Zak Sheinman, Winner of the Winterson Prize 2020

The annual Central St Martins Winterson Prize celebrates a body of work that takes an innovative approach to the pearl. The 2020 graduate collections featuring pearls were rich with exploration around both the material and the context of this classic gemstone.

This year’s winner, Zak Sheinman, created a series of virtual pieces, encapsulating the unique quality of the 2020 graduate experience. All of the students created collections that had to be launched digitally, whether through video and photography of realized pieces or through 3D rendering.

Zak brought his experience of 3D animation, which he had studied both at school and through You Tube tutorials, to bear on his concept of restoring value to broken jewels.

His 4 minute animation of jewels morphing from one form to another, intersecting with other jewels and with pearls raining down and through them, is captivating and a sensitive reassessment of human error and destruction.

Commenting on the award, Winterson's Creative Director Alice Cicolini said, “Zak's collection encapsulates both extremes of the unique circumstances of the present. On the one hand the collection is entirely virtual and not physically realized as jewellery. On the other, it remains a superlative demonstration of craftsmanship and an exploration of the tactile, poetic and material qualities of jewellery. It really feels like a jewellery collection for our time and perfectly answers the challenge of the Winterson Prize - to innovate with and celebrate this unique gemstone.”

We caught up with Zak over Zoom from his home in Wiltshire.

Winterson: What lead you to explore these themes in your work?

Zak Sheinman: I was inspired by an earring of my own that I was about to throw away, and wondered how I could bring new life and value to something that most people would dispose of. I became fascinated by whether you could transform a jewel from one state to another. I was a street dancer as a teenager, so I’m interested in motion and movement.

Zak Sheinman rings
Images: Levels of Damage, by Zak Sheinman

This lead me to look at motion design in jewellery, both from the perspective of using animation to create new forms, but also conceptually to move something damaged from that broken state to something of value. How things become damaged is also a narrative part of the life of a piece of jewellery, and I felt like there was something about the random unexpectedness of animation as a medium that connects with that poetry.

Winterson: Were there other sources of inspiration for you?

Zak Sheinman: I have always loved Tom & Jerry cartoons and the way everything is so high intensity. The damage and collisions between the two are comedic, but also extreme and I wanted to bring some of that energy to my work.

Zak Sheinman pearl and rings
Images: Proposals for Necklace, by Zak Sheinman

Winterson: The forms you are manipulating are quite traditional. Is there a reason for that?

Zak Sheinman: I use traditional forms so that the audience has an instant recognition of what the jewels would have looked like before they were manipulated and broken. The fact that the material then moves and behaves in a way that it shouldn’t is easier to read and understand than if the objects themselves were also conceptual. This is different to what most people understand jewellery to be.

Winterson: What inspired you about using pearls in this work?

Zak Sheinman: I was looking at this idea of challenging people’s perceptions of materials and how they behave. As an instantly recognisable gem, the pearl was also a perfect vehicle for that. Pearls are a delicate gemstone, and yet in this piece they collide with and influence the shape of the metal, a material that is naturally so much stronger.

Winterson: Congratulations on winning the Winterson prize this year! What is next for you?

Zak Sheinman: I’m really excited about the potential of using animation as a driving force in my design. There’s a detail and a story in each frame that feels rich and inspiring. This is also a great way to create bespoke, unique pieces for clients using each frame as a potential starting point for creating a new jewel.