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Clementina Duarte: architect of gems.

Precise forms, bold contours a distinctive personal style. Clementina Duarte's jewels, inspired by Brazil's baroque and modern architecture and geometric or floral patterns, are outstanding in design, finish and quality, creating for the artist an unmistakable place in the realm of contemporary jewelry.

Brazil's architecture achieved its own distinctive style when Oscar Niemeyer flatly said no to right angles. Clementina Duarte, also an architect, is a member of the generation that helped to inaugurate the golden age of Brazilian architecture. She too opted for curved lines in constructing her own spatial poetry. In many countries today it is not uncommon to find a good architect who is also a talented jewelry designer. Numerous exhibitions have been held in Italy, the United States and Japan to display the creations of artists who work in both fields.

Duarte decided to devote her efforts to creating jewelry, and here, too, her work has found a singular niche in the annals of Brazilian and international artistry. She did not simply transfer the architect's techniques to the realm of jewelry, but rather took full advantage of her expertise in dealing with the concepts of space--both full and empty--and her sense of structures and balance. However, the main thrust of her work is the relationship between human body forms and the jewels used to adorn them. The sinuous lines of her designs always establish a dialogue with the human physique.

Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi once lamented the fact that sculpture lost its real meaning when its ritual function disappeared. For the contemporary artist, today's jewelry design embodies that same challenge. After all, its heraldic function is long gone: it no longer serves a ritual purpose, nor does it identify the wearer.

Duarte has rediscovered the pleasure and fascination our ancestors found in bright-hued gems and precious metals. In designing her unique pieces, she plunged deeply into the heart of the matter, depicting that atavistic delight in the wearing of jewelry. And she researched the technical solutions employed by goldsmiths until she was able to establish a comfortable relationship between the jewel and the person who wears it. Duarte's necklaces are supple and malleable, a sequence of segments that cling to the lines of the body. Her bracelets, earrings and rings can be effortlessly used. They are meant to be worn casually, not just for display on special occasions.

For the contemporary Brazilian artist there is another crucial question: how to speak a distinctive language while using an international idiom. Toward the end of the 1960s, Scandinavian designers, English sculptors and Italians who combined design with traditional goldsmith techniques sparked a new interest in contemporary jewelry. While this opened doors to artists from other countries, it also defined certain trends which then became standard working criteria.

Duarte managed to remain at a prudent remove from such international trends until she could safely, and with assurance, present her own work to the world of jewels. She used silver, experimented with free forms, and entertained no preconceived ideas about producing an abstract piece or even using figurative elements. More recent works also show her to be a sensitive colorist in a coupling of colored gems well beyond the strict code of traditional jewelry. Her designs tend toward free forms and simplicity, conveying an impression of boundless exuberance with no need for discipline or rigid canons.

Duarte uses the same approach to creating jewels that she adopted as an architect. She begins by writing about the dominant theme of the collection, then sketches the designs for the jewels, and finishes with rough models and the specifications for each piece. The second stage is the execution process: the molds and designs are entrusted to the goldsmiths in her own atelier--located in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco--who follow the sketches meticulously and finish them under the direction of her daughter Mariana Duarte, also a jewelry designer. Each piece is sculpted and molded by hand. Thanks to its exquisite quality that has brought her international recognition, jewelry designed by Duarte has been presented to such important world figures as Queen Elizabeth of England; Mrs. Jimmy Carter, former First Lady of the United States; Mrs. Francois Mitterrand, the First Lady of France; Mrs. Mario Soares, First Lady of Portugal; and Princess Irene of The Netherlands. French actress Jeanne Moreau is one of Clementina's fans and has acquired a number of pieces for her own jewelry collection.

In 1984, the American journal Executive Jeweler called Duarte one of the year's best designers of fine jewelry in the United States. Her creations were chosen to grace the cover of the 1985 Dallas Fall Jewelry Show Catalog. Shortly thereafter she was awarded the prize for best jewelry design at the Sao Paulo XI Art Biennal. In 1990, she received first prize at the Brazilian Design Biennial. The same year a retrospective showing of her work, entitled "Clementina Duarte--25 Years of Modern Brazilian Jewelry," was held at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation's Museum of Modern Art in Lisbon, Portugal. At the invitation of De Beers the renowned diamond dealers, she has exhibited in various cities in Europe, and at the exclusive International Jewelry Salon in Basel, Switzerland. Under the aegis of Brazil's Foreign Ministry, Duarte--who now lives in Washington, D.C.--has also shown her collections in Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Finland, France and the United States. The organizers of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro invited her to present a special exhibition of her creations. Held at the prestigious Ipanema Art Gallery, it featured floral designs.

"I enrolled at the University of Brasilia for a graduate course in the history of architecture in 1965. I also became an assistant professor in that department," Duarte recounts. "The newborn city of Brasilia was in the early stages and Oscar Niemeyer was, appropriately, the head of the university's School of Architecture and Planning. Brasilia to me was a dazzling discovery. A brand-new, completely modern city, springing to life in the middle of the twentieth century."

"In 1966, I went to Paris for courses at the Sorbonne in Esthetics, History of Medieval Architecture and Design. The one on design was the most important factor in my training. It was given by Professor Jean Prouve, the world-famous French designer, who taught his students to view the overall design--look at the whole picture--before getting down to the individual details. And also to produce a rough mock-up before the final model. That is the method I use in my attempts to create Brazilian jewelry. I realized that Brazilian architecture, Brazilian furniture, and Brazilian sculpture and painting were well established--but there was no Brazilian jewelry."

"One day when I was wearing one of my own creations in Professor Prouve's class, he asked me who had designed it. When I told him that I had made it myself, he immediately tried to convince me that the piece of work I had produced was so impressive that I should make jewelry design my career. I pursued that line of work for a year, and produced a collection that was shown at the Stephen Simon Gallery on the Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris. It was the showroom for Europe's most innovative designers, including Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier. Then came Pierre Cardin's 1967 Spring-Summer showing, when for the first time modern jewelry was presented by this great stylist. And that is how I started my career as a jewelry designer 25 years ago," recalls Duarte.

Duarte produces special and personalized jewels as well as works in series. A single subject often serves as the leitmotif for a large collection, such as those entitled Space, Cosmos and Anima, producing an impressive array of works in which her fine designer's hand is easily recognized. This places Clementina Duarte in the vanguard of Brazilian and international fine jewelry design.

Clementina Duarte--a name of which Brazil can be proud.

Casimiro Xavier de Mendonca, a Sao Paulo art critic, was the art director for a number of Brazilian magazines, including Veja, Galeria and Atlantis.
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Author:Mendoca, Casimiro Xavier de
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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