5 questions with Jane McKenzie
We caught up with the ceramicist and artist ahead of her exhibition, In the service of poetry, at the Koskela Gallery.
Recently featured on The Design Files, Jane McKenzie’s Modernist architecture-inspired sculptures are attracting a lot of attention. Such buzz must be very exciting for the emerging artist, who made the switch to ceramics after a 20-year career in architecture. Her pieces made from terracotta clay and constructed with a slab-building technique play with depth, space and light. McKenzie has been working tirelessly in her Sydney studio to create these for her exhibition, In service of poetry, at the Koskela Gallery from 19 May to 17 June.
We spoke to the artist-of-the-hour to quiz her about her craft and what we can expect from the exhibition...
After a 20-year architecture career, what triggered your switch to ceramics?
I have always made art. My love of art was one of the reasons I chose to study architecture. After many years working as a heritage architect, I realised that I was at a point in my career where I could work part-time and spend more time making art. I started a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Art School and rediscovered a love for working with clay that I’d enjoyed at high school.
What interests you about Modernist architecture and how does it influence your work?
It took me a while to “get” Modernist architecture. Initially, I was much more interested in old buildings (Victorian, Edwardian and just about every style pre-1920), they were much more interesting and accessible to me. Then I visited Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, and it was almost like a spiritual awakening for me; I suddenly saw the beauty and the poetry in that building and it allowed me to connect with other Modernist and contemporary buildings. It influences the sculptures that I make by inspiring me to try and create a similar poetry in simple but unexpected forms.
What part of your art practice brings you the most joy?
Working with wet clay, pushing its boundaries and making it hold unlikely forms. Creating something interesting from basic mud.
Why do you only work with terracotta clay and a limited palette of glazes?
Clay comes in a wide variety of colours, but for me, it’s red terracotta that seems the most representative of the material. I connect it to red bricks and roof tiles. I love how unpretentious and humble it is.
White represents Modernism, and I particularly like the stark contrast between a white surface and terracotta edges. Using a limited palette is about emphasising the form of the sculpture over colour or surface detail.
Is there a theme for your show at Koskela?
The sculptures made for this show are inspired by Modernist architecture and the work of Le Corbusier in particular.
The title for the show comes from a Le Corbusier quote. He said: “There are no sculptors only, painters only, architects only. The sculptural idea is in One Form – in the service of poetry.” This quote resonated with me because I am an architect who sculpts and paints, but also because this is how I feel about what I make; I try to make forms that are poetic.
Le Corbusier challenged the barriers around the separate disciplines and allowed them to enrich each other. He declared that many of his forms for architectural projects were developed during his painting practice and other cross-disciplinary pollinations occurred throughout his career. It’s a fabulous approach to aspire to.