Claudy Jongstra (b. 1963)

Diptych SI

Image from Diptych SI by Allen & Overy
Year: 2006
Materials: Raw Silk, merino wool and silk chiffon
Dimensions: 220 × 150cm. (2x)

In 2019, Claudy Jongstra was named artist of the year by a Dutch art website. Although the process may not have been 100% unbiased (there was no specification about the polls and surveys), it is nevertheless nice to see that Jongstra has quite a large following in the Netherlands. Funnily enough, she is not often mentioned when you ask someone on the street about famous contemporary artists. Look at her impressive list of exhibitions and works sold abroad and there emerges a strong impression of Jongstra as a cultural ambassador. You can come across her work in the collections of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the MoMa; the Stedelijk Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum, to name only a few, and in 2017 she had a major presentation at the San Francisco MoMa.

While Jongstra’s art covers an ever-expanding field, she has become known for her felted works. The felting technique is probably the oldest form of man-made textile, the basis of which is the interweaving of wool fibres. To prepare the wool for felting, it is moistened and massaged together. It is an artisan and time-consuming activity because wool can only be felted together bit by bit. The technique is entirely in line with Jongstra’s artisanal vision. It is not without reason that she is sometimes referred to as the “slow craftswoman”. Whether it concerns breeding the sheep for wool, extracting pigments from her crops, or colouring the yarn, Jongstra willingly takes the time required to finish the job. For Jongstra, this isn’t a trendy form of relaxation, but an essential and characteristic part of her artistry.

In 2014, Jongstra bought a Frisian farm named De Kraeke, where she keeps various types of heather sheep, llamas and alpacas and where she has a huge classic garden, which she uses to extract vegetal pigments. She currently travels with a project; an installation entitled Woven Skin, which deals with the topics of environment, colour and community.

The diptych SI was made in 2006, the year she had her important breakthrough exhibition at the Textile Museum in Tilburg. Besides merino wool as the foundation of this work, silk is used in a very subtle yet equally prominent way. Jongstra adds those on top of the felt, which in turn has silk strips layered over it. These strips immediately give the loose and casually mottled felt a more formal character. It is these kinds of elements that turn a “rug” into a mysterious work of art.