Photography / Editorial / Print

Born in Japan, contemporary jeweller Mariko Sumioka displays more than a nod to her rich cultural background, when viewing her exquisitely crafted collection. Instantly evocative, Mariko tells us she "researched very old traditions, how people live with nature and how they interact with architecture," in finding inspiration, be it from the "colours in the house and the environment, to the proportions in a building or the structure of bamboo."

"Humans have always had a relationship with nature," and she is fascinated by this connection. "I feel awe and respect for natural and man-made objects which have been there and lived with since ancient times." The colours are often weathered, preferring natural tones, drawing influence from 16th and 17th century Japanese architecture and the principles of Zen. Natural materials and colours, dark and bright contrasts, linear forms, geometric shapes and spaces are the core themes behind her work. The tactile element also cannot be ignored, revelling in the smooth organic texture of bamboo and the cold rigidity of copper.

Despite a love for art in school, she went down a more academic route, studying economics in Osaka and oil upstream investment, hoping to continue with her art as a hobby. After working several years in the oil industry, her artistic side surfaced and in her late 20s chose upon a change of career. A course at Akasaka Jewellery Design School beckoned, followed by Jewellery & Silversmithing at Edinburgh College of Art.  The fascination with jewellery, she says, comes from the time she used to live in Brazil, where at a very young age in kindergarten, she found herself surrounded by school kids wearing bright and colourful clothing, accessories, rings, earrings, "in Japan, which is very conservative, it is impossible to see such a similar scene. Even having your earring pierced was frowned upon, until you were much older." There is also an image she had, aged five where she was "sitting at a bench and making jewellery." As it happens, we are seated in her studio in Cockpit Arts, London, with her in front of such a jewellers work bench.

Now based in London full time, she visits Japan once a year. "After university I travelled a lot in Asia for nearly four years, also visiting several countries in Europe." There is an adventurous approach to her work and her course at the college in Edinburgh, "encouraged us to do lots of drawings and develop ideas from them," finding her strengths in the collage pieces we see on her website. "Collaging is similar to making jewellery, there are lots of elements you are putting together," such as with the enamelling and paper work. It helped formulate and "break down my original thoughts into different ideas, and to find new ideas and designs by abstracting elements."

It is important to "let people find their own connection while wearing jewellery." Some of the works are easily worn and recognisable, the earrings and architectural rings for example, other forms such as the Tea House, however, can be worn and contoured across the body. There has been a "shift in what we perceive jewellery to be," Mariko tells us, "the concept of jewellery is precious, important, like handed down stuff from families which it used to be," nowadays, in the context of all the rampant mass consumerism and throwaway culture, "it is changing, but I still I want people to play around and treat them as special objects."

The Bamboo pieces and some of the brooches are unique statement pieces, "not very practical", but there is great use of different materials used in the construction, metals, some of which smooth, others more patinated, enamelling, kimono fabric and even silicone and small pearls in one piece which are juxtaposed against bamboo. Copper is a favourite metal used in several of the works, the green oxidised colour and enamelling with simple colours "enables me to explore my images of natural materials and textures which can be found in Wabi-sabi aesthetic and Japanese architecture."

The year ahead will see more of a "focus on the quality of my jewellery, its uniqueness and narrativity," in addition to making some more "one-off pieces to entertain viewers," hinting at perhaps a large scale wall piece. Her work can be viewed at  her website, as well at several worldwide stockists: Charon Kransen Arts, NYC; Contemporary Applied Arts, London; Gill Wing Jewellery, London; Hammer Gallery, Hong Kong; Lesley Craze Gallery, London; O Gallery, Belgium;
Roger Billcliffe Gallery, Glasgow and Ubi Gallery, Beijing, China

Interview and Portraits:
Nardip Singh
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