Jane du Rand: A South African master mosaic artist

From Africa to the world

 2018-08-15 04:25 PM by
Jane du Rand: A South African master mosaic artist

Featuring Jane du Rand

I am delighted and honoured (and to be honest, somewhat intimidated!) to feature the incredible mosaic and ceramic artist, Jane du Rand. Jane has embraced mosaic art like no one else, adding her own unique ceramic creations and taking mosaics to a totally new level. She is perhaps best known for her large-scale artworks in public spaces and on public buildings across the globe but what really distinguishes Jane’s breath taking murals are the intricate and meticulous details in her works.

Jane is a native South African, born and raised in Durban. She worked for more than 15 years from her Durban studio before recently moving east to Yeerongpilly in Brisbane, Australia, although she still travels the world producing her incredible masterpieces. Jane’s route to artistic success started in 1987 during her first year at university.  She attended the prestigious Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, where she was introduced to ceramics by Hylton Nel. Although she transferred to architecture after one year of art school, she continued her pursuit of ceramics by doing weekly pottery classes. Jane worked as an architect until 1994 when she started combining her ceramic work with mosaics…and the rest, as they say, is history!

From Art to Architecture to Art

Her background in architecture, however, has definitely helped provide her strong sense of spatial awareness and the ability to bring life to a man-made environment. “There was a lot of rigour in my 6 years of study and plenty of drawing practise, a good understanding of scale and materials which has stood me in good stead. I think that my architectural background also helped me feel brave and confident going onto big building sites to install projects.” This is clearly evident when viewing her incredible large-scale artworks that enhance a number of buildings across the world, in countries as far-flung as South Africa, France, Ireland, Chile, New York City, Los Angeles, The Netherlands and Australia.

In fact, it was the installation of one of her trademark large-scale artworks on the 18 columns of the foyer in the Constitutional Court building in Johannesburg that launched her into the spotlight. When the complex was designed, a number of sites had been strategically allocated for artwork and a national art competition was set up for all artists to present their proposals for the various sites. Jane submitted the winning proposal for the installations of the foyer columns. “It was wonderful to be a part of such an important new building. The artwork projects at the constitutional court have been very well documented, there is a beautiful book, and it was great to be part of such a prestigious project”.

Jane's Highland Fling

This was to be one of the first large-scale, yet highly detailed and intricate artworks, which she is renowned for. While all her projects are challenging in their own way, arguably the most challenging piece to date is her recent installation at the Ashford Castle in Ireland. Jane had just three months to produce all the panels for the 10m x 4 m wall at her studio in Brisbane, and then only 10 days and 1 helper to complete the on-site installation in a freezing cold castle. “The installation was hectic… working on the site every day from 7am till 9pm and I once did a stint till midnight (which is creepy on your own in a 13th century castle!). The weather was cold and it is not pleasant sitting up a scaffold in a freezing draft”. However, the fruits of her labour are absolutely stunning. Standing proudly behind the swimming pool in the spa, the completed mosaic wall highlights Ashford Castle’s medieval history, dating back to the thirteenth century. The mosaic’s focal point is the Celtic Tree of Life, an emblem from Irish folklore symbolising the link between Heaven and Earth.

Producing a mosaic wall of this intricacy and detail takes an enormous amount of work and skill and yet the Ashford Castle wall is far from being Jane’s largest project. The honour goes to an epic mosaic rising seven stories above Johannesburg. Jane not only covered the elevator shaft of the Melrose Arch building with beautiful deep cobalt and gleaming yellows stretching across 400 square metres, but also covered the main square with 300 square metres of mosaic.

Jane’s work is most notably influenced by the natural world. Indeed, most of her works incorporate stunning scenes of the local flora and fauna. “I think I draw on all the things I see around me, I love to walk in the bush and to go to art galleries and to notice what other people are doing and then to steal little bits from all of that.” As a student, Jane was inspired by Spain’s Antoni Gaudi and while working in Vienna she was fascinated with the Secession Movement and the associated artists like Gustav Klimt and Schiele.  “Now I love to look at and get inspired by a wide and eclectic range of artists, I love the work of Bea Jaffray, a South African ceramicist; the American visual artist Nick Cave, and I recently took a book out of the library on Stephen Bowers”.

Jane starts all new projects with drawings (or series of drawings) and then paints a presentation for her clients in watercolours”. It really depends on the project which route I take. I really enjoy doing my painting presentations, but sometimes I also use collage if the design lends itself to that. I like to draw from life and so if I am referencing a particular flower or plant I always try to get hold of one, it makes such a difference, but sometimes a photo has to make do. Taking time to draw and plan works for me as I think I get a better result that way, even if I deviate from the drawing as the project grows”. Most often Jane draws her own designs, but for some projects she brings in a friend, Kim Longhurst, who is a fabulous illustrator and designer and converts sketches into beautiful computer graphics.

Jane also enlists the help of the local community in designing and completing her numerous community projects. For example, in Port Elizabeth, she helped train young students over a few months and together they created and installed an incredible stairway mosaic at a public park. This was funded by the Mandela Bay Development Agency and provided invaluable skills to the participants who are now able to go on and create their own mosaic artwork. Another project for a Durban children’s home involved working with the children to create different sections, before installing it at the orphanage. “These projects are important and very fulfilling. As well as providing skills, they give the participants a feeling of achievement and accomplishment when they see the finished product, as well as the feelings of well-being that always derive from being involved in art.”

The immediate environment has influenced Jane’s work greatly over the years, and her recent move to a different continent has provided both new inspiration and challenges.

Staying on point down under

In South Africa, she had a full-time team of 8 trained artists, while in Australia she is mainly working alone. “I think that because I am doing so much more on my own, in a crazy way my work has become more complicated and detailed.” While setting up a new studio and reputation is a different country comes with some hefty challenges, Jane has already completed some amazing large-scale commission artworks in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and has applied for funding for another solo exhibition later this year (she has had two previous solo exhibitions in South Africa; Forest of Columns and Loathing and Loving and Giving). She is also lucky to have secured a huge and naturally-lit industrial studio in Brisbane, which is situated in a creative precinct, “so I have fabulous artist neighbours who are always up for a coffee and a chat”.

When not in the studio, Jane is out walking her dog, hiking and bushwalking in the rainforests around Brisbane, camping with her family, or spending time with friends. Like most artists, she finds herself torn between the extremes of needing time to focus single-mindedly on her work and the natural desire to spend time with her family. However, she is fortunate to have a fantastic support network, including a wonderfully supportive husband, two young teenagers, a nearby mother and a very beloved dog, making travelling and focusing her creative energies that much easier.  

I love that I look forward to going to my studio every day. I love the interactions that I have been able to have with so many different people, and that some of the work that I’ve been involved with has helped people. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to travel and work in different places all over the world, and I love just sitting quietly by myself I my studio with some clay in my hands listening to my favourite podcasts.”

For more information on Jane’s work, please see her website: http://www.durandmosaic.com/