Janice Kluge

Sculpted in Dreams

by Brett Levine     Photo by Jerry Siegel

My work has always been semi-autobiographical,” Janice Kluge says as she sits in a studio filled with ceramics, clay models to be cast in bronze, installation pieces and the accumulation of 30 years of being an artist.  Kluge, who began her career as a metal artist and sculptor, began practicing ceramics seriously five years ago.  “I thought I would work as a figurative sculptor, but so far it looks like I’ve been working more with figure fragments,” she says, laughing.

“When I began working in ceramics I felt like I was completing college assignments,” Kluge says.  “I viewed competition deadlines and exhibition opportunities as ways to set goals for myself as I began working in this medium.”

This idea of exploration is important to Kluge.  “As an artist, your work has a life of its own,” she says. “You have a relationship with it, but you have to decide what you want that relationship to be.”  In fact, Kluge consciously leaves her works’ interpretations open so viewers can bring their experiences to each work and create for themselves what they believe each work means. “I want people to bring their own interpretations to my works, even though the works have very specific, creative content.  At the same time, I try to create works that are so personal that they become universal.”

Many of Kluge’s works explore this shared experience.  “Dreams and Memories,” a large installation centered around a relief sculpture of a head with numerous identifiable objects arrayed behind it was her creative response to her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.  “I noticed recently that in a lot of my works it is as if thoughts are coming up in or through the hair,” she says. Kluge uses her work as a means to support causes that are close to her heart.  “As an artist, I feel like I have a responsibility to build bridges within my community. While I show worldwide, and I’ve had commercial gallery representation in many cities, I see Birmingham as a place I am a part of, and I believe that if artists engage with their immediate community first, they will receive a great deal of support.”

Her approach to creating works that are accessible results in an ongoing interest in identifiable, often recurring, forms.  Her studio is filled with molds for slip casting a variety of birds, hands, garden furniture, fish, anatomical parts and animals.  Kluge combines these in unexpected ways, creating unique ceramic assemblages.  “One of my first inspirations when I began making ceramics was the Japanese kitsune, or shape shifter,” Kluge says.  “I am fascinated by the idea of a combination of human and animal qualities and characteristics, something that is best known in America through fairy tales and myths.”

Kluge’s recognition for her ceramics has surprised even her.  One of her earliest works, a non-functioning cup with the part that would hold liquid inverted as a base, was included in a cup exhibition.  Earlier this year, two of her teapots —  the Buddha and Heart Chakra teapots — were included in “Hot Tea: The 13th Biennial Teapot Exhibition.”  Kluge says, “One of the wonderful aspects of working in ceramics is that there is a great respect among museums, curators and collectors even for works that aren’t necessarily traditional examples of their genre.”

For now, Kluge sees her greatest challenge as continuing to establish herself as a ceramic artist.  “I have been very lucky given that I have really only been focusing on ceramics for five years,” she says.  “My recent commission for Baker Donelson, which was a 63-piece site-specific installation, is one of my greatest achievements working in this medium.”

The completion of this project allowed Kluge to step back, again, and assess her working process.  “I’m working on a large new installation I have titled “The Messenger,’ among other pieces,” Kluge says. “I’ve also started exploring watercolors and other wet media again. I sketch a lot, and I try to resolve my images before I begin working, but most of all I’m simply telling a story, and leaving a lot of space for my imagination, and yours, to roam.”

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One Response to “Janice Kluge”

  1. Hi Janice, Miss u my friend, call me u are in Fairhope. I live here now. Would love to see you. How is Cam?
    Our current life: Amalee will be 22 on Sunday, tried college but not interested. Frederck is 24 and in law school in NOLa at Loyola. Working hard I hope. I teach 1st grade at a private Christian School. Rick is remarried to a 31 yr old and they have a new baby. So weird,

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