Rape of Europa 1559-62
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Jan King has continued to develop her themes into the new millennium with both large and small-scale works. With each piece her confidence has grown, especially with the large-scale pieces where her sense of scale and proportion come together with complete alacrity.

For King, an essential part of the curriculum has been her exposure to great works of art, and as her career has progressed she has found that these lessons have never left her. A lot has been written about the creative process and the teaching of art, and it is generally agreed that you can teach technique but you can’t teach creativity. Creativity works at the intuitive level of cognition so there is no way of codifying it or embedding it in a discipline. For a student of art, progress must take place at the empirical level and therefore the study of technique is of paramount importance. The complement of this is that students must also be exposed to the history of art and where possible view original works in order to come to a full and complete understanding of the aesthetic experience.

Before she took up formal art studies, and for much of her career, King has travelled extensively and visited the great museums of the world to gain that essential first-hand experience. During her time at the Academia di Belle Arti in Perugia she became familiar with the history of Italian painting and was inspired especially by the great Venetian painter Titian (1485/88-1576).

Titian honed his skills in the ateliers of Bellini and Giorgione but it was his response to the colours, reflections and transitional surfaces of his native Venice that really forged his bold and original style. From Walter Pater to Clement Greenberg, art critics have written much about the physicality of Titian’s paintings. He is known for his highly textured, sensual surfaces and his dramatic representation of light.

Looking at Titian’s Rape of Europa, we can see within the one composition that the representation moves from the portrait-like appearance of the bull, to the struggling solid form of the Europa figure, to what could be described as a collision of watery and atmospheric elements. There is nothing condensed or stabile about the composition, everything seems transmutable, and a palpable atmosphere supports the drama being played out by the central figures.

With King’s sculpture Ariadne (2002) she displays an innate understanding of Titian’s approach. Even though the title may refer to another painting by Titian, for the purpose of this discussion, Rape of Europa provides us with a lot more clues to the advent of her work. The sculpture is a symphony of elements that display compactness, solidness, lightness, transparency and extension. As with Titian’s Rape of Europa she introduces dramatic spatial shifts between the different areas of the composition, so that one is induced to think about the dimensions of the piece and the hierarchy of forms.

At the base of the sculpture there are a number of strong geometric forms that are solid and imposing. These forms focus our attention down into the piece, and then through various devices the sculpture is released as things become diffused and the dimensions of the piece expand.

For instance, King introduces a vertical dimension with a striking serpentine column rising from the compact forms at the base, accompanied by two frond-like shapes that sway and bend as if responding to a vortex of rising air. This column establishes the height of the piece, but the sculpture doesn’t stop there; she then goes on to extend the sculpture with sections of rod, which describe quite delicate arcs beginning from the top of the column and descending in a serious of stepped sequences, back down to the base. These lines create an intermittent effect much like a song from afar that comes and goes on the wind. Their trajectories at one moment can appear quite solid and the next moment are reduced to feint impressions depending on the angle of the light. To further emphasise the feeling of extension, King had added a light sheet of metal to one of the outer rods that visually, acts like a sail, dragging the rod further from the centre of the piece. We could say that these lines establish a transmutable context for the sculpture in much the same way the background and atmospheric elements do for the Titian painting.


Ariadne 2002
Painted Steel
300 x 130 x 100 cm


Navarra 2003
Painted Steel
59 x 114 x 13 cm


Navarra (2003) is a very evocative sculpture. This is a sculpture that fully occupies its skin. It has a strong graphic quality produced by combining delicately forged rod with other forged sections that are cut and folded from plate steel. These latter elements are the only solid forms in the piece. They are dispersed to the outer edges of the sculpture where they intertwine precariously like crumpled paper crushed up against a wire fence by a powerful wind.




Night Wind 2003
Painted Steel
44 x 87 x 11 cm
This work is available to purchase

Night Wind (2003) is like a quotation from Navarra. It is a less complicated sculpture and depends much more on silhouette for its success. It is also a much quieter sculpture, introducing certain ‘reflections’ to inculcate this stillness. There is the duplication of the cloud shape and then there are the diagonal lines that complement each other. King also uses the device where a curved section will diminish to a point in space. This is a way of dispersing the energy of the sculpture and in a way ‘floats’ the sculpture, introducing space that is non-contained. The piece also has landscape references that reinforce the feeling of openness and endless space.

If Night Wind is about non-containment then Cobbittee (2003) is the opposite. Another sculpture Tisket (1992-3) manifests a similar containment but both sculptures cleverly exploit their restricted format. They have their roots set deep in the cubist/constructivist tradition and one can perceive Picasso and Liepchitz inherent in their execution. The formal property, which can be attributed to them both, is one of ‘equivalency’, as if King had given herself a set of elements of equal dimension and value that would in the end dictate the format of the sculpture.  Although the elements are contained, they are not boxed in, for she has created a dynamic that works from the inside out. For example, with Tisket she uses lengths of flat metal of similar lengths and sets them apart at different intervals. They ascend and descend only making contact at the top and bottom extremities of the sculpture. In this way she creates an internal space that is pushing upwards and outwards, defying regularity and opening up discrete volumes. Then she introduces a number of elements, which ‘punctuate’ the sculpture. These elements act as stepping-stones for the eye to jump off and land somewhere else within the piece but they also tie the sculpture together into one meaningful context.



Cobbittee 2003
Painted Steel
45 x 36 x 29 cm

Tisket 2002-3
Black Zinc plated steel
28 x 27 x 23 cm

Salamanca 2003
Painted steel
59 x 49 x 29 cm



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