Off a quiet country lane in Essex lies Paintbox, Simon Emery’s garage and studio. From the outside, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, blending in with the brown, grey and brick roofs in the area.
Step inside and enter a world that stands in spectacular, technicolour contrast to the muted hues of its surroundings. Nothing is left bare; streaks of paint, stickers and car parts cover every available wall. It is an homage to Americana decor and custom-painted cars, with a bit of everything else in the world thrown in.
We came to speak to Simon about the crucial role he played in bringing ‘Moon Landing’, our latest collaboration with designer Alice Cicolini, to life. He’s developed a technique to apply custom car paint to jewellery – the first time this has ever been done, as far as we know.
Cars are in Simon’s blood, and he’s carried on the family legacy in his own, colourful way.
‘My family has been in the Essex motor trade since the 1930s. From the moment I picked up my first custom car magazine and a spray gun I was hooked. Those American icons rubbed off on me from a young age, and I learned from the best before starting my own business at 25.’
Jewellery isn’t the first thing outside of the car world that Simon’s painted. Elephant statues, abstract sculptures and bowling pins are nestled in among the bonnets at his studio. He’s done it all, though he never in a million years thought he’d end up painting jewellery.
‘I met Alice at a friend’s art show, and we got to talking. We knew from that day that at some point in the future we would work together. We like custom painting anything here, from motorbikes to bread bins – the more custom paint you can bring into people’s lives, the better, as far as I’m concerned.’
Simon has always tried his signature spray-painting techniques on new mediums…
But jewellery is the smallest scale he and his team have ever worked on. It presented its own challenges, like making sure the pieces weren’t blasted away by the force of the spray gun.
‘The masking process was really tricky on this scale. Because this is the smallest thing we’ve ever painted, masking off the areas that aren’t meant to be done was a challenge. That one kept me up at night. I had to start thinking like a jewellery designer and wear that hat – which, to be honest, was a bit of a tight fit. After plenty of different adjustments we got it in the end.’
Custom paint is equal parts art and science.
It looks different on each new surface Simon tries, and he’s always up for the challenge of a new canvas, no matter how big or small it is.
‘It’s a process, and we’re always learning new things while we do it. Bending the rules means it sometimes goes horribly wrong – or beautifully right. For Alice’s collection, we applied a marbelising effect. We started with a base coat, then used a special liquid and lacquered it all in. There’s been a lot of experimentation to get it looking just right.’
Simon and Alice decided to play with a vintage paint that can only be sourced from House of Kolor in Minneapolis, and experimented with techniques from the 70s to bring out its vivid hue on the jewellery’s surface.
‘They’ve been making custom paint since the 1950s, and we’re one of very few places in the UK using that paint. The process we’re using to apply it for Motley is very modern, and it wouldn’t have been possible back in the 50s. It’s already got me thinking about new ways we can apply vintage paint using new techniques.’
On the surface of things, jewellery and cars are miles apart.
But both are archetypal symbols of femininity and masculinity, that traditionally mark wealth, achievement or important milestones. They have real-world reach in a way other valuable or expensive objects do not, making them powerful markers of identity or aesthetic.
Both Simon and Alice have instinctively spent decades looking beyond the traditions of their art forms to create in new ways. As artists, their mediums are very different, but they share an approach and openness to experimentation that really sets them apart.
‘I struggle with being called an artist, because I wouldn’t put myself in that traditional bracket. I’d say we fanny about with paint, wouldn’t I? Other people do call it that, but I’d say I’m an occasional artist. A lot of people take that artist description to a slightly different level. It should be for everyone, and everyone should be able to be as creative as they would like.’
Simon’s hands are covered in colourful star tattoos, which inspired Alice to adorn pieces in the collection with tiny gold stars.
Moon Landing is not only an exploration of the night sky in colour, or an experiment in car-paint on jewellery. It also draws on the experience of individuals, and of their craft, in gloriously wearable objects.
We can think of few people capable of mutually influencing each other’s work to such great effect – and couldn’t be more pleased that we were the ones who provided the right space (at the right time) to make it work.