Interview & Studio Photography Arielle Chambers
Exhibition Images Courtesy Of Jan Abt
Self-proclaimed “failed musician” turned successful sculptor, Jan Abt masters matters of clay and plaster. Originally from Germany, Abt decided to relocate to the United States to fulfill his artistic aspirations. He initially moved to Chicago to play the saxophone, but his desire to sculpt landed him in New York City in 1997. Abt draws inspiration from past artists such as Aristide Maillol, Hans Arp, Henri Matisse, Marino Marini, Pablo Picasso, Gaston Lachaie and Alberto Giacometti. He considers gravity, form, and volume imperative to his artwork. Delving into matters of space and negative space, his sculptures express intentional fluidity and evoke emotion. Abt’s awareness of his muse and his decision to create audience affinity to the being has led to his rising popularity.
How long have you been interested in art?
Ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents forced me into it. When I was a teenager, my ears started growing and listening to music. I was really into music for about eight years but I will consider myself a failed musician.
What instrument did you play?
Saxophone. I transcribed all these solos from Sonny Rollins. I moved to Chicago from Germany when I was 19. I learned a lot there from the musicians. That was from ages 19 to 23. I returned to Germany to reconsider what I was going to do and sculpting came back into my life. I moved to New York in 1997 and I’ve been in New York ever since.
Why sculpt people?
I just have a natural affinity to do that. I’ve done some abstract things, nonfigurative, but even those seem to have organic kind of structures. The forms always end up relating to what we know. Even if you look at abstract art, it will always relate to the figure to some degree. For me, the figures are most interesting because they are the most endless. I hope to expand to more abstract things in the future. Right now, the forms are not naturalistic at all. It’s about the composition of things, how gravity works, the expansion, form and volume…and narrative is the human figure. It’s one’s story I guess. And that is what I’m curious about.
How do you go about finding just the right subject for you?
When I said narrative, the narrative in the human being is the narrative in itself. I hope not to put too much personality into it because ultimately, it will become self-serving. When you walk into a park, naturally you feel happy. All the cells in your body feel delighted by the event and you don't really question it too much. I hope I can have the same type of thing with the sculpture-doing something major without making a big story. Thinking is one thing, but my sculptures are more about the feeling, the experience, and the sensuality of things. I hope it will be a tactile experience. Without having to touch it, but you can feel like you can touch it.
Are they all based one model?
They are based on the one. It’s not about the literal representation, but more so about the form and structure.
What do you look for in posing?
Space. I like enough space and negative space. That’s all apart of the sculpture and the experience.
How long does it take you on average to sculpt?
It takes about 3 months to do the whole thing. First I use clay, cast it in plaster, and then rework the plaster because they never come out the way I want to. I opt for a slower process by sending and reshaping those things. Using plaster is an interesting process. It’s much slower and more personal experience with plaster as opposed to clay. Plaster slows things down and gets me more into the sculpture.
What would you like the audience to take away from your work?
I hope they can get some kind of empathetic experience from the sculpture without being drawn by the story, the narrative being just the figure itself and the tactile experience. I hope they get some joy from the shapes and negative forms. From every angle, there’s something new to tell that you can live with and be with for a while.