In the service of poetry

Jane Mckenzie, 
Jilamara Arts artists
In the service of poetry
19 May - 17 June, 2018

The Koskela Gallery is pleased to present In the service of poetry: recent ceramic sculptures by Jane McKenzie, alongside a series of etchings and original ochre paintings by Jilamara Arts artists Timothy Cook, Janice Pungautiji Murray, Pedro Wonaeamirri, Conrad Tipungwuti and Dino Wilson.

Despite coming from very different worlds, these artworks share an affinity with the red of the earth and beautifully complement one another. 

Jane McKenzie

Jane McKenzie is a Sydney-based artist whose ceramic sculptures find their genesis in Modernist architecture. It is not surprising given McKenzie’s artistic practice is backed by a twenty-year career as an architect.

Turning to a visual language that is anchored in form and geometry, McKenzie is influenced by the buildings of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, and the sculptures of Ruth Duckworth and Isamu Noguchi. She says: ‘The sculptures are not intended to represent buildings, but entice the viewer to look through and around the pieces, and perhaps wonder what it might be like to be inside.’

McKenzie uses slab-building techniques, turning to terracotta clay for its honesty, along with a restricted palette of white and black glazes or surface finishes that contrast with the clay’s natural colour.

Jilamara Arts

Jilamara Arts & Crafts Association is an indigenous owned art centre located in Milikapiti, Melville Island, 100km north of Darwin. Artists at the centre have made a significant contribution to contemporary indigenous art in Australia since the association was established in 1989.

The Tiwi word ‘Jilamara’, which roughly translates to ‘design’, refers to the intricate ochre patterning traditionally applied to the bodies of dancers and the surface of carved poles during the Pukamani funeral ceremony. This ceremony is still a part of community life and continues to inform the current art practice of the Tiwi people. Tiwi work displays its own regionally distinct identity, and varies greatly in form and content from the indigenous art of the Arnhem and Central Desert regions of Australia.



Jane McKenzie Q&A

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.


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