Theeth Jewelry is one of Altar’s most prized and precious jewelry lines in our store. As it too is a staple worn by the Altar team, I really love this line of jewelry due to its attention to detail, the high level of craftsmanship required to sculpt, mold, wax, cast and fabricate these pieces, the variety of natural stones adorned, and the overall theme of magical realism strongly portrayed in their bracelets, necklaces and rings. When looking into the sea of all the handmade jewelry out there, I feel I can always point out a Theeth Jewelry piece. Their works are majorly silver or bronze, fraught with otherworldly organisms like scorpions, fungi, butterflies, snakes, but also esoteric symbols like animal skulls, skeleton hands, and the Baphomet idol. The jewelry looks alive and present, but also old with an essence of the arcane. (Did you know this company uses real scorpions to form a cast for their jewelry?! Super rad!) Owned and created by Kimi Kaplowitz, Theeth Jewelry is an independently locally owned business in Portland, OR, highly inspired by the flora and fauna environments. Because we love her works so much, we decided to give her a little interview as means to gain more insight to herself, her brand and her artistry.
It is obvious in your works that you adore the natural world. Why?
Since I was a child I spent a good amount of time outdoors observing the comings and goings of various insects: the flowering and emergence of mushrooms and plants, their eventual death and decay, and their return to the earth, to cycle anew. I find myself lost in this world often, the forms and function of the natural world are of endless fascination and inspiration to me.
Other than the natural world, what else inspires you? Why? Who are some other artists you draw inspiration from and why?
I like artists who bridge the gap between reality and fantasy. A couple of my favorite artists are Matthew Barney, Christian Rex van Minnen and Lee Bontecou. I love the old master painters and printmakers like Hieronymous Bosch and Albrecht Durer, as well as filmmakers like David Cronenberg, and musicians like David Bowie. I basically love the creators of monsters and otherworldly creatures. I find myself enchanted by works that create something out of elements of the familiar; combining them to create art that is unsettling, yet so curious, that the audience can’t help but get lost in it.
What’s integral to the work of an artist, and to you personally, what is art meant to accomplish?
I think one of the purposes of art is to create something that can hold the viewer captive. Perhaps even so much so, that the viewer might be transported, if only for a moment, from the real world into the world that the artist has created. All artists create their own worlds through the creation of their work. In my jewelry work of the past 3 years, I have been very focused on craftsmanship. I’ve been obsessing over perfecting the art of mold making and casting extremely delicate specimens, and translating them into wearable jewelry.
On your website you talk about creating a world of your own. Please tell me about this world, and how it is reflected in your work.
In my jewelry work I attempt to immortalize some of the moments I see in nature. To create everlasting specimens similar to the practice of natural history illustration before the age of photography, and sometimes create a moment which can only occur in my mind. I'm beginning to work on incorporating more themes from my figurative sculptural work that I've done in the past into my jewelry pieces in the future. I've amassed a great collection of molds that I've made, from specimens of mushrooms to insects and plants, and hand-sculpted elements. I'm waiting for a period of inspiration where I can begin making my own surrealist monster colleges in full force.
How has your practice changed over time? Any mistakes that you have learned over the years, and what advice do you have for new artists?
My artistic practice is always evolving. My parents were artists, both teachers and creators, I've learned so much from their work and practice. I learned sculpting and process from my mother, who was a ceramicist, and the art of assemblage from my father, who collected bits and pieces from the forest and combined them for his photography works. Although I’ve been creating all my life, I feel like I’m still finding my voice. I went to art school and felt so much freedom to create in my own vision, but when I graduated, I realized I needed to make money so I came to Portland and started working in the animation industry. I had positions where I had artistic freedom from time to time, but I was using a lot of my creative energy on the job, so I was not in a place where I was compelled to go home and create more. But with the influence of my friend Morgaine, who I also worked with, I began creating jewelry and slowly made the transition to being my own boss. I sometimes wonder where I would be if I started making jewelry sooner, or if I decided to just focus on doing my own thing straight out of school. But as with everything in life, timing is critical. I've learned so much over the years working in different industries, working with other people, making friends, having a life outside of being an artist. I fell into my time and my work would not be what it is, and I would not be so passionate about creating, if I didn't take the time to get to exactly where I'm at.
As for my advice to other artists? Try everything! Especially if you're in school. Take that opportunity to learn how to use all the materials and tools available, you might be surprised at what medium moves you! I explored all the studios in my school thoroughly, and not only did I find what I loved to do best, it also set me up with valuable skills I was able to put towards working in art related industries.
What is your creative process? Any rituals?
I usually focus on one aspect of my process every day I work. Sometimes I devote a day to collecting specimens, updating my website, sculpting, making molds, wax working, running errands, casting or soldering and metalsmithing. I don't plan too far in advance when it comes to my practice. I typically wake up in the mornings, and get to work on whatever project is pressing or whatever I have mental and physical energy for. I kind of fly by the seat of my pants most of the time and follow my nose. Some days I'll get lost gardening or cooking or talking to friends or going for a hike instead of getting my work done, but I'm okay with these breaks, they stimulate me to work harder when I am creating. It's challenging when I'm running my business and I have clients with demands as my workload can be overwhelming. I would rather deliver a piece of high quality that takes more time and focus, rather than pumping out a mass of products that I barely lay an eye on before they go out the door.
What have been your favorite projects recently? Why? Any personal creations that hit close to home?
Recently I've been working on two separate collaborations with friends Alex Reisfar, an incredible surrealist painter, and Sorenne Gotlieb, designer of gorgeous Von Drenik bags and accessories. It can be really stimulating working on projects with artists whose focus is in a different medium than mine. I love the process of designing pieces collaboratively, as we each approach a challenge from a different direction. I've learned so much from working with other people, and it's so satisfying when it culminates in something beautiful!
What is the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative?
My personal advice for giving energy to your creative juices, is to look at everything, and look at it deeply. Looking at images on your phone and computer doesn't compare to really seeing things in the world in three or more dimensions. Get as close as you can to everyday objects and art without getting your eyes wet, or do. I do! See the big things, too. Climb a mountain. Observe the patterns of cities from the plane window. Dig in the dirt, find an ant, follow it home, imagine what she decorates her walls with.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue, but haven’t yet?
I've always been curious about working in glass, it is one medium I don't have any experience with. I hope to explore it someday, and incorporate it into my work, but for now I'll leave that wormhole alone.
Thank you for reading this interview! I hope you’ve gained some insight into the world that Kimi creates through her beautiful jewelry. I love her way of thinking and perceiving through our natural world. I feel more motivated now, to gain inspiration for my own art and performance, through the everlasting world around us, and the mysterious creatures that we know exist and live on this planet. From the scorpions that dwell in lands like the deserts and Himalayas, to the hidden stones rich with iridescent colors birthed from cooling magma; our world is both real and completely imaginative. It is a sphere that cycles through life, death, and decay: animals pass, flesh rots, the mycelium grow, and bones remain to tell their story. Theeth Jewelry does an excellent job at showing us this cycle, so explore this line, find your fantasy, and wear it as moment on your body.