JENNIFER MERCHANT. ACRYLIC RAZZMATAZZ
Beware. Jennifer Merchant’s big, bold Opulent Illusions Collection may cause sudden longings for a vintage Mary Quant shift or a Yves St. Laurent caftan. That is because the stream-lined, rule-breaking fashions of the 1960s would be perfect backdrops for Merchant’s sleek acrylic jewelry, the newest of which is her mesmerizing black, white and gold leaf Opulent Illusions necklace, bracelet, brooch, earrings, and ring. The collection was inspired by the Op Art movement, which reached its zenith in the mid-1960s. And like Op Art, or optical art, Merchant’s Opulent Illusions jewelry plays tricks with the eye by offering up optical effects that seem to make the jewelry pulsate and flicker. Turn your wrist a bit as you wear Merchant’s Vortex Bracelet and the refracted light makes the handsome bracelet—which is about the size of an extra-large bagel—appear to spin like a top. Start examining the poker chip-sized “beads” of the Illusions Necklace and the repeated graphic patterns may cause a momentary shift in depth perception. The earrings in this collection are called Distortion Earrings, which sums up their impact on the eye quite nicely.
At thirty-two Merchant is far too young to have experienced the Op Art movement in its heyday. And she is not trying to make retro jewelry that harkens back to any particular period. But the hard-edged, highly graphic aesthetics of Op Art and the later Pop Art movements appeal to her design sense. Using a labor intensive process she developed since she left art school a decade ago, Merchant imbeds imagery cut from art books between layers of acrylic, which she cuts, sculpts, glues, sands, and polishes into jewelry. Before exploring Op Art, she made jewelry using iconic images from the works of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Warhol’s aqua-lidded Marilyn Monroe is enshrined in one of Merchant’s cuffs. Another bracelet shows snippets of Lichtenstein’s comic book parodies of damsels in distress and rocket ship adventure.
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Robin Updike is an arts writer based in Seattle who also has a background in fashion reporting. Encountering Jennifer Merchant’s big, good-looking, witty jewelry for the first time was therefore a happy homecoming for Updike. “Jennifer makes jewelry that’s smart but also joyful. I don’t know how else to put it. You look at it and you want to put it on. Jennifer has a lifetime interest in fashion and that comes out in her jewelry, which has aspects both of high concept European art jewelry and over-the-top bling. It’s seductive.”