Following initial training in painting, printmaking and calligraphy at Guildford School of Art, Jan O’Highway has explored a wide range of materials and styles in response to the various demands of Public Art and other commissions. In her three-dimensional mosaic work O’Highway often fuses ceramic and glass; often combining these pieces with reclaimed and found materials.
“I love the vibrancy of light passing through glass, and the extraordinary richness of shape and variety to be found in something so ordinary as a broken toy or a squashed can on the road … things abandoned, unvalued, lost, changed … especially toys, partly from the power of their archetypal imagery and also from concern about the huge environmental impact of plastics and oil. The work becomes a metaphor perhaps for survival and re-creation,” explains O’Highway.
Since acquiring in 2006 an archival-quality Giclée inkjet printer in 2006, O’Highway has added a further element to her work by developing scanner-photography for fine-art printwork.
The mosaic (above), commissioned by Gosport Borough Council, forms the focus for the entrance to Walpole Park in Gosport town centre en route to the redeveloped waterfront. This mosaic invites the view, when standing at the centre of the spiral text, to turn around on the spot and engage with the history of the surrounding landscape. The viewer is invited to imagine that they have been transported back in time to the 18th Century when they could turn from the view of the historic Holy Trinity Church, look across the cockle ponds (now a model boating lake), beyond the ‘field-of-fire’; the flat open area beyond the town’s inner defensive ramparts, where attackers would be easy targets to gunfire; stopping to face due West to see the setting sun.
Richard Bent, artist blacksmith, and O’Highway, have worked together on several Public Art commissions, one of the most successful being the Boundary Feature for Magnolia Court, Wolverhampton installed in January 2007. Here 42 steel and ceramic roundels tell the history of the area, from ancient fossils, early settlements, farming, and industrial development through to the present day, are central features of the 100 metre perimeter feature around this new housing development, that comprises 37 separate sections in lengths between 2 and 4 metres.
Bent invited O’Highway to collaborate on this work by creating glazed and fused ceramic pieces to bring colour into his overall design. Each forged steel panel includes one of O’Highway’s ceramics that complement Bent’s historical figurative work, and visually link the designs to her centrepiece series of five abstract mosaic roundels.
The central image of this trio shows a panel for a private courtyard with hand made ceramic tesserae incorporating fused glass and reactive glazes. Left is a Fused Glass Mayfly, while right is a garden table mosaic.
O’Highway mosaic panels also featured in the 23rd Mythic Garden exhibition, an important showcase for West Country artists, that is held annually within Stone Lane Gardens. Here, among groves of trees, pools and streams, individual sculptures enjoy their own natural ‘frames’.
An active participant in the West Country’s artistic community, O’Highway also featured in The Contemporary Craft Fair, Bovey Tracey, Devon, in 2011, displaying a panel with reactive glazes and fused glass on a stand at West Country Potters Marquee.
This exquisite garden table mosaic (shown here in full and in detail) features glaze-painted tiles and mixed media mosaic, including photographs of the client’s peony flowers fired onto tiles.
O’Highway’s work is remarkable in its ability to combine exuberant colours, mixed materials and complex designs within a single work without sacrificing harmony. The result is engaging, immediate and exhilarating, but reveals hidden depths that can only be achieved by an artist with complete command of the medium.
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, June 2017.