Say the word porcelain and you probably think of dinner plates, mugs, wash basins (or urinals), or, possibly, inscrutable Chinese lions, thoughtful cherubs or smiling shepherdesses. Last week I saw what for me was a new take on porcelain in the art of Belgian artist Jeanne Opgenhaffen. She produces works which are not quite sculptures. though they are three-dimensional, but more like paintings crafted in porcelain rather than paint.
Oppenhaffen, who is now 76, was born in Nieuwenkerk-Waas, and studied ceramics at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the National Higher Institute in Antwerp, and has exhibited widely including in London and in New York. I saw the works, just three of them, at Art14, an interesting commercial gallery named after its street number in Dijver in Bruges, rather than the year.
The works which normally appear to have a rectangular or square outer form are made up of hundreds or even thousands of separate porcelain pieces which she somehow intertwines to produce a whole which is remarkably fluid. These are not mosaics where the surface is flat but reliefs where the individual tiles can together form undulating patterns suggesting waves, cells or geological strata. It is not obvious at first that they are made from porcelain; each tile is typically thin, curved and looks as if it was made of paper or fabric or some other material that could be easily folded into shape. The colours tend towards the natural tones you might find in the landscape; the works I saw were in whites, earth-like reddy browns and muted blues.
These works will clearly look different in different lights and I liked the way that they could cast shadows around their edges. Striking from a distance, they also rewarded close up observation. Look at this detail where you can see how all the tiles are subtly different.
I love the way the set of nine reliefs below seem to capture the movement of the sea.
I found myself wondering how far they were planned and how far improvised. A bit of both, I imagine. Having coming across these works by chance, I really want to see more; there are many on her website which are equally interesting. I will be looking out for exhibitions in London.