Unlike most commercial jewelry, artwear is not created on a massive scale. The focus is more on creating pieces that will be unique in themselves, instead of merely being accessories. "Artwear" or "art-to-wear" is the concept of jewelry as wearable art.
The idea began in New York in 1972 with a gallery called Sculpture to Wear. Among others, the gallery featured the work of Robert Lee Morris, who later opened a gallery called Artwear. In 1978, that gallery moved to its current headquarters in Soho. Artwear showed Morris' work and that of 50 of his peers.But that has changed. There are fewer artists at Artwear. "Right now we're about 25 - really only the best and the strongest - a select group. To be at Artwear now is almost impossible, which is kind of a sad thing."
"Artwear" is the name of Morris' gallery, but it also refers to the more general idea of "art to wear." It is sometimes a specific, sometimes a more general term.
For Morris, the creation of artwear is a very personal thing. "I approach jewelry from an anthropological point of reference; I have no studio art background, no training. I had to teach myself from scratch. I started with a concept in my head first and taught myself the techniques I needed."
The creative process is nothing to be taken lightly. "Jewelry is an artifact of man. It tells a lot about his culture. It tells about how men think and socialize. The important thing is that it is sensual and glamorous. Always having that in mind, I approach artwear intellectually."
"Artwear, says Morris, "is not for everybody. It is for those who appreciate good art, fine art."
At the Artwear gallery in Soho, prices average $150, according to Morris. "You might find some earrings for less than that, and there are very few pieces for over $2,000. The prices are good for impulse buyers."
Morris works primarily in metals. For the gallery, he selects artists who use many different materials _ plastics, rubber, wood, glass, and, more recently, painted chain mesh.
In addition to using different materials, Artwear artists are always seeking new mediums of expression.
"The next thing in Artwear is belts and scarves _ the obvious extension of jewelry,"says Morris. "I am designing my first scarf for this fall season. We have scarves from Carol Motty _ silk chiffon with rubber designs and iridescent powders sprinkled on them."
"We are also getting into handbags and backpacks, painted leathers, all the designers are experimenting and breaking new ground."
Because Morris has condensed the Artwear group to a carefully selected 25 artists, many of those who remain belonged to the original crew. "The old masters are still together and we're the ones who sell the best." For Morris, artwear is art that also has a function. "There really shouldn't be any distinction between function and art. To say it is not art when it becomes practical art is no longer valid."
At Artwear, you have people who are "real artists deep in their hearts who are more able to express their art as wearable than as objects."