Levin and his wife and co-founder, Bonnie Powers, build on their passion for discovery through co-curation of an elevated mix of artists and mid century modern found goods. Their focus is on emerging and independent designers of jewelry, home goods, pantry, fragrance, paper goods and accessories. The Poet and/the Bench edit reflects a considered fascination with narrative, taste and a devotion to craft. Levin himself sat down for an edition of the shop’s ongoing “Conversations with an Artist” series earlier this month:
Q: Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
A: It was in high school when I struggled with finding the elusive balance between concept and perception. I wanted to make it easier for people who looked at what I created to see that. Then, it was poster art; today it is metal, gems and forms.
Q: What themes do you pursue in your jewelry collections?
A: Simple complexity and comforting tactility that is perfectly imperfect.
A: I gravitate toward designing minimal, elegant and a bit edgy designs, mostly for women, and using precious metals and gems mixed with sterling and semi-precious gems. I love working with rose gold especially, as well as cognac and black diamonds because they add an unexpected drama to a piece. A new collection is typically inspired by a particular stone that I want to design around, or a shape or form that finds it way into my imagination.
Diamonds have generally played a big role in my work and I have pursued bezel and burnish settings more so than pronged settings.
For men, I design the things I want to wear. I think there’s a new adornment focus that is making its way into men’s fashion and I’m really excited about expanding my work and inspiring others to take a bit of risk in this area.
A: I went from being classically trained in a 3-½ year formal apprenticeship in South Africa to deconstructing my knowledge of filigree, wire work and precision to one of flow and letting my senses speak to my pieces.
Working in wax as opposed to directly in metal shifted the options dramatically to a more encompassing sense of possibilities. There’s a delicacy and precision, too, to wax. I prescribe to the practice that your piece is only as good as the wax. There’s a craft to not only sculpting jewelry but to producing the waxes.
I’m good, but I also work with an incredibly talented caster who makes some of the best waxes in the business. Watching Chef’s Table on Netflix recently, I heard chef Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken in Sweden say, “Your food is only as good as your produce.” Magnus makes inspired and inventive food in the New Nordic Cuisine style and I love that we share a similar appreciation of the fundamentals in our craft but our applications are vastly different.
A: The set of mini wax carving tools I custom made 30 years ago. They allow me to do subtle, tiny movements that shift the viewer’s focus.
Q: Do you collect anything?
A: I collect complex handmade items from across time and eras. From 19th century chainmail purses, mid-century anything to 1970’s string art. I love to walk back the processes of the making of the pieces I have acquired and imagine that artist at work. For me these moments are the sweetness of being an artist realized. I suppose I collect artistic energies over the millennia.
A: We visited the Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen and immediately became immersed in the depth of influence all of these creators brought to everything from home goods and furniture to posters and kitchen accessories and fashion. Reading about the makers, watching films that documented their process and even for some, their struggles, nudges me to be sharper and also my attitude, humbler. And to continue to look outside for references. The shape of the Finn Juhl 45 chair for example was a radical departure for armchairs because it freed the upholstered areas from the wooden frame. The end result was still bold and strong but also elegant. I want to push myself to explore those kinds of leaps in my own work.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self about your artistic journey?
A: Focus more on learning different techniques and don’t limit yourself. Listen to your instincts about the paths you choose, as with your art, you do know best.
The 411: Check out the selection of jewelry by Poet and/the Bench goldsmith and co-curator Jeffrey Levin in the shop or set up an appointment to chat about designing a bespoke piece with Levin. Poet and/the Bench recently unveiled a new “hard & soft” theme, showcasing the work of designers who explore textural dichotomies, including Nan Collymore, Austyn Taylor, Shimoda Ceramics and Blanc Creative. MORE INFO.