Craft Victoria Exhibitions Manager Olivia Poloni interviews glass artist Jenny Loft on the influences and rituals within her practice. Loft’s intimate work Proximity (2010) is currently on show in the group exhibition Ceremonial at Craft Victoria.
Olivia Poloni: You studied under Inge King and George Baldessin. Can you tell us what that was like and if it influences your practice today?
Jenny Loft: To quote from Inge’s memorial service at the NGV earlier this year “Inge was a formidable presence in the lives of many”. This was true for me. As a young artist just starting out at art school I found her sharp intellect and deep understanding of sculptural form both a challenge and inspiration.
With time, early discussions with Inge about the work of artists such a Kathe Kollwitz and David Smith have stayed with me as guiding principles to be followed.
At a personal level I have always aspired to achieve Inge’s level of determined and persistent dedication to her art.
Inge’s influence on my practice has been both conscious and a slow osmosis. An element I greatly admire in her work is the sophisticated simplicity of her tectonic forms. Whilst, over time I have built confidence to explore new directions in my work, a trait Inge achieved over her long career. For me Inge also demonstrated with her Angel series that the serious can sit well with the playful.
To study printmaking under George Baldessin was a very different experience. One in which quiet observation of George in the print studio was a powerful teacher. George’s influence on my practice has been both conceptual and technical.
On the technical side, long afternoons and evenings watching as etching plates were transformed during the aquatint process was an inspiration to me. Over time I have held onto this respect for the alchemical elements of the creative process.
Conceptually, my works of a personal nature have been influenced by George’s interest in expressing “human weakness through the vulnerable figure without extracting its dignity”. His work has given me courage to explore themes of a deeply personal nature whilst being sensitive to their emotional impact.
OP: Your work in Ceremonial is very personal. Are all your works as intimate?
JL: Only some of my work covers intimate personal subjects. Some, including larger installation works, investigate contemporary political issues. Whilst many smaller sculptural works begin with personal stories, which are then developed to incorporate broader public themes.
When writing about my work I aim to balance the private with a public narrative.
I am always delighted and surprised whenever a viewer responds to a personal work with an interpretation which broadens the context of that work.
OP: What has been a seminal experience in your practice?
JL: In 2005 I was invited to contribute to the Mind Maps: a cartography of Australian glass exhibition, curated by Ede Horton, at Craft Victoria.
Participation in the Mind Maps show instigated a significant shift towards the conceptual in my work. This proved to be a timely transition, in which recent technical training combined with new interests expanded both the emotional and intellectual depth of my practice.
OP: Why is the handmade important to you?
JL: For me the tactile is the most important form of communication. Surface and texture are key elements of my practice, whether incorporated into cast glass sculpture or larger installations.
The importance of the handmade for me stems from my childhood. Visits to my grandparents and extended family were times when I would be surrounded by the handmade … spun wool garments, woven rugs and exquisite embroidery.
A very formative part of my appreciation for the handmade came via my New South Wales relatives who, as craft pioneers, founded the Sturt Craft Centre in Mittagong. As a teenager there were many very special holidays visiting Sturt, meeting with the visiting Japanese potters and English weavers.
The handmade is now integral to my use of the lost wax method for creating cast glass sculptures. Whether modelling the wax form or building the casting mold using the honeycomb technique I am completely focused on the handmade process.
OP: Any rituals you have when you make?
JL: In glass casting the mold making and wax steaming stages are arduous processes.
To achieve the necessary precision, each stage will often involve up to 5 or 8 hours of continuous effort and concentration.
To focus my attention during this handmade stage I always begin by selecting a small number of raga or meditation music discs, these are then played in a loop for the duration of the work day.