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Christchurch artist Janna van Hasselt tells What's Hot New Zealand about dreaming big, and drawing inspiration from a preschooler’s wardobe.
What’s going on in your life right now? I’m in the process of making 400 ceramic works that look like brush strokes for my next show, switching to a plant-based diet, keeping watch on our 32 monarch chrysalises and settling my daughter into preschool.
Is that all? You’re not afraid of scale in your art. What’s your dream big project? Ha! My lecturer at Ilam always encouraged me to think big; he was forever coaxing us to scale up. My dream big installation would have to be blinging out the Tate Modern Turbine Hall; completely smothering it in pattern and colour.
A lot of your works have a strong emphasis on intense patterns. What do the patterns mean to you? For me, it’s about hand-made graphic marks and how they interrelate to create an optical buzz.
What inspires the patterns you design? Often they are random and chaotic marks but I also gain inspiration from fabric weaves such as herringbone and houndstooth; giving them a hand-drafted twist.
What is it that attracts you to the aesthetic of bright bold colours? I’m interested in how bright colours can interact with each other, especially the effect of fluorescent pigments against duller tones and how they can create a visual hum. I’m currently obsessed with rainbows, drawing inspiration from my girls’ wardrobes. A progression of one hue to the next (over a chaotic background) helps bring some order to my larger scale environments.
One of your significant contributions to Christchurch was the 2016 Buzz Carpet piece at Re:START mall. Tell us about that project. It was epic; I can still remember the feeling of kneeling and painting on concrete for hours on end while being observed by onlooking shoppers! I was chosen for Re:ACTIVATE, the most incredible opportunity to create a public work of art under the guidance of SCAPE’s Deborah McCormick and then director of CoCA Paula Orrell. With the help of Fulton Hogan’s road marking team, I created a ground-based mural between two container stores using the brightest hard-wearing paint available, overlaid with a pattern inspired by crochet weave.
Have you done other works with SCAPE Public Art? I’d love to do something big with them in the future. I regularly exhibit when they host pop-up exhibitions and most recently I collaborated with the chef at Eliza’s Manor on a dessert inspired by my sculptures, such fun!
What is special to you about ceramic sculpture? I’m drawn to the organic and tactile nature of the forms you can create with clay; how you can see the maker’s fingerprints in the finished works, no matter how polished they are.
How do you choose materials when breaking out into different types of sculpture? Scale plays a big part in these decisions; sadly I am limited by the height of my kiln when it comes to ceramics. For Snapdash! at Ashburton Art Gallery in 2018, I collaborated with my husband to fill an entire gallery space with oversized sculpture and pattern. We favoured light and easily sculpted materials such as polystyrene and chicken wire papier-mâché.
Art has taken you around the world – what strikes you about the different countries you’ve worked in? I spent time working in print studios in Edinburgh and London. Most of my memories are of bitter cold and slate skies but the UK art scene is super vibrant. The Netherlands was home for two years and I became a true Amsterdam local living in an old canal house and biking everywhere. We now have a Dutch-style bakfiets and appreciate all the new bike lanes in the city. I did my MFA in Chicago. Such an incredible city, full of surprises and certainly a rival to the Big Apple. I truly think the US is a land of opportunity.
What have you been working on recently? As well as the hundreds of rainbow porcelain strokes, I’ve been experimenting with stacking individually glazed forms and seeing what happens in the firing process. The high temperatures can cause slumping and slipping and it’s both liberating and nerve-wracking to hand over the reins to the kiln to decide the final form of the sculpture.
Does being a mother help or hinder your creativity? My two beautiful girls are constantly a part of my practice; they share my studio and are enthusiastic about everything I do. Since having children, my drive to create has increased dramatically and I’ve developed a superhuman ability to make the most of any moment I get in the studio.
What’s coming up for you in 2022? I have a solo show at The Dowse Art Museum in Wellington in April, then this winter I’m installing some ceramics at Te Ara Ātea in Rolleston.
You’re stuck on a desert island. What three things do you have? Maeve Binchy novel, sketchbook and my crochet.