Jan Brandt

Project 1612: How would you describe the art you make?

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Jan: My work no matter which media I’ve chosen, tends to have a dense, multi-layered quality with color and texture being major components. I tend to think of disrupting an expected environment.  This could be accomplished with a  traditionally flat, two-dimensional canvas or print collage by added layers or a site-specific installation that might erase traditional corners of a space by growing out into the allotted space. 

Project 1612: When did you start taking yourself seriously as an artist?

Jan: Going back to Illinois State University (my alma mater, with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1985) to gain a Fine Arts degree certainly helped me on the road to taking myself seriously. I definitely had a feeling I wanted to “earn” the title of artist and took that very seriously. I had to get some exhibitions and experience under my belt. It seems somehow fraudulent to me for people to toss around the title of artist without achieving a level of both self-critique and self-acceptance. I felt that it was disrespectful to those artists who have worked so hard to achieve a high standard of skill and originality to prematurely call myself an artist.  I gradually came to the opinion that I spend so much of my time immersed in making art, thinking about art, talking about art and exhibiting other’s art that I now consider my work as having merit. It also helps that some well-respected professionals in the Arts have shared their appreciation of my work and my gallery practice. At this point, I realize this feeling comes from within in me and I feel honest and not shallow about my own work. 

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Project 1612: What drives your practice?

Jan: Love of creating. The drive to experiment and grow. The need to evolve. I never have wanted to stick with the exact type of artwork I have done in the past, I am excited to see what will evolve from previous work.  I love the opportunities to exhibit and those timelines definitely keep me on track. There is a sense of magic and wonderment to me that is quite satisfying as I create new work. 

Project 1612: How has being a curator and gallery director influenced your artwork? 

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Jan: Being able to “live” with Artist’s work for the run of a show allows me to revisit pieces many times. Something that isn’t always possible with a quick gallery or museum visit. Keeping abreast of exciting work by artists keeps me fresh. Working with artist’s to prepare their artist statements or reading what they already have opens new avenues of artistic thought for me. Having to be the one to decide who gets into shows and who doesn’t has trained me to be less emotional and more honest with myself about my own artwork. I guess my eye has become more trained. And in a way, less judgmental. I may really enjoy an artist’s work, but I have shown something similar and don’t want to overdose on a certain style. As I plan my exhibition schedule, I look to provide an overall arc within the shows that provides a rhythm of surprise, contrast, excitement, subtlety, an ebb of flow of exhibitions that form the whole of a Jan Brandt Gallery experience. I feel that these same elements are good to remember in my own artistic practice, and also helps me when I propose my own work to galleries. 

Project 1612: What problems do you face in the studio? How do you overcome them?

Jan: I get tired and sore sometimes. My studio is in a cute little house with great amenities, air conditioning, a place to relax, a fridge for snacks, etc. I have to remind myself it is alright, in fact beneficial to take a break and remember to relax. I can get pretty obsessive and want to keep going until I’ve worn myself out. Recently I have admitted to myself that while I enjoy getting a great deal accomplished, it isn’t always going to be my best work or good decision making if I’m exhausted. I have been going to a trainer in The Alexander Technique for about a year and a half now. This has helped me change my life with self-acceptance and especially reminding me it’s important to take a mental and physical break. Plus I bring my dogs to work and they are the best, that is all!

Project 1612: Can you talk about some of your older work? How does it relate to the work you are making now?

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Jan: My work seems to have always been fairly intuitive. I would start a project with a fairly open-minded idea of an outcome. I may have source material I look at for inspiration, but this type of start always has morphed into something quite different. Usually, I would describe my art in the past and present as additive until it becomes too dense, and I might then add something on top to obscure visibility of part of what is underneath. I might also tear away and wash out elements that become too much for the composition. I have started to recognize themes of 1) family relationships, especially my personal relationships with my now deceased Mother and maternal Grandmother and my role as the storyteller in my family, and 2) Growth and movement using organic, abstracted biological motifs.  I am especially interested in the micro/macro sense of cells and organisms, and how patterns in nature are duplicated. I suppose there could be an argument that 1 and 2 are related as in the cycle of life. 

Project 1612: You recently introduced vinyl into your installations? What was your thought process behind that decision? Jan: I liked the idea of a different finish, the slickness next to the fuzzy textiles used. Also, the flatness of the vinyl seemed to create a contrast in depth next to the bulkier, three-dimensional textile pieces. The vinyl seemed to me to be a bit unexpected, but a welcome addition. I also have started adding wire and pipe cleaner hand woven clusters, which also adds a different element -more airy than the denseness of the fabric pieces and more sculptural than the vinyl additions. 

Project 1612: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

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Jan: Go to galleries, museums, check out public art and street art. Follow Artists on social media whose work speaks to you in some way. Ask yourself questions about why some art triggers a strong reaction, positive or negative. Sometimes you may find an initial negative response may change to an appreciation. Be a sponge, soak it up. Tell yourself every piece you work on is another piece in the puzzle. Don’t expect to ever have this all figured out. It would be boring. Find a job that will pay for food, rent and art supplies until or if your art becomes your sole means of support. While it is great to sell art, I personally think if you want to make something truly honest it is hard to do if you are making it to please others. Unless that is what you want to do, then that is okay too. 

Project 1612: What are your thoughts on the art community in Central IL?

Jan: Helping each other helps ourselves. I think it is important to support “local” artists, but I think if we change the definition of local to surrounding communities or even states, we are only going to be better served and have more opportunities to see and be involved in cutting-edge exhibitions. I don’t think artists are served well by not being exposed to new artists that may be from outside of their hometown. Connections can be made and community can grow, which offers more opportunities for artists. Those that are not artists may be influenced to contribute as patrons and collectors. Seeing new art from different areas can help artist’s to stay fresh and “Up their game”.  I personally have seen the good that can happen with alternative exhibition spaces and the engaging artwork that has been shown. I also know from experience that it takes money, time, and a great passion. Working together in marketing and as a support system could be a very welcome addition to independently run spaces. I believe bricks and mortar spaces offer a valuable space for artists to see their works transform a space and online, digital galleries can further the audience for these types of exhibition spaces and the artists whose work is shown. 

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Jan Brandt is an artist working in Bloomington, IL. More work and information about her gallery can be found on her website here