into the art at a time where silversmithing gets shoved aside, and his interesting transition towards starting a jewellery label.
How did you get yourself into silversmithing?
I have always have a strong interest in jewellery design from the get-go, it’s just that I have taken the conventional route of taking a college degree then into a corporate job doing communications; which was fine and good but I’ve always felt like there’s something else I should be doing. So when in KL, I searched for and found a small jewellery studio to learn up some basic skills on metal smithing and then once learnt, I began to experiment by myself at home. It was a lot of internet researching, books and trials and error. At this point in time, I’ve left my corporate profession behind and moved back to Penang with the aim of making jewellery full time while manning my mum’s vintage/antique store which is also filled with inspiration (especially for classical designs).
Is there a possibility for people involved in this craft to transition from hobby to a full-blown profession in this country?
I do think people in our generation (in Malaysia at least, i.e. the CSM institute in Britain has plenty of young folks learning jewellery design and it’s associated crafts as a profession) don’t think of arts/crafts as having a future as a profession because of a combination of reasons:
1 – Our generally more reserved view of what constitutes profession/jobs that pay the rent and can provide a future (i.e. doctor, architect, accountant, etc…)
2- Our bent towards consumerist consumption instead of creation though this has changed tremendously in the past decade or so; our generation has become increasingly disillusioned with the mass consumption pattern that reached its zenith in the 80s global wealth boom.
3 – Plain logistics; professions require a level of investment and the expectation of a satisfactory ROI. Until the arts are seen as integral to the economy and self actualisation, it’ll continue to be a chicken/egg situation for people trying to decide whether to keep crafts as a side hobby or take the plunge and turn it into a profession.
In spite of the details I have given above, I do have dreams of making it a profession but until there is a firm strategy on properly profitting from this hobby, I will just focus more on developing skills until I settled on with metal smithing.
What fascinates you most when creating a piece?
Honestly, I am fascinated most by the process of creation itself. From the material used to the technique employed to the intention behind each piece, I enjoy immersing myself as completely as I can into the journey of creation – discovering and learning as I go. Of course, my preferred process doesn’t lend itself to much precision which is why I think of my work as more contemporary than it is classical (although I also do enjoy learning classical techniques, forms and aesthetics to inform my own creations.)
Lead us through your creative process
As per the previous question, my process of creation is informed by the process itself. While I do start out like most designers with an idea/a sketch/ a theme in mind, I do not hesitate to follow branch away or take a tangent as the need arises. Sometimes it comes from a mistake, occasionally I simply change my mind (i.e. I may intend to end up with a mirror polished piece but after putting it together, I may decide that a tarnished, distressed finish would be more appropriate and I just go with it.)
I like to believe that my process is ultimately reflected in my end product – organic, raw, alive almost. At the risk of sounding too pretentious, each piece I make enriches me as I continue to learn new things with every design – how much heat to use, how best to set a particular stone, whether a piece requires a stone at all or whether the metal alone is sufficient to tell the story I’m trying to tell.
Where do you extract your ideas and inspirations from?
Tonnes! But to highlight a few prominent figures would be like modernist/post-modernist artists such as Margaret de Patta (American), Georg Jensen (Danish), Carl Aubock (Austrian), Zaha Hadid (UK). The one thing these guys have in common is an idiosyncratic (dis)regard for tradition when it comes to design.
From your designs, I see a lot of brutalist trait with plenty of organic treatment to your work. There is a sense of rawness detected throughout – is there a story or concept explaining this approach.
That’s right. I covered this in Q3 but yes, basically I journey alongside the piece as it comes together – I don’t stick too much to any given plan and just go along with the process – the best thing about this approach is that I don’t typically junk mistakes, I let the mistake guide my next step (but I do make sure that all pieces are structurally sound and can take a reasonable amount of wear).
How accessible you think for anyone out there with a passion towards goldsmithing to start a career in malaysia? what are the starting tools (experience, advice) to be equipped with?
Like everything else, I think with passion, then the practitioner wouldn’t mind hustling until the hobby becomes a career. So yes, I think there’s always the potential for metal smithing to be an avenue for creative success for anybody that wants to give it a go.
For the second part of the question, practical skills and tools aside, I think the most important element that a creative can best equip themselves with is a sense of curiosity (related specifically to a desire to always be learning). Regardless of what your preferred material/aesthetic is, if one approaches any creative endeavour cynically (to make a quick buck, to strike at a burning trend, etc…) then there’s only so far you can go before burning out or hitting a wall.
What are your favorite elements to work with when creating your designs
At this point in time, the metal I’m working itself is sterling silver primarily but occasionally brass (and the tiniest amount of gold that I can afford) although at some point I’d like to branch out into other non traditional materials (i.e. marble, concrete, leather). The intrinsic value of the material aside (concrete will never be seen as ‘precious’ in the classical sense), I’d like to tease out the paradoxical qualities of materials to suit a design that I’m trying to go for.
Tell me what you see in the future for Leroy Luar
I wish I knew! For now, it will be to continue learning and producing. One of my mid-term goals is to find work being included as one component of a larger creative pursuit (i.e. a film, a play, a musical). There are artists tapped to create pieces for stuff like Black Mirror, GoT and the LOTR films that I admire/envy tremendously.