Four Eyes, Two Hands: An Introduction to Artist Jenny Rush
Cincinnati-based artist and jewelry designer Jenny Rush had been working full time at a photography studio for 14 years when she began making her own ceramic jewelry, crafted from thinly rolled porcelain and molded into light, large shapes for unique statement pieces. Think Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol’s muse—who would have adored Rush’s designs.
“I grew up in the ‘80s, and I love fashion from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I especially love the big, geometric shapes of ‘80s fashion, but using a different color palette,” says Rush. “My pieces are not hard colors, like neon or hot pink. I really like how some of these more muted tones work with the big shapes.” She pulls inspiration equally from modern art, plants and forms found in nature and geometry. “I’m not always aware of what’s been influencing my pieces until I make them.”
While Rush has a background in art, she originally started making jewelry to satisfy her own aesthetic tastes. She couldn’t find a light statement piece that she’d consistently wear, and there was nothing on the market quite like what she was envisioning. “I knew if I was going to make earrings out of clay, they’d need to be pretty light. The challenge was figuring out how to get them as thin as possible, but big enough so they could still be chunky and fun.”
After finding a design formula she was happy with she decided to start her own Etsy shop, taking on the moniker Four Eyes Ceramics. As demand for her fresh designs rose, the challenge of running a small business required a level of creativity tantamount to actually designing and creating the jewelry. At first, she worked out of a local ceramics studio, but running Four Eyes and working full time was nearly impossible—until she bought her own slab roller and kiln for a home studio in her attic, where she now works.
Rush, originally from Cincinnati, graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a BFA in painting. “While my concentration was in painting, I almost switched to ceramics. I loved it so much—I’ve always loved working with clay,” she says.
After finishing college, she immediately moved to New York City, where she lived for six years, finding work at a design-and-production agency while making art in her spare time. Yet making the jump into full time art making—a leap of faith accompanied by a near-flagrant disregard for most practical concerns—intimidated her.
“I just liked hanging out with my friends, talking about art, making things and seeing shows,” she says. “A lot of my artist friends were living day to day, taking whatever odd jobs they could find. I almost wished I had that ability, so I’d have more time to make my own stuff. But I’m a very practical Virgo. I need to have some type of steady job and my bills paid.”
When Rush felt comfortable enough to quit her full-time job to focus entirely on making art, she was quickly rewarded. Her work was featured in a popular national magazine, and she secured a number of art shows in both New York and Cincinnati. While back in Cincinnati for a visit, she met her husband, and eventually moved back home. “New York is an amazing city; I felt so guilty leaving,” says Rush. “But being in Cincinnati has allowed me so much more time. It’s nowhere near as expensive, and the days seem twice as long. I can afford to not work so much, and make things. I also got married and started a family. I have an 11-year-old son—he’s a hoot. He’s in fifth grade now, and he’s really coming into his own.”
Faced with the question of how to balance all of her varying pursuits, Rush answers with what sounds like a combination between a sigh and a laugh, which is perceptible even over the phone. “There are points where it’s been really hard. Like last fall when things started getting really busy, I felt like I was doing everything poorly. Being a wife, a mother and working full time, I kept feeling like I was letting things slide. Nothing could get my full attention.”
Rush has now hired a part-time employee and maintains product demand through Instagram. “Social media is a necessary evil, and it’s hard to keep up with,” says Rush. “I also think, ‘How many more photos of earrings can I possibly post?’ But honestly, I wouldn’t be doing this without Instagram, and an amazing community of stylists, photographers, designers, artists and more. It’s been really great.”
Covered in clay dust and the trappings of her craft, with questions of time, money and balance swirling above, Rush carves out space to continue. She begins by rolling out a large slab of clay as thinly as possible, cutting out shapes from a hand-drawn template. Each piece dries for a minimum of a few days before Rush softens their edges, fires them in the kiln twice and adds a glaze, if the design calls for it. “Let’s say I make 20 pieces—not all of them are going to come out properly. And that just happens with clay,” she says with acceptance, and a sense of relief. “Not everything is perfect.”
This story originally appeared in ALIVE Magazine Issue Three 2018. Subscribe to ALIVE and purchase a copy of the issue on alivemag.com/subscribe.