Jacques Kleynhans grew up in the sleepy town of Harrismith in the Eastern Free State. For many years he believed without question that he’d continue in his father’s footsteps as an architect. Upon realising he needed something with more immediacy from process to outcome, he pursued design – completing a BA in Visual Communication Design at Open Window in Pretoria. In 2009 Jacques moved to his current home of Cape Town where he now works as the Creative Director of IO, a digital agency, and lectures part-time in Interaction Design and Design Studies at the Cape Town Creative Academy in Woodstock.
Becoming increasingly involved in the art world – a natural by-product of creating self-initiated, personal work that doesn’t fit strictly under the design spectrum – last month Jacques took part in MASH-UPS, a group exhibition put together by Curated by_Collective at Kalashnikovv Gallery. We chatted to him to find out more about his multifaceted creative output.
Were you always aware that you wanted to pursue a career in art and design, or was there quite a journey to discovering this?
My father was an architect and like many youngsters I just automatically assumed I would do whatever dad did. It became more of a serious consideration in my teens but I had decided that I needed to do something with a more immediate approach. The creative drafting was appealing but it can take years for a building to be erected. I just decided that such a laborious process wasn’t for me. I went through a phase of kind of knowing what I wanted to do and eventually design was the most obvious choice but I had still not considered actually becoming an artist.
Only in later years I needed an outlet for creativity that didn’t fit anywhere else, self-initiated projects that were completely my own. I started messing around, and I still feel like I’m stuck right there, messing around. Lately I’ve been thinking that being in constant development is maybe the exact point of it, I don’t want to get to a stage where I’m comfortable and know what I’m going to be doing next.
How would you describe your style or aesthetic, and how has this developed since you first started out?
Wow, I have no idea. I don’t really think about it. I’ve heard from friends and family that I have a certain aesthetic but I think that’s more of an eventual outcome. I always come back to similar themes and have an automatic approach to things which just becomes more and more focused over time. I’d much prefer to wait until I’m long gone for someone to consider my career as a whole, maybe then some cohesive aesthetic would show itself.
Are there any examples of design that have had a lasting and significant impact on the way you work within the field?
Too many to mention: David Lynch films, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, Willem de Kooning, the Chapman Brothers, Eichler homes in Northern California, Picasso, Bitterkomix. I try to take a little bit of everything that I see and make it my own.
Peet Pienaar’s work has had a massive impact on my own, and I’m saddened by the fact that he is now situated in Argentina. He almost effortlessly translates culture in such a way that it is both descriptive and prescriptive. I’ve always found his quote about art being a free ticket to do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be to be quite accurate. He is also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I nervously went to meet him at his studio a few years ago and he made me a cheese and tomato sandwich.
Architecture has always played a large part in my life. I don’t necessarily think’ its reflected in my work but I have seen how four walls and a roof can either suffocate or inspire, so I truly believe in the influence of good design. I can appreciate the extreme simplicity of Mies van der Rohe to the slightly absurd work of Oscar Niemeyer. The first time I saw Farnsworth House I realised that there can be freedom within rigidity. It had a massive impact on the way I think about design. Oscar Niemeyer worked pretty much right up until his death at age 104, which in itself is inspiring considering most people aim for early retirement. A musician friend, Paul van der Walt (aka Watermark High) also has this crazy work ethic. It’s helpful to get a message from him every now and then saying, “get back to work.”
To what extent does the physical environment you are surrounded by influence your approach?
I believe that artists share a certain type of sensitivity towards their environment, and the ability to reinterpret things they experience. Some artists reinterpret so that others may understand things better, while other artists could provide a new way of looking at things. Its not whether an artist is influenced by his surrounds but how he chooses to interpret it. That sort of “hyper” sensitivity is the single most important thing an artist can have, after that he or she needs only to pick up something to make something.
What else are you influenced, informed or inspired by?
I’m very interested in art and design as a study so I try to stay up to date with what is happening. There’s a tricky line to draw however. I used to aimlessly just go down a rabbit hole of design and art aggregators online. It leaves you with this sense of immense inspiration, like you can do anything, except you never do. I can’t quite pinpoint why but for me personally if I spend too much time looking at other work I don’t spend enough time on my own. I also tend to then look at my own work too critically and don’t give it a chance to grow naturally.
For the most part I try to keep things simple, there is much more untapped potential standing in a queue at the bank than looking at an endless stream of Dribbble pages. It’s different for everyone, I’ve worked with a few people that said going for a run helps them solve problems and come up with ideas, if I go running I just get inspired to stop running. I get inspired by working. The more I work, the more ideas I get. Picking up a pen and paper with no idea what you’re going to do is much more powerful than going around looking for ideas.
During the middle ages, writers, philosophers and artists placed skulls on their desks. It might be good to make human skulls as readily available again. There’s nothing quite as inspiring as your own mortality as a reminder that you better get to it.
What mediums do you work in/with, and why?
Without much intention I mostly do reverse glass paintings. I’ll never be a master painter so the added level of complexity to working on a mirrored image in a reversed process makes me feel like I’m working hard. There’s something rewarding about turning over the glass to a flat crisp surface though. I think my design background has enforced the idea of things being polished and precise. Many people believe the key to making art is being messy, I can’t do that, I’m a tidy person. I have cut myself countless times though.
Do you actively seek out projects or do they find you? How do you decide whom to work with and on what?
I have been very lucky with many of the projects that I’ve had an opportunity to work on. I have managed to keep close a group of incredibly talented friends, and much of the best work I have done was with or for them. I’m not fussy about what I work on, as long as there is some sort of challenge involved. I recently saw a poster printed at Erik Spiekerman’s letterpress workshop P98A that read: “Don’t work for assholes. Don’t work with assholes.” That’s about all I ask.
We Built Cities (III), 2014, ink and acrylic on reverse glass, 24 x 20 cm
We Built Cities (IV), 2014, ink and acrylic on reverse glass, 24 x 20 cm
Do you feel that art and design overlap, or is there a clear distinction in your mind between the two?
There are obviously many shared qualities when it comes to art and design, the outset is so vastly different however. As a designer I have a responsibility to convey a message. There is room for interpretation to a point, and then there is only the most appropriate way in which to solve a design problem and varying degrees of “how close can I get to it.”
Art is a lot more selfish, and championed when honest and inconsiderate. People aren’t interested in politically correct art. I’m not saying art has to challenge our moral fibre at all times but art is only valued when it has a unique perspective. Design needs to be more universal.
There’s a negative tendency to think that design is soulless. It’s art, but for a client. That can’t be further from the truth. Design stands alone and can educate, create wonder, and really get people thinking. It’s just a lot more purpose-driven than art.
Is there a project of yours that you particularly enjoyed working on, or are most proud of?
Many of them have different reasons for standing out for me. The Dance You’re On Fire music video was a treat because I don’t often work on video productions. It had a limited budget of course, and we had very little time to complete it so it was a little mad but a lot of fun. My first exhibition is something I won’t easily forget. Designing for a client, or a specific project gives you an automatic mask to hide behind, it’s scary putting something personal out into the wild for the first time. The response was overwhelming though, so I kept going.
What are you currently working on or working towards?
I’m always making something, a lot of which never goes anywhere. There are some pieces which hopefully will turn into a solo exhibition at some point in the near future. Recently I started working at a company by the name of IO. I’ve been involved in digital design for a long time, and it’s always felt a bit like web design is just print design and then stuck onto a computer screen. At IO we have some exciting plans to relook exactly how to operationalise the internet, and that brings new design challenges. I wrote my thesis on artificially intelligent design but have never had the resources to truly expand on it. With a team of incredibly talented people at IO I’m hoping to explore these ideas further.
Hoax ‘Em, 2015, acrylic on reverse glass, 47 x 62 cm
The Vandals Were Wasters of Cities, 2014, ink and acrylic on reverse glass, 32 x 24 cm
Graveyardland, 2014, ink and acrylic on reverse glass, 47 x 62 cm