In Conversation | Holly Ryan

In Conversation | Holly Ryan


For jeweller and sculptor Holly Ryan, creativity is a state of being.

“I never really sit around and wait for inspiration or emotion to come, I just get in there and do it.”

Sydney-based sculptor and jeweller Holly Ryan is a big believer in striking while the iron is hot. “When an idea is fresh, that is when it will be at its best and strongest and most realised ... the emotion is raw and you’re most excited about it. If I just sit on it I’m not excited about it any more, so I don’t create it.”

Given her philosophy, it’s little surprise that her upbringing was a crash course in creative immersion. “It was a bit of a bohemian childhood,” she explains. “There was a very active and creative energy around me.” A self-proclaimed tomboy, with bindis on her socks and salty hair forever leaving watermarks down her back, Ryan was always close to nature. And with parents who are jewellery makers themselves, she took an early interest in working with her hands. “Mum taught me to sew when I was like 7, I was always sewing … She [also] did the markets, so I was always at the market stall, and doing candle making.”

Fast-forward to the now, and Ryan creates her sculptures and fine jewellery pieces with a duality of mind that is captivating and ever-ready. “I never, ever stop. It’s constant. Lying in bed at night, something will come to me and I will immediately have to jot that down and draw it,” she explains. She brings these ideas to life in the sandstone studio space beneath her home in Sydney’s Redfern. “I was really lucky to know the owner of the house who is a hobbyist jeweller, so she had it a little bit set up already. It has concrete walls and sandstone walls … so very colonial. It’s very beautiful and it kind of adds to the fact that I’m not only making jewellery in there, I’m making sculptures in there.”

With a deep-rooted passion for sustainable production, Ryan finds beauty in the tiny inconsistencies in life, inspired by the Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi. “It means to find beauty in imperfection. It’s like transience, and something being incomplete, but that being what makes it so wonderful. It’s like abstract notions of beauty – that kind of really sums it up … that is something that I’m trying to bring to these works, as well as sustainability.”

How do you approach creating your sculptures as opposed to your jewellery?

It depends. If I’m carving wax for jewellery, it’s very similar to carving stone in the way that I don’t really plan it. I might have a distant idea of where I want to take something, but I usually just take up either files or chisels or a hammer and just go for it. Sometimes the piece works out and sometimes it doesn’t, and I just throw it against the wall. With jewellery, I’m probably keeping far more to a concept or a theme. With sculpture, I let it be a little bit more free.

How do jewellery-making and sculpture inform each other?

I was taught in fashion school to make sure the collection is cohesive and every piece can be worn back with each other or makes sense together. And so, when I’m creating a jewellery collection, it has to have either a running theme or running story in it. I think it’s the same as my sculptures, they’re like a family. How the works inform each other is something I’m coming to develop further ... when creating large-scale versions of jewellery shapes that I’ve carved from wax in the past. A lot of my jewellery has been art-driven ... and inspired by sculpture. So now the jewellery is reflecting the sculpture and the sculptures are reflecting the jewellery, and I’m almost using each [as] the driving force for the other.

What do you need around you when you’re sculpting or making jewellery to feel like the optimal version of your creative self?

Natural light. My work bench, particularly my jewellery work bench, faces the window and the backyard where my dog Hugo is always running around … It has to be cool, obviously, because my work is very physical. I love when I have vintage tools, which is kind of funny. I collect them. So especially with sculpting, I go to the markets and talk to all the fuddy-duddy old men and get cool tools and get them to sharpen them for me.

Do you listen to any music while you create? Who are you listening to at the moment, and does it change a lot?

It changes a lot and depends on my mood – when I’m sculpting I tend to go for ... hip-hop: lots of Rihanna, Beyoncé, Cardi B. It’s so physical so I need that power surge … Jewellery, however: very different. I like the music to be slow, very emotional. A lot of old stuff – Patti Smith, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke. A lot of blues, jazz – love jazz – a lot of experimental and ambient stuff.

What kind of art do you have around the studio?

The art that I love the most is 70s minimalism, and I think you can see that in my sculptures a bit. I’ve got Christiane Spangsberg and Annalisa Ferraris and Jedda-Daisy Culley, and Luke Chiswell. So a lot of the work is either by other artists that I know or am friends with, or just hugely respect and luckily had the honour of meeting. Most of them are contemporary artists and are a similar age to me, so I think it’s that whole thing of supporting other people in the industry that are around me, knowing that we’re a bit of a community.

Do you have any rules for wearing jewellery? I don’t like to wear too much at the same time … Rings I wear a lot of, stacking them up, but I tend to only usually wear one necklace and a small set of earrings. If I’m wearing a statement set of earrings, no necklace.

How does your craft influence the way you present yourself? 

I let my hair dry naturally, don’t wear too much makeup, I’m always in denim and a T-shirt because that’s what I work in, and it’s become comfortable for me now. So it definitely has influenced my style and how I present myself physically. In terms of me as a person – emotionally and mentally – I care a lot about sustainability and the environment, so I tend to steer conversations that way when I can. I’m really passionate about art and artisanship, people making things by hand, so that influences the way that I buy things and the people I surround myself with, and the places I like to go.