Robert Janz's Disappearing Acts

Leaving a mark on the world implies permanence. For Robert Janz, art is more fleeting, like life itself.


About Robert Janz

Robert Janz was born in Belfast, Ireland to American parents who traveled internationally for his father’s work. His art, which has always taken a number of forms, follows the trajectory of the various places he has lived. Time and Change emerge continuous themes as he came to accept the ultimate reliability of Impermanence.

After art school in Baltimore, where he concentrated on sculpture, he worked as assistant to kinetic artist George Rickey. A Fulbright to Spain in 1964 took him to the southern coastal mountains near Gibraltar where he stayed for six years and met the core group of artists who became lifelong colleagues and who hastened his next move to London where he taught art and continued making sculpture, installation, and performance — often all at once.

“Six sticks” was a bundle of six equal-sized planks he carried around and repositioned in various locations, photographing their progress. “Chalk Shadows” were chalk lines (both abstract and figurative) drawn on sidewalks, pavement, and walls both in town and countryside. “Waves Between Waves” was a series of line drawings scratched into wet sand on the beach close enough to the water’s edge to be erased by the next wave.

Traveling frequently for his art, Janz was given a project room at LA County Museum of Art in 1977 as he began his relationship with LA Louvre Gallery. Travel continued with appearances in London, Dublin, Barcelona, Cadaques, France, Leon, Toronto and New York. In 1979, New York became home base and is where he continues to live and work today.

Robert’s DAAD artist residency in Berlin (1980) challenged him with new possibilities as he confronted the infamous wall dividing the city. He drew on it with charcoal a giant clenched fist in the process of slowly opening. This was the first of many decades of process drawings. The oversized unclenching hand, “Unclenching,” continued in various locations and gave birth to his most prolific series, “Blooming,” where he followed the life cycle of a single flower from bud to decay through erasure on walls, and sequentially paper and canvas. This development was profound because it led to a steady production of salable art.

Meanwhile, Janz’s tangential art-making never stopped. In addition to painting, studio work incorporated more found materials — cloth, wood, sting, wire, rocks — from the street, anything that might be assembled into installations and small figures. Photography, always important, became crucial when Janz reprised his water drawings in the 90’s, which he had begun privately in the rocky hills of southern Spain in the 60’s.

Beginning around 2010 during the recent neighborhood building boom, painted mountain ranges suddenly appeared stretching across long construction barriers and soon became populated by wolves, elk, bulls and soaring birds. “Bisoman” made his debut then, and so did clusters of words. This pivotal moment when Janz rediscovered the street, the street discovered Janz and he became a magnet for street photographers.

Today, at 84, Robert Janz works daily mainly in collage mode. On the street, he prefers tearing bits of existing advertising posters and rearranging them into his own compositions, adding words and images of his own. In the studio, he produces a constant stream of two and three-dimensional pieces. His latest solo show was in Barcelona, fall 2016, at A/34 Gallery.

(from the artist)