Jan Albers: The Energetic Grid

Maybe it was the garden-like quality of Jan Albers work that first attracted Sean to it. In his recent Henry Hurt vs. Holly Heal series (seen below) the skewed squares seem to have the character of a flower, like gridded petals blowing in the wind.

The pieces in the series have a dimensionality that expands as the as the viewing angle changes. As constructions, they're ingeniously engineered. Their texture radiates a kind of kinetic energy, seeming to move before your eyes. Their structure is both flower-like and architectural, like something made by bees in a kaleidoscope. The references to Cubism are hard to deny. The pieces are built from polystyrene (the stuff packing peanuts are made from) and/or wood and then covered in spray paint, or as in the gray piece above, graphite.  

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The sum of artist Jan Albers's googleable biography is pretty much this: Born in Wuppertal Germany in 1971. Grew up in Namibia. Presently lives and works in Düsseldorf. Perhaps what's more interesting is his extensive CV which includes awards and an impressively copious list of exhibitions that go around the world (including shows in Los Angeles). His creative fascinations center on the idea of creation and destruction, health and injury––especially that of the flesh––and myriad of other yin-yang binaries (though bent decidedly more toward the yin). A fact that may be reflected in his color palette which tends toward the industrial.  

Search google for glimpses of his work and you'll find it intermixed with that of his more famous predecessor and fellow countryman Josef Albers (no relation). While both artists share a preoccupation with the square, unlike the deliberate painterly flatness of Josef's work (he being known for Homage to the Square), Jan's experiments feature layers and dimensions of both form and subtext.

By his own admission, Albers operates under the attitude that “painting is dead.” His work seeks to push beyond painting into new territorial hybrids. Emblematic of this ambition is his work with the grid in which he attempts to work within it and break out of it at the same time. Right angles and squares abound even as he skews them and breaks them down. As in traditional painting, Albers employs light, shadow, depth, and volume––albeit quite literally. The format and scale is very much within the painting tradition, though his surfaces are painted out of a spray can rather than with a brush. In the pieces immediately below the material is again polystyrene; next below the work includes ceramic.

Unlike the more formal grids of Agnes Martin, Albers wrestles with his grid. For him the grid is only a starting point and the work revels in its decay––a foundation to stage the chaos on. Albers makes it a point to feature close-up photographs of bruised arms and fingers alongside his work, making the comparison of his surfaces with that of tortured and injured flesh.

According to a review in the LA Times, “It's this tension between geometric rigor and the messy efflorescence of injury and healing that compels.”

One could argue that the pieces don't require a backstory at all. They stand alone well enough on their own.

New Casa Canova Project

 Antonio Canova, he being the late 18th century sculptor remembered as both the Master of Neoclassicism and the producer of some of “the sexiest sculptures in the history of European art,” is often credited to singlehandedly lifting the art of sculpture from the low condition to which it had fallen in his time.

While his evocative renderings of the human figure speak for themselves––the velvety-smooth finishes of his flesh were legendary––it's easy to overlook the exquisitely intricate treatments of his drapery.

In both of the examples above, the chiseled fabric seems imbued with an energy that even his divine flesh can't match. It's in the droop of Cupid's tunic and the veritable explosion of folds beneath Venus's arms (seen above). In both renderings the fabric struggles in glorious failure to defend the goddesses' modesty.  

It was this very fascination with the Master's drapery that inspired Sean's concept for his new table. Presented under the title of his new venture, Casa Canova, comes the new T-shirt Table. As seen above, the table offers a nod to classic figurative sculpture but in an entirely contemporary way. At a distance the table's surface looks more like the disturbed surface of water. On closer inspection, as seen below, the table reveals its truth.  

The table also presents a further exploration of Sean's fascination with the repurposing of otherwise humble materials in a form that elevates them. Maybe it was his years of working with gardens where cycles of life and death are necessarily built into the design, but Sean's work has always had energetic collision of yins and yangs. This particular preoccupation with T-shirts was first explored in his ceiling frescos at The Line Hotel.

The T-shirt table's top is hand carved in Italy by master sculptors from white Carrara marble featuring light veins of gray (the result of quartz and feldspar deposits). The T-shirt Table is an unique, one of a kind piece.  

The Story Behind the Jugs

It began as an experiment of cutting plastic milk jugs in the studio. Once cut, Sean added sprayed abstract shocks of color. Later, these cut creations would be transformed with soil, cactus, and succulents and set on tabletops in the lobby/lounge of The Line Hotel.

Inspired by the work of Dutch designer and artist Foekje Fleur (pronounced FECK-yuh Fluhr), Sean had featured her ceramic soap bottles in his rooms at The Line. In her pieces, Fleur used a kind of ceramic that would have a feel and texture similar to the sunlight stressed surfaces of the discarded bottles she collected by the Maas river in Rotterdam.

In his own reimagining of the plastic container, Sean wanted to push the concept even further. By casting the milk jug into raku-style pottery, Sean does some Dadaist playing with context, values, culture, and more.

What is less apparent is that the raku jug also contains references to the influence of one of Sean's seminal mentors. When just out of his teenage years, Sean worked with designer and manufacturer Carl Gillberg (1941-2012). The self-taught Gillberg was able to work masterly in variety of materials including bronze, steel, glass, and wood in addition to being a master potter. Some of the work Gillberg was best known for were his monumental pots, some reaching heights of almost seven feet. To fire these gargantuan pots, Gillberg built his own heroic-scaled kiln which was lowered over the pots by a cable.

Gillberg was also expert in raku finishing techniques, doing much experimentation with the form and even inventing some of his own. Raku (a Japanese word meaning joy or happiness) was developed in the 16th century Japan with earlier threads going back to China. In its modern Western application of the process, the work is removed from the kiln while red hot and subjected to post-firing reduction (or smoking) by being placed in containers with combustible materials (newspaper, cardboard, saw dust, pine needles, peat moss) and a reduced amount of oxygen. The smoke interacts with the slips and oxides (for color) on the pot's surface. For more crackling in the texture, or crazing as it's called, water is spritzed onto the hot clay.

Today, Gillberg's studio is run by his widow Chantal with the help of Gillberg's protégés. (As part of the extraordinary web that is Sean's social network, Chantal was once married to Sean's father.) One of the protégés, Julio, had worked with Gillberg for 30 years.

The proof, of course, is in the quality of the work. As you can see, the pieces are exquisite and worthy of the master himself.

 

The handmade jugs-vases-planters are available in a variety of solid colors, metallic finishes, and raku style treatments. Each piece is a one of a kind object.