Jan Vingerhoets, a self-taught artist, an escapee from 30-odd years of chasing corporate careers and sitting in boardrooms. While working on oil rigs as a technical analyst, then as a computer programmer in California, he started to develop the skills he uses for his current pieces as a form of after-hours therapy. Some 25 years ago, exposure to the broad-ranging artistic influences in the San Francisco Bay Area and specifically Marin County led to experiments with various materials. There, encountering the “green” environmental movement for the first time, and starting to question the sanity of Western über-consumption culture, he was drawn to working with discarded wood and metal, and started first by re-furbishing furniture from dump sites.
Returning to South Africa in 1997 and starting an IT company and then a waste-to-energy company, he found the need to develop his after-hours hobby into something more challenging and substantial, if only to offset the corporate insanity and ruthlessness he was encountering. This led to creating custom furniture for friends and family, even doing a whole double-storey house in Parkview. However, there was always a drive to pursue something less mainstream and more esoteric. This desire developed into crafting a wide range of unusual and unique functional art with off-the-wall combinations of re-worked and shaped components in wood, metal, stone and glass.
He uses almost entirely discarded materials, salvaged or donated, and does all humanly possible to finish pieces with natural paints and oils, or with chemical finishes that are diverted from landfills. He works entirely off-grid, powering his welder and other equipment with his self-designed wood-gasifier (which converts alien wood into gas as petrol replacement in a generator) and other alternative sources of energy.
Jan describes, “I had a belated discovery of the joy Dr Seuss’s fantastic drawings and Roald Dahl’s delightfully dark children’s stories. These, among others and along with the “steam punk” culture in tales like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and Terry Pratchett’s multi-layered satirical fantasies have had a strong influence on my work. Earlier years saw me visiting the Musee du Moyen Age and Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Tate Modern and National Gallery in London and even as far afield as the Dali Museum in Clearwater, Florida. I came away marvelling at what artists and artisans had been able to do with simple tools and basic materials – an alchemy of beautiful function, better than it needed to be for its intended use. That is something I aspire to do with all my work. Components must fit and flow, have some elegant continuity and be finished as finely as the materials allow.”
He continues, “I like to play with improbable balance and elegant shapes, combining unlikely materials. Through all of this there must be humour. Buyers of my work will hopefully love what they have and smile a little each time they see a piece they’ve purchased. In time I plan to incorporate computer control in larger sculptures, creating interacting cybernetic pieces, and use elements of engineering and an understanding of physical forces to craft unusually large works. Steam power will probably begin to play a role in generating movement in pieces, but that’s a little way off.”
Jan is currently building his (straw bale) house, workshop and gallery on an off-grid organic farm where his wife (the farmer) grows heirloom seeds and they both homeschool their 9-year old son.