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Swarovski Sparks Experimentation


Rashaad Newsome (second from left) speaks with students in the Swarovski sponsored studio. | photo by Micah Barrett 12 GD

Rashaad Newsome, a rising star whose work was included in the most recent Venice and Whitney biennials, brought his unique take on both fine art and street bling to RISD last week. He was the first of three compelling artists invited to campus as part of a Wintersession fine arts lecture series and studio sponsored by Swarovski, the global manufacturer of fine crystals.

Building on a long tradition of collaboration between RISD and Swarovski, the studio invites students from a wide range of majors to explore the properties and possibilities of Swarovski ELEMENTS, the company’s premium brand of fine crystals.

Over the course of six weeks, students are working with Painting Critic Mary Jones to explore new techniques for incorporating Swarovski ELEMENTS such as chandelier materials, beads, crystal thread and crystal appliqué into innovative new work. The studio will culminate in a curated exhibition of student work to be shown at the company’s US headquarters in Cranston, RI.

“We are delighted to collaborate with Swarovski on this studio and this series of public lectures with world-class visiting artists,” says RISD’s Interim Dean of Fine Arts Anais Missakian. “The partnership will enable fine arts students to explore the possibilities of using this multifaceted material in new and innovative ways.”

“Ranging from hip-hop bling to the sublime geometry of abstraction – all can be encompassed with Swarovski ELEMENTS,” notes Professor Holly Hughes, head of the Painting Department, who introduced the lecture series as a critical component designed to “fire the imaginations of the students enrolled in the sponsored studio.” This month the series will also bring contemporary artists Heather Rowe and Alyson Shotz to campus on January 12 and January 19, respectively, to share ideas with students in the studio, as well as for 6 pm lectures in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium that are open to the public.

A New Orleans native steeped in street culture and hip-hop’s tradition of sampling, jousting, status and bling, Newsome is represented by Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea, where his fall solo show Herald featured his latest work. In creating work for the show, he found himself gravitating to a centuries-old visual language that incorporated many of the same elements as hip-hop: the medieval European tradition of heraldry and armorial achievements, which used highly symbolic coats of arms to represent status.

With seals, crests, mottos and other insignia combined and recombined in endless designs, Newsome says he began to see coats of arms as a kind of medieval collage. In his own work, he creates contemporary coats of arms using status symbols from black culture – hair weaves, car rims, Rolex watches and dueling hip-hop stars like Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj. The result is a “modern-day take on heraldry, centuries of European tradition mashed up with hip-hop’s latest swagger,” as a recent review in the New York Timesput it.

“An overarching theme in all my work is language,” Newsome told the students who came to hear him speak. “I like the way that heraldry functions like a language.”

related links:
Swarovski / RISD Fine Arts Wintersession Lectures
Rashaad Newsome

Blending Hip-Hop and Heraldry (New York Times)

tags: corporate, local/regional, partnerships + collaborations, Jewelry + Metalsmithing, Painting, students, wintersession

At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.