The golden hands of Olivia Kathigitis

Photo: Sia Duff

Originally published in The Adelaide Review, January 2019

From a backyard shed in Goodwood to a secluded arctic island, artist turned jeweller Olivia Kathigitis is making it big by making things small.

“Essentially it’s just miniature sculpture,” Kathigitis says as she saws the outline of a small hand from a sheet of recycled silver.

An accomplished visual artist whose work has been exhibited at Fontanelle, CACSA and FELTspace, Kathigitis’ turn as a jeweller was at first an unexpected extension of her art practice.

“I couldn’t find any jewellery that I liked, that wasn’t too heavy to wear,” she explains. “So I just started making it with the skills I learned from university. From word of mouth it just became a viable stream for me.”

It turns out creating the giant, black ouroboros of Kathigitis’ 2016 work Internals, and a small brass piece worn on an ear, share transferable skills. “As a sculpture artist, because everything is space-based you have to constantly change the way you think about the outcome,” she says.

“It’s always changing, and that really helps me when I look at jewellery, shrinking down the scale, you have to think about weight and wearability and what people will be interested in, if they’re even interested in the story behind it.

“Going into jewellery, it’s the first time I’ve had to be worried if people are going to be interested in it, whereas with art I make it for myself,” she says of the two sides of her practice.

The first piece Kathigitis made for herself, her now-signature brass hands, have become a cult item in Adelaide and nationally. Their popularity, and that of her other Okay Kathigitis pieces inspired by native florae and fauna, has connected her art with people in a way galleries and exhibitions never could. “A lot of my art is not necessarily marketable for sale – the big installations, I don’t think anyone’s going to have that in their lounge room,” she laughs.

The response to her jewellery has been resounding – Kathigitis spends most spare moments in her shed-turned studio filling back orders, and has just quit her day job to go full time –  but it hasn’t drawn focus from her other forms of expression, with a recent residency in Norway funded by her jewellery making.

“It was my first time overseas and I went to the arctic circle for a month,” she says of her time on Sørøya, in the Norwegian Sea. “We had a private fjord on this island that’s very close to the North Pole. There’s 70 people on this island, the same size as Kangaroo Island, and all you do is walk and talk to people.

“I packed my bag full of cameras, trying to find whatever I could take back to the makeshift studio that I’d made – as a sculpture artist it’s hard to take anything with you.” There, Kathigitis created art from found objects including reindeer bone and antler, echoing some of her recent wearable pieces inspired by Anigozanthos (kangaroo paw) and Thylacine teeth.

“A lot of people ask me why I don’t outsource making. I could very easily get something done by a laser cutter, or send something overseas,” she says of the time it takes to make every metal hand, flower or tooth by hand – time being a concept that next-day delivery and fast fashion has made a rarely appreciated commodity.

“But there’s something really nice in making it all by myself. Then I see them on the street and know, ‘I made every single bit of that’.”