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Atelier OPEN: Meet the Artist Sophie Gillen-Symes

Overgrown Lichen

by Sophie Gillen-Symes

Bronze wall piece

Dimensions: 82 x 83 mm


Our Atelier OPEN exhibition continues at our contemporary art gallery on Brighton Beach, and we've invited some our exhibiting artists to tell us a bit more about themselves and their work. With 150 exhibitors, we might not get to hear from them all, but we'll do our best!

Today we hear from Sophie Gillen-Symes, who fully embraces the wabi sabi aesthetic in her organic designs.

My name is Sophie Gillen-Symes and I am a mixed media artist and jeweller working from my garden workshop in the Worcestershire countryside. My metal sculptures are inspired by the delicate flowing, growing forms within nature, especially the beautiful encrusting lichen that engulfs the trees in my local woods.

The pieces that can be seen in the Atelier OPEN are part of a long-running series of ‘Lichen Loops’ sculpted carefully by hand from soft wax and cast direct into sterling silver, copper or bronze. Lichen, fungi and overlooked details in nature inform my creations. An explorative maker, I have worked with a variety of media and techniques, including papercutting, found objects, clays, enameling, and natural materials, but my degree in Jewellery Design has given me love of metalwork. My portfolio is broad, incorporating mixed media site-specific installations, art jewellery and sculpture and I am always looking for new avenues to explore and apply my encrusted designs to.



I employ lost wax casting to create organic metal forms and my hands-on production style results in a delicate ‘wabi-sabi’ aesthetic, highlighting the beauty of makers’ marks, fingerprints, imperfections and an overall sense of human touch. The finished pieces have a delicate clay-like appearance while maintaining the robustness of metal, a contrast I enjoy and enhance where possible.

I attended the School of Jewellery in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter followed by Hereford College of Art, a combination which gave me insight and appreciation for the art jewellery and fine jewellery worlds as well as the wonders of the contemporary crafts world. I learnt traditional jewellery making skills alongside indulging my natural curiosity to explore and play with a variety of materials – a blend of materiality and craftmanship that I aim to employ in my creative practice today.

Alongside making, I previously worked full-time as an art book editor and editorial project manager but I have now made the decision to focus my efforts on my creative practice. All of my pieces are now crafted from my garden workshop, which me and my husband built from scratch a couple of years ago. I’m lucky enough to have a garden that overlooks a wild flower meadow and vineyard with woods behind, and my bench is positioned with full view of the vista.

As I set up my business immediately after graduating in 2013, I have been fortunate enough to exhibit at many lovely places across the world, including in Beijing as part of the Beijing International Jewelry Art Biennial, Lithuania as part of the International Biennial of Contemporary Metal Art, Portugal at the gorgeous Tincal Lab jewellery gallery, as well as closer to home in the New Ashgate Gallery and contemporary arts centre, Mostyn in Llandudno.

I couldn’t possibly choose a single Desert Island Artwork, but any of the work by Junko Mori or Hanna Hedman would do. I adore their exquisite level of detail and gentle sense of movement and energy – I could gaze at their pieces forever.

Previous works of installation, sculpture and jewellery can be seen and purchased on my website and a selection of my sterling silver jewellery is also available at the lovely Mostyn shop.



Come and visit the Atelier OPEN for yourself. We've extended the closing date, so you can vote for favourite piece in our People's Choice Prize until 17th September.

Atelier Beside the Sea is on Brighton Beach, 165 Kings Road Arches BN1 1NB, and open every day from 11am - 5pm. If you can't make it to the gallery yourself, you can view the whole exhibition online.