Art-work OR Craft-work? A marriage made in heaven
by Denis Taylor
Readers of this magazine may well know the work of some of the renown Scandinavian glass makers. Kosta Boda and Orrefors are just two of them.
The designers for these international companies may be less well known, Kaj Frank, Oiva Toikka, Hydman-Vallen, Mats Jonasson are just a few who have an established signature on some of the more valued glass pieces. But, is it Art or are they Craft-working? I guess that’s all down to defining what Art Work is and what Craft Work is. This has always been an area where I (as a painter) had a secure opinion and never wandered far from it.
For me Art Works are unnecessary and strictly impractical items. An artwork has no use other than to look at it and give pleasure, or as food for thought or even make one aware of an emotion or feeling that one didn’t know one had. A Craft Work holds different properties. It can be used as a container (for drink or flowers). Craftwork work is generally designed rather than created in a spontaneous way. Art-works are unspecific in their intention and of course in their value on the open market. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb, i.e. world famous items created in the first throws of Art Nouveau for example, but in general I have always sat comfortably with my personal distinction between Art and Craft, that is until recently.
If you have never been to Norway you’ll probably get a mental image of fjords skirted by dramatic mountain scenery. A remote and isolated landscape where the winter is furiously harsh and unforgiving. A place where blonde haired giants travel by elongated strips of wood tied to their feet. Well, to some extent that’s a reasonably accurate picture. Yet, in reality that is just one picture postcard of Norway. Like most countries, that generic global image is not entirely the truth and the mixed cosmopolitan society of the 21st century has reached virtually everywhere, as indeed has MacDonald’s Burgers, Starbucks and Apple phones. Norway is no exception to the globalization of the world.
I’ve been to Norway a few times, my wife and I have family living and working there.
One in particular is a Swedish nephew, who recently decided to tie the knot with his rather adorable Norwegian girlfriend of ten years. So it was without hesitation that we accepted the invitation to be witness to their marriage in Oslo, earlier this month.
The wedding ceremony was held outdoors in the ‘yard’ of a trendy bistro next to the Capital City’s main Church. But it was a secular come civil wedding as most are these days in the Northern countries. And I have to say, it was quite delightful with gentle acoustic guitar contemporary tunes played and sang before and after the official vows and placing of the wedding rings in glorious sunshine and blue skies. This was followed by the guests informally mixing and chatting whilst sipping celebratory champagne. The guests were made up of Norwegians. Swedish, Finnish, German, with me being the only Englishman in attendance. Lucky for me my first language is an almost everyone second language in Scandinavia, so communication is never too much of a problem. And knowing the culture of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, pretty well, helps me communicate on a deeper level even better.
It was at the wedding dinner that I met ‘Pål Roland Janssen’. He was sitting opposite me in the pre-arranged sitting order. A quite unassuming sort of guy in his late thirties.
Through discourse and polite chat, it slipped out that I was a painter, a fact he seemed to be interested in. After a while he confirmed my suspicion that he was an Artist too, so I asked him directly “so, what do you do?” His reply was typical tinged with what the Scandinavians call ” Jantelagen.” Which is an old ‘saying’ that developed from the Viking days, roughly translated it means ” don’t tell anyone about how many cows you have, or brag about your prowess.” Basically, keep a low profile about everything.
Roland, as I preferred to address him throughout the dinner, told me he was a Glass Blower. And for me that was a discipline that my definition, (of my own making) between Art & Craft fitted comfortably within our conversations during the various courses of the amazing food served at our table. It was a definition of Art & Craft that we both seemed happy with until I finally asked him, after the wedding speeches, if I could see some of his work, having willingly shown him some of mine, (smart phones really are both a wonder and a menace to the ‘Gentleman’ cultural society, (aren’t they?)
At first he has shown me, what you could call, his practical stuff. Exceptionally crafted wine glasses with the stem being a sculptured female figure. “Very nice” I thought and said as much aloud in earshot of the other guests. My German sister in Law, who sat next to me, took over the phone to look for herself and thought the glasses were rather beautiful and would have liked a few of them for her home. I gained control of Roland’s smart phone and scrolled further. And it was here that I found what, in my opinion, you could call his ‘proper’ stuff. The first image that impressed me was a large glass sculpture of a ‘prostitute’ (the sub- title of the work) which was exquisite. Another was of a man who was down on his luck and holding out his hands in a begging like stance. Yet another was a very amusing portrait of the leader of Russia, (Mr Putin). Another striking figure was simply called ‘Surrogate’ which shown a woman with a see-through ‘baby bump’ with a baby in it.
By now I appreciated Roland’s abilities as an Artist and not as a Glass Blower.
His Craft-Works has now become Art-Works, before my very eyes in a matter of seconds, and I began to distrust my long standing belief in the Craft verses Art dogma I had invented and stood by for all these years.
It turned out Roland was having a solo exhibition the very next day, only an hour or so from Oslo.
It was with regret that Marianne (my wife) had already planned to link up with her old school friend (from Finland) and therefore we would be unable to afford the time to visit his show before driving back to Sweden, back to my studio. My need to ‘get-back’ was based on the preparations I still had made for my own exhibition in the Manchester (UK) Contemporary Art and Buy Art Fair at the end of this month,
Undeterred, and with my interest in his work elevated beyond curiosity, I asked him to email me with where I could see more or what he did and importantly and how he created it. How and what an Artist thinks about when creating Art is of equal importance to me, almost as much as the work itself, as I believe intimate understanding of other artists work process helps to develop my own Art and sometimes even alters my direction into unknown paths of exploration.
Sure enough an email arrived on my iMac with links I could follow. Perhaps the most stunning was a video he made of him creating the ‘Prostitute Annie’ which blew me away (if you’ll forgive the pun). I encourage you to have a look at it, it’s incredibly interesting and impressive evidence of skill of an Artist at work, here is the link:
This is how Roland describes his motivation for “Annie” and the wider project he is working on :
“…in my latest project I set about attempting to portray ‘human trading’ in a modern context. ‘Annie is my latest addition to this project, the project was initially inspired by the song ‘Wrong way’ by Sublime.”
Roland, as it turns out, has exhibited far and wide and spent time in the USA perfecting his skill base. And with his contemporary subject matter together with authentic originality married with the quality of Roland’s Art Works it’s hardly surprising that his reputation is growing exponentially in Europe and the USA. His Art is not founded on the different (or perhaps unusual) sort of medium that he has chosen to create Art, but because he began his journey by desiring to perfect and master the skill needed to utilize that specific medium. A path of mastery of medium that many artists should perhaps consider for all modes of contemporary Art. It seems to me that so much Visual Art creation today concentrates on wild expressionism or aping (copying verbatim) a manipulated photoshop image and not the free application of pigments with a mastery of the medium. Painters are probably guilty of this blasé approach to the process of Art making more so than most. One has to remember that the master painters of the 20th century (abstractionists) were all highly skilled painters before they became renown for their avant garde or exploratory working methods.
I have been fortunate to have exhibited along side and been involved with many great Artist’s, some of which are known internationally and others who are not. Villu Jaanisoo (sculptor) and Doris Bengtson (sculptor) to mention just two, who are not only really great originators and skilled artists, but also long standing friends whose work I admire and continue to learn and be inspired by. Pål Roland Janssen looks destined to be added to that short list.
Perhaps I would do well to seek out more marriages of ‘Craft-Work’ and ‘Art-Work’ and peel back the gossamer layer of the decorative coating that the word ‘Craft’ implies and discover the real Artistic talent that surely underpins them both.
ArtWork or CraftWork? ©DenisTaylor2016