—we had no idea that was possible

Artist profile of Jeanne Opgenhaffen

To put it bluntly, art often fits into certain genres and so do their artists. With painters for instance, there are thirteen to a baker’s dozen who could have painted each other’s works. Sculptors too have been accused of reinventing the deep saucer, and yet Jeanne Opgenhaffen is creating something completely unique to her and the rest of us.

Her art is honest in all its tenderness. Of course, the word does not imply that every other artist does something dishonest. No rather it hints at the unpretentious nature and understated beauty of Opgenhaffen’s production, where there is neither too much nor too little of anything.

Decades of exploration

Jeanne Opgenhaffen has explored a couple of avenues from her studio in Belgium. For instance, she has worked extensively with the geometric cube ceramics, and she has created wall-mounted reliefs which are hard not to notice as something out of the ordinary.

On 8-11 May 2014, she is exhibiting at COLLECT Saatchi in London. That only adds to a long string of past exhibitions at prominent art venues and biennales around the world, her being extensively acquired by collectors, and mentioned in the art press.

The relief works in porcelain have a remarkable lightness about themselves despite the choice of medium. Logically, every one of them must weigh something, and yet their layers appear to float in the breeze like after feathers. They somehow manage to suspend gravity even when they ought to weigh a tonne of bricks. It is no mean feat, and obviously it all boils down to lot of hard grafting plus an affinity with the medium that comes from living and breathing art for decades.

The art historian Breitbarth-van der Stok once put it aptly by saying that

her art sometimes feel like swarms of migratory birds

The reference to this Waddensea phenomenon, also known as ‘black sun’, is poetic. But bio-mimicry – the art is not. The art historian clearly acknowledges that the works are no direct references to birds, rose petals, wasps’ nests, slate flakes or other nature for that matter. Rather they are moments or moods captured by the artist whilst inspired by nature in a more holistic way.


Whether then the results are abstract or not – or both for that matter, soon becomes a little besides the point. You simply enjoy the pieces for their compositional strength, their rhythm, their sublime textures and subtle glazes. You begin wondering what these living pieces would look like in varying directional sunlight.

In that train of thought, it is easy to continue with praise and go into accolade overdrive, and then end up summarising the legacy of someone who is still very much alive and kicking. At least we cannot resist the temptation, so here goes:

This organic semi-abstraction in 3D resonates with you in a peculiarly slow-burning way, and it does so for a very long time indeed. Undoubtedly, it is going to place Opgenhaffen amongst the likes of Barbara Hepworth one day.

There are hundreds of small wafer-thin strips of porcelain mounted together. As such it is a very deliberate and manual stunt to pull off. However with a material like clay, the artist must master something living that is sensitive to temperature, moisture and time applied. While the artist exercises full control within these constraints, she is also acutely aware that the material serves up ‘accidents’, which in turn offer creative opportunities to exploit artistically.

You can find more information about the artist by visiting her official website: www.opgenhaffen.com