THERE is no slick sign for genius or beauty so Peter Chang is described as a 21st century Fabergé. His output is far away from the Russian craftsmen’s creations as is possible to imagine. They did both make objects which could be worn on the body. Fabergés,’ from gems and precious metals for the Russian Imperial family; Chang’s, out of found materials for Fashion models!
I might have met Peter Chang. My friend Anita Clarke, part of the Art scene in Liverpool from his days in the city, knew him and told me of his death, this month, at the age of 72. He was one of the Liverpool artists involved in Pop Art and Music in the 60s and 70s.
Chang’s fabrics were modern, his creations avant garde; his skills ancient, painstaking. Transforming tiny fragments of brightly coloured acrylic into intricate, immaculate curved brooches or bangles; spiralling, organic shapes with the odd fin, horn or pompom, is long, hard, and, it transpired, dangerous work.
He never used much in the way of machinery, believing he had more control with the hand, using planes, rasps, needle files, sandpaper and polish. However, his technique of building up layers of resin and, over years before masks were common, breathing in the fumes, damaged his lungs, a tragic price for his fabulous work.
Chang trained as both sculptor and printmaker. After a first degree in art and graphic design at Liverpool from 1963-66, he left for Paris to study printmaking at the famous Hayter Printmaking Atelier, followed by a postgraduate degree in sculpture and printmaking at The Slade, London. After years working on sculptural projects, interiors and furniture design, he turned to jewellery in the late 1970s, first making earrings for his wife, Barbara Santos-Shaw, head of printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art.
Outlandish, outrageous, extravagant, witty and bizarre; his influences from Pop Art visible but with the sense of opulence from Art in China and Japan. He was the shy genius whose smaller works might take 400 hours to make.
A Chang bracelet on display, from 1987, the decade which saw Rifat Ozbek including the artist’s glorious pieces in his spectacular catwalk shows.
As a top rank international artist, Chang’s work is in the collection of museums in Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, China, Hawaii, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, in New York’s Metropolitan, the Smithsonian, Musee des Arts Decoratifs Montreal, Graves Art Gallery Sheffield, British Council, National Museum of Scotland. Widely collected in America, he was awarded the 1995 Jerwood Prize for “lasting significance and daring brilliance”
Peter Chang has said, “Object-making is a non-verbal attempt at balancing the intellect with the intuitive,” leaving the rest of us to conjure with ideas of beauty and genius. This may go someway towards explaining his mysterious gift for magical transformations through art and technique. “Like all fine art, Peter Chang’s work provokes an intense physical response: a compulsion to touch, a need to smile and wonder. His unique objects also project an unusual wit and humour”, says Alyson Pollard, curator of Metalwork and Glass at the National Museums Liverpool. He once told her, “I like to incorporate a bit of fun: spice it up. People take things too seriously.”
The day after his death, art transporters collected work to ship to Rome where his show opened on November 14 at the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XX1 Secolo.