János Gábor Varga is a fascinating man to say the least. He's been an agronomist, forest worker, goatherd, milker and cheesemaker among other things. It is through these experiences that somehow, someway, a passion for jewelry design was born. We spoke with János to find out how the most unlikely of paths led him to be a jewelry designer, his inspirations and what the future holds for this inspiring man.
Hi János! What is your unique story?
I was born and raised in Hungary, Budapest. I had always been interested in nature and animals so I decided to study biology. During my studies, I realized that I was even more interested in the relation between nature, animals and humans as well as the way people deal with the forces and sources around them. This interest brought me to study animal breeding in high school and agriculture in university.
It was also during this time that I did my 10 years long research on ethnomedicine and ethnoveterinary medicine in particular - the traditional healing of animals. On my field projects, I traveled a lot and worked with shepherds, herdsmen and farmers. Being in contact with these people, I learnt a lot and experienced a deep change in my outlook on life.
So what inspired you to design jewelry?
My first inspiration came from the rusty and shiny tools I used on the fields or saw hanging in old barns. I loved to touch them, play with them... I still love tools, old door knockers, coins and pots. In my mind, the most beautiful finish on metal is the scythe it has at the end of the summer. I try to recall these feelings in my jewelry.
After my final degree, I left Hungary for England where I lived for nearly 3 years as a milker and later as a cheesemaker. As I am not particularly good with languages, I needed something nonverbal to express myself, so I started to make jewels. First from iron, later from many other materials. I did a basic course in Brighton but I am self-taught mostly. About 5 years ago I came to Italy and now live in a small village near Genoa. I did not speak Italian at the time so it was a hard transition. For a few years, I worked as a goatherd/milker, cheese maker, forest worker and finally “freed” myself as I now try to live from my jewelry.
Who do you envision wearing your pieces?
Given that I sell mostly online, I can’t see my customers often unfortunately. When I design, I picture a woman in her twenties, pretty, elegant, intelligent, sensual and brave! I also think that being quite bold pieces, my jewels go best with simple dresses. Some say they are “masculine” too, so I would recommend a feminine outfit to balance it out. But this is just my vision, the most important thing for me is that my jewels make the person wearing them feel stronger.
Being an up-and-coming jewelry designer is not easy. What have been your greatest challenges to date?
I think that for a long time I did not have a clear voice in my art. I made completely different pieces and they did not come together as a “body of work”. I knew this and I did not want to force myself to get to that point, but in the same time I was looking for my own playground. I think now I am getting there, though one must always improve and experiment.
The other problem is distributing and selling my work. Like many artists, I am not always focused on that part!
Tell us a bit more about your design process. How do you go from conception to finished work?
My forged iron jewels are my favorite pieces right now so I'll talk about the process of creating them. I start with drawings but only very simple geometric sketches to get a better sense of proportions. I design mostly in my head. I start from a simple shape, like a sheet, tube, square tube or rod. Then I make cuts on them with a hacksaw. The next step is to get them to move through heating. I bend, twist, stretch the piece, kind of get them to dance, until they arrive to a final position. I believe that you can feel that the final product is the result of dramatic changes. The dynamics of the motion keeps me excited to this day.
Do you have a favorite piece?
One of my favorites is the Oarlock ring. It is inspired by old boats' oarlocks and it is meant to give force to the wearer to push through life's difficulties, to find a good grab, a fix point. It is a very comfortable two-fingers ring, forged from a single piece of iron rod.
My poison ring collection also means a lot to me. I view container jewelry as the expression of the desire to keep, protect and save something that we have gained in life: a relationship, a job, a home, a motorbike. As soon as we gain something, the desire of protection is born. Here is my favorite from this collection:
Is there another designer on Boticca that you particularly admire?