This metalsmith’s work goes beyond accessorising, transporting us into myths, underwater worlds, and the deep past.
By Eryn Cheng
A mysterious platinated brass cube inscribed with eroded symbols, a freshwater pearl border on a distressed sterling silver brooch, and a golden finger cuff with a pair of lips telling you to STFU with class. These are some of the one-of-a-kind wearable art produced by Leroy Luar, a metalsmith based in George Town, Penang.
Luar’s brooches, rings, pendants, and bracelets are forged and shaped in metal, turning the rigid material into lively tendrils, waving fronds, and rugged surfaces that look like they have been worn down over millennia.
Born and raised in Penang, Luar used to help out at his mom’s vintage shop, sparking his interest in old-style jewellery and handicrafts. Like many youngsters, Luar left Penang after college to work. However, after eight years at a corporate PR position in Kuala Lumpur, a certain something pulled him back to Penang. ‘For me, I wanted a change of pace from the rat race, be closer to the family and give myself the time to pursue my actual interests.’
Left: Mythologique – Pandora, right: The Deep III
Heeding the call, Luar moved back to Penang two years ago and began to craft his art jewellery while helping at his mom’s vintage shop. Being in proximity with vintage jewellery also inspires him as he had always been drawn to classic-looking pieces and the way each piece had been completely crafted by hand, compared to wax carving in contemporary jewellery which allows pieces to be mass-produced.
Luar uses his appreciation for the classic craft of metalsmithing as the basis for his process, making each piece individually by hand while eschewing mass production techniques. This gives each piece a life of its own and allows him the freedom to experiment and play with the composition however he wants.
Yes, today II
Being in Penang has also influenced his work in other ways. Earlier this year, he had experimented with a kerongsang pin set that incorporated traditional forms and motifs. The Ibu-Anak piece, titled Yes, today II, is his attempt to link his present with the past heritage and history of Penang. The process gave him a greater understanding and appreciation of the craftsmanship, effort, and imagination that goes into the creation of such a piece in traditional Malaysian metalsmithing.
A custom made-to-order piece titled Mythologique – Aphros
Aside from his personal pieces, Luar also creates custom made-to-order pieces. The process begins with a sketch and is a lot more systematic in progression compared to his personal pieces, which are often experimental in nature and can follow a more combustive creative process. However, he uses traditional metalsmithing techniques such as forging, folding, and soldering in new and unusual ways with both his commission and personal pieces. ‘I like to play around with compositions – shapes, textures, stone combos, material combos, techniques, etc… It’s a bit like when someone sandbox free-plays with Legos.’ Luar is currently experimenting with the idea of weightless elements with hidden or disguised supporting trusses to give the illusion of free-floating forms in his jewellery.
Though he has only been creating his jewellery for a little over two years, Luar found success and exposure for his pieces after being selected as one of the winners in a 2019 contest by arts event organiser Chai Diam Ma in Malaysia. Through the competition, Luar joined fellow Malaysian artisans to show his jewellery at Handarty Korea, the longest-running and largest arts and crafts exposition in South Korea.
He bravely took the opportunity to pitch his work to several contemporary jewellery galleries in Seoul and received valuable feedback on his work. Through the experience, Luar hopes to grow his jewellery practice into a sustainable one and to create a collective to advance artistic metalsmithing in Malaysia.
With his unique sense of style and regard for traditional, hand-made processes in contemporary jewellery, Luar is sure to amaze with more outstanding works that are timelessly classic yet playful and modern.
All photos courtesy of the artist.
Eryn Cheng is an artist who works with drawing, painting, and cut-outs on paper and wood to create surreal compositions on womanhood, life, and the unknown.