Words: Bekah Friesen
Photos: Brian Kwan
Brianna Michael McGrew is a talented jeweler and a Colorado girl with a wanderer’s heart. McGrew is well-traveled and attended art colleges in both Oregon and Tennessee. She holds a degree in fine art and sculpture. Her background in sculpture plays a role in the way she creates her jewelry. She uses beautiful lines, curves and circular shapes. They’re created with precious stones, none alike, and holding colors and patterns unmatched. Her time spent traveling gave McGrew a vast view of the world and of the treasures and places that fill it, but she returned to Colorado to continue her adventuring.
Brianna works out of her apartment in the Springs, which in itself is a well-curated work of art. Polaroid photographs with friends litter the walls, her work station is filled with odds and ends, torches and tools and sketches of future and current designs. She has shelves displaying rings, earrings, necklace pendants and bracelet cuffs she has made. Jewelry that belonged to important women in her family is carefully displayed on a shelf above her bed. The studio is warm and inviting, as is Brianna as she told stories about her travels, of her thoughts for The Universe Conspires and where the wind may carry her next.
Where did the name "The Universe Conspires" come from and how does it tie to the pieces you make?
I came across the phrase, "The Universe Conspires" in some obscure metaphysical pamphlet from the 1960s. I love the tension that exists in the presence of the word "conspires," which may seem a bit sinister. My interpretation, however, is that the Universe is conspiring with those who believe it to be so; those who recognize the power of thought over the outcome physical reality. In my own experience, I've found that I'm happiest and healthiest when I trust in the process and grow from the experience at hand, whatever the Universe may conspire.
Are you from an artistic family?
Not particularly. My grandfather struck up painting after retirement, but otherwise art and design weren't prominent forces in my early childhood.
After all of the various types of art you have pursued, what sparked your interest in making jewelry instead of focusing on another type of art?
As an artist I enjoy moving across many mediums, using the materials and process that best suit the idea of the moment. I studied for a couple of years at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oreg. My focus was on sculpture and printmaking, but I found that jewelry was the art-making practice that I come back to time and again. I think that the major draw is that while it's decorative adornment, it's utilitarian. It's not an object sitting in a room, it lives it's life out in the world. It's so beautifully personal, carried close and if made well, can become an heirloom. My most treasured possessions are jewelry pieces that have been passed down, allowing such a tangible connection to loved ones lost.
Where do you draw your creativity and ideas from?
When creating as a business venture, naturally, it can feel like work. Sitting down at the bench to make a piece that I've made before doesn't always feel super creative. But I've really found that in those moments, it's more of a mental block and if I just get to it, the creative flow is ever-present and the energy of bringing something from your mind to fruition only begets more energy. Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. Moments of stillness in the natural world often bring me to movement in my creative practice.
Explain how your process works.
I'll spot a pleasing color situation somewhere in the world or a shape I noticed in a shadow or experience a perspective altering moment looking out at an expansive vista. I get a pretty clear vision of what I want to do so I just sit down and go at it, creative problem solving on the spot. I usually only sketch ideas if I receive a custom inquiry and want to portray my idea to a client. I like playing with materials and allowing the magic to unfold.
Give me a bit of your back story. Are you a Colorado native? I know you have travelled quite a bit.
I grew up in Colorado Springs and didn't feel satisfied with the lack of accessible art and music at the time, so when I graduated from high school, I moved to Portland. I had fallen in love with the city when visiting my aunt who lived there. After about five years I was done with the dreary weather and felt the urge to travel so I took off to Kauai, came back to Boulder for a couple of years, moved to a horse shed in Idaho, lived on the Atlantic coast of Florida for a while and somehow I ended up back where I started, which was completely surprising. I'm pleased with this city's development in my absence and can't wait to see what's possible for its future. Pure potential.
What's on the horizon for The Universe Conspires?
I'm moving back to making one of a kind, limited edition and custom pieces after a year of hand-fabricating a collection of the same pieces. I'd also like to extend the line to include a variety of home objects. My dreamy desire at the moment is to find other artists in the community who'd like to collaborate. That could mean anything, quite literally. A zine, a garment line, sculptural objects, paintings, drawings, music, dance, film, performance, photography, whatever. I love working with other creative minds to pull something wonderful out of the void.
Brianna is a fiery, creative soul. She has various pieces of her jewelry for purchase at Stir on Wahsatch Avenue as well as at madelife in Boulder. If you like her style but don’t see something that strikes your fancy, Brianna will make custom pieces, as long as they stay true to her vision. You can check out her work for yourself at her website www.theuniverseconspires.com or on Instagram at instagram.com/theuniverseconspires/