Widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s most influential contemporary jewellers, Lisa Walker has received numerous New Zealand and international awards. Her work has been acquired for major public and private collections both in New Zealand and overseas.
Her most prominent international recognition, further cementing her influential role in international contemporary jewellery, was receiving the Dutch Francoise van den Bosch Award in 2009. Viewed as the leading jewellery award in the world, this reflects a very significant recognition of an artist’s work. Walker was selected by an international jury panel that included Paul Mertz (chair), Ted Noten, Marjan Unger and Hilde De Decker. In the international jewellery world this award has been likened to the Nobel Prize. The award was formally presented to Walker at the Cobra Museum of Contemporary Art, Amstelveen, in October 2011.
Lisa Walker was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1967. She studied at Otago Polytechnic Art School in Dunedin, majoring in jewellery under Georg Beer. Walker’s initial jewellery studies were steeped in the tradition of goldsmithing. Soon she began to embrace and explore other influences and now works with a vast range of materials, ideas, themes and processes, producing work that has inspired contemporary jewellers and the public worldwide.
In 1995, in a bold move, Walker travelled to Germany to study under Otto Kuenzli at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, one of the most prestigious jewellery educational institutions in the world. Her six years post-graduate work at this academy were life changing both personally and professionally. It was there she met and married her husband, renowned jeweller Karl Fritsch.
Her biggest influences were her fellow students, many of whom were, like Lisa, foreigners. Her course of study was unstructured and largely self-directed. A weekly class meeting with Otto provided a platform for students to show and discuss their current projects. Her group of students exhibited and collaborated on projects both in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, breaking new ground and setting new trends. The emphasis was on experimentation and pushing boundaries. Their work attracted considerable attention from museums, curators, galleries and collectors, as well as from professional jewellers. In this environment Walker learned to take her work seriously and to view herself as an artist.
Walker was also very influenced by her exposure to German culture and art. Elements of the best of the huge retrospective exhibitions of major artists she saw would seep into her pieces. She discovered the importance of seeing good art as regularly as possible, never taking it for granted.
“I became a New Zealander living in Germany. The road to this epiphany was hard. I struggled immensely with adjusting to life there, especially after having two children. The struggle and stimulation all came out in my pieces, but the establishment of my practice, working with my galleries and gaining recognition for my work made it well worth the effort.”
Walker’s international career accelerated in 2001 while she was still a student when she was picked up by two of the most prestigious jewellery galleries in the world. She was invited to exhibit at Galerie Biro in Munich, followed closely by an exhibition with Galerie Ra in Amsterdam. Lisa Walker was launched in Europe. After these initial two exhibitions she received invitations from all over the world to have exhibitions, to lecture and to give workshops. This international interest in her work has not ceased, rather it has grown.
Walker has given lectures about her work and run workshops around the world since 2001. After firmly establishing herself on the jewellery scene in Europe, Lisa returned to New Zealand in 2009 with Fritsch and their two children. The couple established their workshops in Wellington and continue to use the city as a base from which they travel to exhibit their work internationally.
Walker’s work directly challenges the accepted notions of what is beautiful or precious. She is continually pushing towards the extreme – a style of working which enables her to expand her thinking and ways of working. This breaks down conceptual barriers about just what constitutes jewellery, as well as creating general issues which inform her practice.
Walker uses a vast range of materials and construction methods, often featuring everyday materials not regarded as particularly special or precious. She playfully reworks them, creating new and surprising relationships between these materials and the scale at which they are used and viewed. She creates objects that consciously simmer with influences from all aspects of culture and life. The pieces are often laced with references to contemporary jewellery of the past forty years, as she questions and researches what jewellery means and what it could be. Walker largely positions her work around the history, the future and the boundaries of jewellery.