Based in Bangkok for the past 22 years, fine artist and jewelry designer Matthew Campbell Laurenza has long been bridging the worlds of fine art and applied art by making gemstone-studded sculptures and producing colorfully enameled, precious gemstone and diamond jewelry that retails across the U.S. at Neiman Marcus and in Asian luxury stores such as Barneys New York Japan. Opening on November 5, 2019, Laurenza’s latest bejeweled art exhibit runs at Perrotin Editions, located at 130 Orchard Street, until November 22nd.
Entitled ‘Complications & Communication: A Study of Bugs,’ the show is alive with freestanding and kinetic sculptures that are set with ethically sourced, colored sapphires, rock crystals and other gemstones. “While each piece of jewelry I create is a miniature sculpture,” Laurenza says, “on a much larger scale, these 25 sculptures on exhibit are bejeweled art for interior spaces.” Highly intricate and expertly handcrafted by Laurenza and master artisans in his Bangkok studio, the sculptures
simulate the iridescent color gradations of beetles, dragonflies, bees and other insects, many of which are endangered due to habitat loss created by urban expansion, pesticide use, wildfires and air pollution.
‘Complications & Communication’ is also a partnership with the non-profit organization TED Talks which presents informative, educational and empowering presentations of eighteen minutes or less in communities around the world in over 100 languages. (These can be viewed at TED Talks as well as on youtube.com) Laurenza’s exhibit derives its title from his belief that, “Art as a medium of communication in the global dialogue is more crucial than ever, given the issues we are all facing, including the impact of climate change on the world’s insect populations.”
For this and other reasons, Laurenza’s show is creating a timely buzz. As he explains, “Insects are critical to every ecosystem and are foundational for our survival.” (It’s common knowledge that scientists around the world are reporting data indicating that many insect populations are declining.) What’s more, “How different bug species thrive, survive or become extinct are important indicators as to the health and future of our planet,” Laurenza explains. With the support of Perrotin Editions and TED Talks, these bejeweled bugs remind us that our planet and all its inhabitants are fragile. We must not only observe and understand, we must also act to preserve the survival of all life forms.”
According to Lisa Choi Owens, Chief Revenue Officer, Global Partnerships, TED, “Design is a part of TED’s DNA. We deeply value the impact it has on our lives. Matthew’s work is obviously beautiful and unique, but he designs it with a bigger purpose, to inspire global conversations through creativity, which reflects the mission of TED.” (A percentage of sales of Laurenza’s work exhibited at Perrotin Editions will be donated to TED in support of TED Talks programming.)
Experts such as Los Angeles-based entomologist Steven Kutcher support Laurenza’s assertions regarding the need to try and preserve insect populations. “Insects work 24-7 fulfilling numerous functions that make life possible on our planet,” Kutcher says. “Butterflies, moths, bees, male mosquitoes and other insects pollinate a huge variety of fruit and vegetable plants, including many that humans, and other creatures, rely on for food.” As earth’s unsung sanitation engineers and recyclers, “Insects do the essential dirty work of breaking dead things down into materials for new life,” Kutcher emphasizes. “Without them, the world would be a filthier place; just unrecognizable.” What’s more, “Insects also help control weeds and even provide precious raw materials for medicines.” An authority on insect behavior, Kutcher is the film industry’s pre-eminent insect wrangler, having collected and trained hundreds of spiders to perform in the classic bug flick, “Arachnophobia.” He also staged a Biblically epic insect plague for the film, Exorcist II: The Heretic, during which the priestly protagonist, played by Richard Burton, is bedeviled by myriad aggressive grasshoppers.
According to Tania Schwartz, Texas Cultural Trust Board of Director’s Vice Chair, “Matthew’s new sculptural series, Complications & Communication: A Study of Bugs, is art with an important message. Through his work, Matthew recognizes the value of the arts in communicating an idea that impacts everyone on this planet systemically,” she says. “His kinetic insect sculptures brilliantly tie together a conversation about the impact that the arts have on the economy, science, and planetary life. The Texas Cultural Trust has published research about the impact of the arts on our youngest generation to change lives. I applaud Matthew for his dedication to increasing awareness about vital issues through this exhibit.”
Noting that entomologists have been recording declines in insect biomass and diversity since the 1970s, Laurenza adds, “As an artist, I’m concerned with how systems work. Each insect plays a vital part in the natural systems necessary for life as we know it, to exist.” As with his gemstone jewelry or sapphire-studded sculptures, an imbalance can be devastating to the integrity of a given piece. “If one part is damaged or malfunctioning, the jewelry, or artwork, is negatively affected, and may stop working altogether.”
The bejeweled bugs of Complications & Communication prompt us to ponder how humans need insects far more than insects need humans. After all, bugs pollinate the plants that much of our planet needs to survive. As Laurenza explains, “A pollinator is an animal that causes plants to make fruit or seeds. They do this by moving pollen from one part of the flower of a plant to another area. This pollen then fertilizes the plant. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce.” As Kutcher claims with stinging precision, “Remove humanity from the earth, and earth will survive. Remove insects from the earth, and earth will die.” Kutcher bookends this prophecy by querying, “How are you going to pollinate plants, flowers, fruit and nut trees in outer space?”
Meanwhile, on planet Earth, Laurenza lives in his Bangkok studio, where he employs 36 full time master artists to hand-fabricate his sculptures and jewelry. “Bangkok is one of the few cities left in the world where a relatively large pool of artists utilize their culture’s age-old techniques to make contemporary pieces that keep their artistic heritage alive,” he says. For each sculpture in the Perrotin exhibit, Laurenza first drew a rendering, then meticulously hand-carved each insect in wax before it was cast in silver and/or glass. Each bug was then set with custom-cut, ethically sourced sapphires and semi-precious stones, such as rock crystal, into the sculpture’s armature.
According to Dr. Disaphol Chansiri, an Asia-based art collector who serves on the Board of some of the world’s most important fine art museums, “Matthew’s jeweled objects are the next generation of centuries-old techniques and artistry, all of which he is committed to sustaining. As globalization challenges the survival of individual artistry, this exhibit at Perrotin
conveys the intense commitment required to stay true to one’s vision and techniques in order to produce unique works of art that contribute to the larger dialogue humans are conducting about our role as planetary caretakers.”
Visit matthewcampbelllaurenza.com for more information on his works and collaborations. Connect on Instagram with @matthew_campbell_laurenza