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Leo Costelloe
Courtesy of Leo Costelloe

Inside Leo Costelloe’s world of broken dolls and birthday cake jewels

Imbued with a sense that something is a little ‘off’, the cult jeweller’s work often looks like an Edwardian ghost child’s hair bow has been picked off the floor and set in silver

Artist Leo Costelloe has garnered a cult following for his jewellery, which often looks like a child’s hair bow has been picked off the floor and set in silver. Maybe the child is Edwardian, or a ghost (untimely end), but there’s something slightly ‘off’ about the beautiful rings and chains he occasionally sells. “I grew up outside of the city, in a really beautiful place,” says Costelloe of his upbringing in Australia. “We didn’t have a lot of money or anything, but it was beautiful. And kind of fucked,” he adds with a laugh. “Something I’ve learned growing up, is it doesn’t matter where you go, there’s always an element of something wrong. And that’s where my work stems from. It’s a little bit dark.”

Since moving to London a decade ago, Leo has explored the slightly fucked-ness of the world through precious materials. First flowers, then metals, and now hair and glass in a recent gallery show at Guts Gallery. After five years working in the capital, he found his way to Central Saint Martins to study jewellery design at 24, wanting to learn how to make things. “I wanted to study fine art but it’s too wishy washy. I think I wanted a skill set. And the things I wanted to make, I just had no concept of how to make!” 

The jewellery he’s created since, which he occasionally advertises for sale on Instagram, is delicate and sinister – collapsed bows are suspended from pastel ribbons, chain links are hung with stars, ribbons become candle sticks, and carved abalone or caged gems are crafted into necklaces. “I think it’s maybe communicating ideas surrounding femininity and masculinity,” he says with a slightly ironic tone. In particular, it’s the malleable teenage era that interests him. “I suppose queer people watch girlfriends have these milestones, while I just had the internet. I wanted to emulate the same things as them online, but I was a teenage boy and I think that’s where it’s all born from.” The thought of it makes Costelloe laugh and roll his eyes. “It’s really funny to me – I was taking nude selfies of myself in a canopy bed and exploring these hyper feminine aesthetics like dying my hair really blonde or putting it into rollers.” 

This Lana del Rey-fuelled world of Tumblr femininity was writ large with soft when warm at Guts. Rather than intimate, meant-to-be-worn pieces, Leo presented a series of sculptures. A cascade of synthetic hair secured by a glass bow and baby blue ribbon was called Dyson Airwrap Tutorial Alone; I Feel So Emotional, like extra hair swept off a doll’s head and onto the gallery’s wall by an envious breeze. Glass is a new material for Costelloe, both delicate and monumental when presented large scale like in the show. He’s been learning this tricky material with glass artist Andrea Spencer, who’s based in Antrim in Northern Ireland. There was also a doll (a new obsession) cast in silver, with a wig of its own, a huge mauve many-tiered cake, and a large glass bow. And some woven copper underwear. 

In soft when warm, Costelloe’s internet dreams were made real – the selfies on the canopy bed, the hair in rollers, the feminine and the sinister hand in hand. “I’m trying to navigate this weird, like liminal space between my two worlds, of commissioned [jewellery] work and sculptures. There’s fashion aspects to the work, and more static art ones. It’s like two aspects of my world.” His world isn’t much like ours, with his glass bows looking like ectosplasm that at any minute might flow off the wall and up around your neck. “My universe is so specific. And the points of reference, I’ve been using them for the same amount of time that I’ve been making jewellery, and when I was making cakes, and before that flowers. It’s all the same research, just applied through different materials… I’m just trying to work out what I enjoy the most.”