Artist Profile: Payet Brothers
Photos by Russell Ord & Mark Boskell
Exploring an artist’s creative space is fascinating. Seeing where and how they work is a great insight into how they achieve their finished product. It helps you connect with their work.
The Payet brothers, Francois and Nicholas, allowed us into their workshop and gallery last week for a behind-the-scenes look at how they design and make their unique, hand-crafted jewellery. Their gallery, Payet Gallery, is set in the hills and bush out on Boodjidup Rd. It’s a pretty special place for the brothers, blending family life with an inspiring creative natural environment.
It’s a long way from the Seychelles, where they grew up as boys before their parents moved to Melbourne in search of a more prosperous life. We were interested to know more about the guys, how they came to live in Margaret River, and to photograph where they create.
Interview with Francois Payet.
How did you become a jewellery designer?
I bombed out of school fairly early at the age of 16, and started doing odd jobs until one day I applied for two very different jobs. One was an electrical apprenticeship, and the other was a jewellery assembler. I was desperate for that electrical apprenticeship, but missed out and settled for the jewellery assembly job. I did it for 2 years and then went out on my own at the age of 18. I used to make a little bit of handmade jewellery and take it to the Esplanade craft market in St Kilda. If you had a good day you had a beer at the Espy afterwards, but if it was pretty quiet, you just packed up and went home. We used to catch the tram, carry a card table, a piece of velvet, and a dozen pieces of jewellery. That was my whole business set-up. That’s how I started, and through that I opened a retail store. The first one didn’t go so well, and I ended up working as a landscaper. Then I went back and opened another one, had another crack at it. That was successful, and through that I opened two more.
How did you come to be in Margaret River?
I did ok financially out of the stores in Melbourne, and thought enough was enough. I was starting a family. I had two brothers in Carnarvon, and used to go holidaying up there, and then one day came down to Margaret River, and thought “this is alright, I could live here”. Every year I came across, and after 5 years I was ready to make my move. I’d run my race in Melbourne, and wanted to re-create myself here. I was making jewellery in Melbourne, but not much. I was buying off local artists, and running that type of business. All I had time for was meetings and buying, and I had half a day to design and make jewellery, so it was very little. When I came here I really had to reinvent myself. I thought I’d start from scratch, make everything, set stones, even get our own stones cut.
How’s the move been?
It’s been a long road. 7 years really. I thought I’d establish myself after the 3rd year, but it’s taken more than twice as long to get to where we are now. After working at the back of the Margaret River gallery, we built this place, which was kind of a dream I held close to my heart for 20 years. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I saw a jewellery and art gallery hanging off the Californian coast. I thought it looked good, and I carried that with me. It’s a wonderful thing having your own place, your own real estate, and having full control of what you do.
What about working in this environment. How does that influence you?
Immensely. Here I can work surrounded by nature and my family. It’s a quiet secluded location. I draw inspiration from nature. In the Margaret River Gallery we were working in a small attic out the back. It was like a 3m x 2m space. I’d stand up and crack my head, and it was really uncomfortable. Looking at the work I produced there, and the work I produce now, it’s just gone to another level I think, and basically all of what we do is mimic nature. The textures and organic shapes gently work their way into my designs. I draw a lot, but I never go out and just sketch something beautiful. I think it’s just parts of things, and somewhere it all gets jumbled up, you go to sleep, it takes shape in your dreams, and in the morning sometimes it spits out something interesting. You don’t know exactly where it’s come from, it’s just parts of all these aspects, but it’s very nature based. It’s all natural.
You work closely with your brother Nic. How does that work?
The nature of our working relationship is very complimentary. I do most of the design and Nic does most of the making. I can make, but I run the town gallery and this one, so I’m a bit more involved in running the business. I meet the clients, and poor old Nic gets lumbered with making all the jewellery, which really is the hard part. His eyes and skills are impeccable. He perfects the technical aspects of the designs and the finish he puts on them is just exceptional. But he cuts his fingers, drills holes in them, burns them, they’re really maker’s hands. Mine are just from holding a pencil really, shake a few hands. I do a bit more front desk and retailing. Nic is the talent really. He does a bit of the designing, but not as much as he’d like because I’m always pestering him for something else.
Any brotherly moments working that closely back there?
Oh yeah there’s a few fights, well really only one in the past seven years, which is pretty good. With the jewellery making you have to get so close to work together that your heads almost touch. When you’re putting three pieces together, you need somebody to spark it, and somebody to hold it with tweezers. You’re extremely close, it really doesn’t get any closer.
What do you like to work on most?
I like the designs that look like they’re fluid and sculptured. Most of our work’s moving to more sculptured stuff, very curved, almost 3D. It just looks different to a lot of jewellery. Sometimes jewellery can look almost one-dimensional. I try hard to make it go the other way, layering it, seeing how it moves, so that it looks just as attractive from different views. It’s a real challenge.
What else do you display in the gallery?
We display paintings and glass. Because we run the Margaret River Gallery, we have the luxury of bringing extra work here. Sometimes it gets a bit crowded over there, and we don’t like to put things in the back room. We can bring it here to display, and if people like it we can send them across. In the Margaret River Gallery we have other jewellers, but here we just display our work. Because it is just our work, we have to have a pretty broad range. We can’t just do one jewellery look. We do gold and silver, pearls and stones, so when somebody comes in we’ve got all bases covered.
Being out of town, how do people mostly find you?
A lot of it’s word of mouth. We work closely with Cape Lodge, Merribrook Retreat and a few other accommodation places. They’re people that really love our work. Lorraine Firth at Merribrook is really passionate about our work, and always sends people out our way. Her family is spread out all over Australia, and we actually make a Firth family ring for them now. It helps us a lot working closely with the accommodation places. It’s a little harder to get people down this far sometimes when there’s so many galleries concentrated around Yallingup way. But we’re trying hard.
What’s next for you guys?
We’re pretty happy with our lot I reckon. The last few years have been really tough with the GFC. The downturn in business has been a big part of taking longer to establish ourselves down here. In the Margaret River Gallery it used to be 15% of our sales were overseas, and they spent good money. I reckon it’s probably 5% now. The high dollar had really affected this region. It’s tough times. We’re lucky because we can offer a unique product. I think if we were selling generic products, or buying from somebody else, we wouldn’t survive. I think because we make, and design here, and it’s uniquely ours, people really appreciate that.