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Artist in Focus: Jan Vogelpoel

“I like to build my sculptures with friends, the connection between each piece is important, as is how they relate to each other to create a story or statement. I want them to be confident and in good conversation with a space or room.” 

Jan Vogelpoel‘s relationship with her work is a special one. It’s palpable and infectious; you can’t help but want to be a part of it. So it brings us great joy to shine a light on Jan and her practice through our Artist in Focus series.

Here on the journal Jan tells us how after career in graphic design; a move from South Africa to Australia; and an unshakeable desire to channel her energies into something tangible, Jan caught the ‘clay bug’.

She’s carved out a name for herself with her organic clay sculptures – and newer studies of abstract relief works. Australia’s exciting and diverse contemporary design landscape is lucky to have her and we’re grateful to be able to share and celebrate her work with you.

Jan studied graphic design and was always drawn to interiors and fashion, but her fascination with vases and 'Objet' led her to clay.

Can you tell us about what led you to your work as an artist?

I studied graphic design and was drawn to interior, architectural and fashion clients. They’re exciting and dynamic industries but I always had a desire to create something more tangible, so I attended part time ceramic classes with famed Capetonian ceramicist Barbara Jackson and later teacher Karen Scott. 

I always had a fascination with vases and Objet and so began my love affair with clay. And as most ceramic artists will tell you, once you get the clay bug it’s really difficult to let it go. 

Two decades later and a move to Australia from South Africa has afforded me the opportunity to reinvent myself. I searched out clay studios and came across Tracy Muirhead who I knew almost 20 years ago from the fashion industry. What a lovely surprise! She invited me to work in her studio space and inspired me to try out a change in career. So here I am, I’ve traded my Haasbeen heels for comfy trainers and couldn’t be happier.

Her move from South Africa to Australia offered a chance to reinvent herself, and so began her love affair with ceramics.

The new Abstract Relief works resonate strongly with people and represent your work in a whole new way. What inspired this direction and how is it making you feel to create them?

For me, it’s usually all about the curves and the negative space surrounding a sculpture. I love the free-flowing nature of building organic forms but decided to change it up a little and give slab work a try. I am always up for a little challenge and it felt great to try a completely different building technique. I confess I get bored easily so I have a need to keep it interesting and challenging.

I have a passion for Brutalist and Modernist design and found myself captivated by relief sculpture of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m especially inspired by the Guatemala Bank building complex Mural by Roberto González Goyri and the work of British sculptor William Mitchell’s concrete murals.

I always had a fascination with vases and Objet and so began my love affair with clay. And as most ceramic artists will tell you, once you get the clay bug it's really difficult to let it go. ”
Jan's curved sculptures have become synonymous with her aesthetic. She loves the 'free-flowing nature of building organic forms'.
However, always keen for a challenge, Jan has recently given slab work a go, with stunning results.

In what way do you feel your work has experienced the changes and challenges of this past few months?

To be honest, not much has changed for me in my everyday work routine. I have had more time to reflect on what’s important and I feel great in the knowing that I am right where I need to be.

'I have a passion for Brutalist and Modernist design and found myself captivated by relief sculpture of the 60’s and 70’s,' explains Jan.
As creators, we bring ideas to life and we can't help but feel a connection to what we make.”

There is a true relationship between yourself and your work, and special relationships exist between each of your pieces as well. You always deliver your precious work in pairs – as ‘friends’ – and ensure we know which ones must sit together so they don’t get lonely. Can you tell us more about the significance of these relationships and why they’re so important to you?

I think it must be the same feeling for all creators; we have ideas that we bring to life and we can’t help but feel a connection to our creations. I like to build my sculptures with friends, the connection between each piece is important, as is how they relate to each other to create a story or statement. I want them to be confident and in good conversation with a space or room.

They each have their own character and story to tell but are created from the same source: we are connected by invisible energy threads and I feel proud when I kiss them goodbye as they venture off to their new homes to be admired.

(So when I see a sculpture with its backside facing outwards and its face towards the wall, it freaks me out because it looks shy and feels like its in the naughty corner.)

Jan says of her creations: 'They each have their own character and story to tell but are created from the same source: we are connected by invisible energy threads.'

Portrait of Jan by Amelia Stanwix for Bed Threads.

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