Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist David Brackett

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz spent some of her time at Art Saint Louis interviewing several of the artists featured in our recent “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. 

Her final interview is with David Brackett, a weaver & tapestry artist based in Lawrence, Kansas where he works as Associate Professor of Textiles in the School of Art at University of Kansas. David earned his MFA in textiles, with honors, from the University of Kansas (1990). He attended the University of Michigan (1979-1985) and studied weaving, fabric design and art history and he also holds a Bachelor in Zoology from University of Michigan (1977). David’s award-winning work has been exhibited in solo and group shows throughout the U.S. and Japan. In addition to two of his pieces being juried by Lia Cook for this year’s “Fiber Focus 2011” at Art Saint Louis, David’s work was previously exhibited at ASL in “Fiber Focus 2005” and “New Works/Nine States” (2006).




David Brackett. Left Bend, Right Hook. 2009. Cotton, Mill-Woven Original Jacquard Designs, Pieced, Machine Stitched, 62”x71”.     

INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST DAVID BRACKETT


Janna: I read that before you began working with textiles, you received a bachelor’s degree in zoology. How did you make the transition from science to art and how does your background influence your work?
David: I took art courses while earning my bachelor’s degree. I began in Ceramics and worked for the Michigan Artrain after college, where I demonstrated pottery production to school groups around the state. I returned to school later and took a course in Weaving and Fabric Design. After working with dyes, I abandoned my ceramics studio, bought a loom, and returned to school – eventually earning my master’s degree in Textiles.

Janna: When did you begin working with Jacquard weaving?
David: I began teaching at University of Kansas in 2001. We had access to JaqCAD Master, a software package that allows for digital images to be converted into weave structures for jacquard looms. I had training for this software in North Carolina and have had designs woven at several mills over the last ten years.

Janna: Where do you find your imagery?
David: The images for the jacquard designs are from digital images that I have photographed. Some are images from my travels through Europe, many others are from nature hikes. My research focuses on patterns found in nature that are created with an element of chance. This type of pattern has a characteristic look, but does not repeat in a strict geometric way. These patterns are all around us—some examples: tree bark, stripes on animals, trees, leaves after they have fallen, driftwood piling up at water’s edge, etc.

Janna: There almost appears to be an eye peering out over the landscape of your piece, Left Bend Right Hook, currently being displayed at Art Saint Louis. Could you tell me more about this piece and is that someone looking at us?

David: This piece combines two main images. The landscape is a photo taken in Ireland. The eye is actually an entire portrait. If you look closely, you can see the ear, and part of the nose, chin and neck. There is also fabric made from a photo of the Eiffel Tower. My work combines images from my life and juxtaposes them in a similar way to the way our memories are stored. Some are prominent, some are hard to decipher, some come together to create new associations.


David Brackett, On a Clear Day. 2009, Cotton, Mill-Woven Original Jacquard Designs, Hand Woven, Painted & Supplemental Warps, Pieced, Machine Stitched, 72”x69”.

Janna: Could you also tell me more about your other piece on display, On a Clear Day?
David: As with much of my work, this piece pieces together many different images in a way that creates areas with implied depth along with areas that bring the viewer back to the physical surface. The distant landscape is seen through windows, but the viewer is prevented from feeling a part of this landscape. This is a reference to unfulfilled dreams and barriers outside of our control. The upper right portion of the work includes fabric that was created through a collage of photos of a human torso—chest, back, elbows, etc. I feel that this strange “landscape” adds a human presence in a very indirect way.

Janna: In your artist statement you wrote, “Our lives are filled with chance occurrences that can alter the paths we take and create.” How have chance occurrences shaped your work?
David: My work incorporates many disparate images, each of which has meaning to me. I use techniques that inherently allow for unpredictability, particularly in the hand-dyed and hand-woven cloth. Through my studies of chance, chaos theory, and fractals, I have discovered that patterns that are created through these processes combine in a more seamless fashion than with strict geometry. The patterns found in nature show a visible record of these processes, but society, biology, politics, economic systems, and our personal interactions are also subject to these laws. Though there are infinite possible pathways for disorder, nature only uses a few.

Janna: Are there other artists who have inspired you?
David: There are many artists that I find interesting, but my inspiration comes more from science, and I have found that scientists really respond to my work. One geologist told me that he liked my work because it was an “illustration of mathematics.”  One artist that I feel is aesthetically closest to my work is Clare Verstegen. I have spoken to Clare and know that the concepts behind her work are very different, but I have felt a connection to her work for many years.

Janna: What is the best aspect of working with textiles?
David: I work with textiles for many reasons. Woven fabric has a reference to time in the way it is produced. The most frequently asked question that I get is “how long did it take to make your work.”  This is important to me since my work is about a process and evolution. I like to think that my pieces feel like one moment in an ever-changing landscape. Textiles also them themselves to being cut and sewn back together. During the process of piecing, I am frequently surprised by the combinations and how seamlessly some designs fit together. I pin all the pieces to the wall before the final work is sewn together. Finally, I like textiles because they are inherently about pattern and grid structure. This, for me, connects form and content in a very fundamental way.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" was presented at Art Saint Louis September 6 through October 13, 2011. The exhibit is now closed. Our next two shows, “Art St. Louis XXVII, The Exhibition” and “Artists’ Day at Circus Flora 2011” open October 29 and run through December 30, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Gallery closed through October 29.

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Janna Añonuevo Langholz was a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continuing her studies in fibers and mixed media.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Luanne Rimel

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Luanne Rimel. Sentinel. 2011. Photo on Cotton Flour Sack Cloth, Pieced, Quilted, 18”x18".


Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s fifth interview is with Luanne Rimel, an artist, curator, and currently Senior Director of Education and Exhibition Programs at Craft Alliance in St. Louis, MO. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including Japan, China, and Korea, and is in many private and corporate collections. She received her MFA in Fibers from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville and has taught numerous workshops and classes around the country.  In addition to her work featured in this year’s “Fiber Focus 2011,” Luanne’s work was exhibited in “Fiber Focus 1995,” “Fiber Focus 1999,” “Fiber Focus 2003,” and “Fiber Focus 2007”.

INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST LUANNE RIMEL

Janna: Where did you grow up?
Luanne: I grew up in University City and went all the way through the public schools there.

Janna: When did you begin sewing?
Luanne: My first memory of actual sewing, (not yarns through a punched card, which I do remember enjoying), but I made Barbie Doll clothes on a very small hand turned Singer Sewing machine when I was in fifth grade. It actually worked and I remember cutting the pattern and sewing a green 60’s style swing coat for my doll. Then my grandmother gave me a (very heavy) wonderful blue metal sewing machine when I was in junior high and I made many of my own clothes.

Janna: What is your working process like?
Luanne: I tend to work in a series. My main content ideas relate to time and memory but my photographic images change with the series. I work on several pieces at a time so they “talk” to each other and head toward a cohesive body of work. I always have a camera when I travel so I can record things that interest me and may become part of a piece one day. The selected segments of the photographs are printed on cotton flour sack dishtowels that I prepare for the inkjet printer. After printing, I begin the construction of the piece, basting a backing and beginning the meditative stitching process. One piece takes a very long time.


Luanne Rimel. Silent Sound. Photograph Printed on Cotton Floursack-Cloth Dish Towels, Pieced, Layered and Stitched/Hand Quilted, 18"x18".


Janna: How does time pass when marked by stitches?
Luanne: That’s an interesting question. It is an interesting process to work so slowly and watch a piece evolve. Since I do not just stitch straight across the piece very often, I have to make decisions about what direction the stiches will go, what color threads, how much to pull to create the texture. And the imagery is very abstract when at such close range so I often have to pin the piece to the wall after a bit to see exactly what I have done. But it takes about one hour to stitch 4 square inches but I look forward to it and miss the act of stitching if I don’t work on something for a few days.

Janna: Could you tell me more about your piece currently on display at Art Saint Louis, Sentinel?
Luanne: Sentinel is a photograph of just the hand of a life size cemetery statue in New Orleans. She guards the doorway of an above ground tomb with copper flowers in her hand. Flowers in cemetery statues symbolize life and beauty and I responded to the gesture of the hand forever holding these symbols.


Luanne Rimel. Victory. Photograph Printed on Cotton Floursack-Cloth Dish Towels, Pieced, Layered and Stitched/Hand Quilted, 18"x18".


Janna: Whose hands appear in your pieces?
Luanne: I have done a series of works using cloth combined with the hands of aging women – hands that have lived a long life and show the beauty of activity. Currently I am finding hands and cloth carved in stone intrigue me and seem to speak to my ideas of time and memory.

Janna: Who or what has influenced your work the most?
Luanne: Curiosity has influenced my work and the desire to make my ideas visible.


Luanne Rimel. Still Smith. Photograph Printed on Cotton Floursack-Cloth Dish Towels, Pieced, Layered and Stitched/Hand Quilted, 18"x18".


Janna: What has been one your best experiences as a fibers artist?
Luanne: Wonderful, wonderful people are in the world of fibers. It is a generous group of artists, always sharing techniques and giving encouragement and support. I have traveled to great places because of fiber exhibits and conferences and have met some terrific people. Probably one of my best experiences was the trip my husband and I made to Kyoto, Japan because I was in an exhibition of collaborative work with artist Betsy Sterling Benjamin. She made that exhibition possible and the trip still influences my work today.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 

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Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Teresa Paschke

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz


Teresa Paschke. A.K. 2011 Printed Textiles: Digital Photography, Wide-Format Ink Jet Printing on Cotton Canvas, Hand-Embroidery, 31”x48”x1”.


Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s fourth interview is with Teresa Paschke, Associate Professor of art at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. Her work has been exhibited nationally and has received numerous awards, including Second Place for her piece A.K. in the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition at Art St. Louis (Teresa has two pieces in the exhibit). Previously, Teresa’s work has been shown at ASL in “Fiber Focus 1997,” “Fiber Focus 2001,” and “Fiber Focus 2003.”

INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST TERESA PASCHKE

Janna: How has your work changed over time?
Teresa: Over the years, my artwork has changed in some ways and stayed the same in others. Certainly the use of technology has changed the way in which I work. At times, my entire studio is contained within my laptop and the digital printing process has shortened the time it takes to produce a printed textile. The digital process allows me to create more complex imagery and I can print larger images with relative ease. At the same time, I’ve increased the amount of embroidery in each piece, which slows down the process considerably.

Identity and place have been constant themes within my artwork since graduate school.

Janna: The concept of home is strong is many of your pieces. What defines “home” and where is it?
Teresa: For me, home will always be the place of my birth, which is Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, I’ve made my home in many places that include Kansas, Ohio, and currently, Iowa. Each place leaves an impression even if it’s merely as a contrast to someplace I’d rather be and those impressions inevitably show up in my artwork. The artwork in Fiber Focus 2011 was created after a one-month visit to the Czech Republic. For those four weeks, Prague was my home and that is certainly reflected in the artwork you see in the Fiber Focus exhibition.

Janna: You combine a traditionally domestic art such as embroidery with street culture references such as graffiti. How does this juxtaposition shift perceptions about women’s work inside the home?
Teresa: I think both art forms are underappreciated. But even more than that, I see a strong correlation between the artists themselves. The image of the urban graffiti artist may seem in stark contrast to the refined young woman who embroiders linens and samplers, but the more I work with these kinds of images, I realize how much they really have in common. For one thing, there is a certain amount of anonymity among both graffiti artists and these young women. Both are generally 8-18 years old, and they learn through teachers or mentors rather than family members. Graffiti artists are often marginalized members of society and their artwork helps to give them a voice; a presence, and allows them to be visible members of society. The young women who created schoolgirl samplers were also marginalized within their communities—they would grow up to become the property of their husbands (and if they didn’t marry, they remained the property of their fathers); as women, they wouldn’t own property themselves, and they weren’t allowed to vote. Samplers undoubtedly gave these girls some sense of ownership whether because of the education they received during their creation or because what was created served as an historical record of the their lives.

Janna: Could you tell me more about the specific piece that you were awarded second place for in the "Fiber Focus 2011" exhibition at Art Saint Louis, A.K.? What do the initials stand for?
Teresa: The act of marking one’s belongings is familiar to all of us. Historically, women marked garments and household linens for their bridle trousseau with embroidered monograms. Today, historians study embroidered samplers created centuries ago by young women to help us better understand our past. The designs stitched onto them often provide a rich record (oftentimes the only record) of the lives these girls lived; their names and dates of birth; their family tree; the town in which they lived, and sometimes the name of their teacher. Like graffiti artists who mark territory or leave behind a very public record of their activities, A.K. was an attempt to suggest a relationship between these two forms of record-keeping—whether it’s in the form of a “tag” or a monogram—specifically the desire that all of us has to leave our “mark” on something we feel is a part of us. These specific initials, A.K., were taken from a book of historical Czech embroidery patterns and monograms.


 
Teresa Paschke. Hip-Hop Sampler. 2011. Printed Textiles: Digital Photography, Wide-Format Ink Jet Printing on Linen, Hand-Embroidery, Mounted on Stretched Canvas, 28”x24”x1”.


Janna: Why is the practice of traditional techniques important in addition to combining them with new technology?
Teresa: New technology is exciting and it’s always fun to learn new things. And, because I teach at a university I have the resources that allow me to work with technology, such as wide-format digital printing for textiles, that I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. Fortunately, there are a number of print-on-demand companies around the world that have made digital printing available to everyone. As an artist, having a connection to materials is essential, which is one of the reasons why it’s important for me to include hand-printing and hand-stitching in my artwork. Hand-stitching in particular has been considered “women’s work” throughout history and I truly feel a kinship with women from past centuries who have used it to create beautiful textiles for their homes and families. But beyond that, I think there is an innate desire that each of us has to use our hands to produce things that are meaningful. The handwork that I do on each piece is where I personally find the most joy.

Janna: How do you describe your working process?
Teresa: To create my artwork, I manipulate my own photographs using off-the-shelf digital imaging software. Compositions are printed onto cotton canvas using a wide-format ink jet printer
(Mimaki Tx2 or Epson 9800) followed by hand-printing and/or hand-stitching.

Janna: Who are some other artists whose work you enjoy and appreciate?
Teresa: I spend a lot of time looking at schoolgirl embroideries because they’re beautiful and I’m humbled that such young hands could stitch so much better than I can. I’m often drawn to artwork that is technically and skillfully precise and so I’ve always been a big fan of Clare Verstegen’s work. She’s the best screen-printer I know. Dorothy Caldwell’s artwork also inspires me a great deal. I’ll be traveling to China in November and then again in April of next year, so lately I’ve been looking at both contemporary and historical Chinese textiles.

Janna: Have you ever put graffiti on an actual wall?
Teresa: I admit that I have. When I was eleven or twelve, my friends and I were caught by the police writing on the back of a 7/11 store near my house. The officer loaded our bikes into the trunk of his squad car and dropped each of us off at our homes. My mother was so embarrassed that she immediately put me to work ironing the laundry she had just finished. I also had to go back to the store the following week to remove the graffiti.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Kathy Weaver

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s third interview is with Kathy Weaver. Weaver is a fiber artist based near Chicago, IL who explores the colorful, often humorous dimensions of robots and their robotic worlds. She was trained as a painter and taught art in public schools before beginning to work with the medium of fabric. Her work has been shown in many exhibitions nationally and internationally and also took part in Art Saint Louis’ “Fiber Focus 2009”.

INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST KATHY WEAVER

Janna: I read that you have a background in painting, art history, and art education. When did fiber art come into the mix?
Kathy: As a young girl I was always making things with the scraps of cloth my mother used for her sewing and needlework projects, but as an art student I never equated these with fine art. During the feminism movement of the 70’s Miriam Shapiro, Judy Chicago and other “legitimized" these materials and, further, made them speak eloquently about women’s issues. I also traveled around the world in 1974 and saw and relished gorgeous fabrics and weavings from Asia and India. When my painting became increasingly political I saw the quilt medium as an ideal way to make the message more approachable and to a wider audience of people than those just in the gallery/art world.


Kathy Weaver. Invader. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 57"x 43".


Janna: Why did you choose robots to be the main subject matter of your work?
Kathy: This came about as a fluke when I was teaching children art in the public schools. We did many projects with robots and I realized the expressive nature of the articulated robot and also the power the figure had for the audience. The robot became a natural spokesperson for my political concerns, speaking of the future, the environment, and technological issues related to militarism. Also, I had always been interested in cutting-edge technology due to my father’s involvement in the electronics industry. The space race and early tv serials about outer space added to the mix.

Janna: What does the simultaneously sensitive/loving and mechanical/destructive character of your robots reveal about human nature?
Kathy: It reveals that we as a human species choose our path. We can use technology to advance mankind through discoveries in medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence or we can follow a darker path, using technology to employ drones, carry heavier and more deadly loads into combat, persist in ever increasing surveillance.

Janna: On your website I saw a piece that includes an embedded video. Will you ever work with video again?
Kathy: I think it’s tricky because it has moving parts dependent on others to plug in, fix, etc. I love the effect but just don’t know.


 Kathy Weaver. Fire Slinger. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 48"x46".


Janna: Could you tell me more about the specific piece you have in the "Fiber Focus 2011" exhibition, Optimized Persistence?
Kathy: My work addresses the intersection between technology and art, artificial intelligence and robotics. I examine life on both a macro level and a cellular, nano-scale plane.

In my “Organic Series,” represented here by Optimized Persistence, I see the unearthly, thoroughly alien environment from an automaton’s perspective. In these fiber, mixed media works the environment is devoid of overt action, yet filled with anticipation, a premonition of surprising behavior.

Airbrushing on satin in large scale with scientific themes, I focus on inventing a robotic world in which plant and cellular forms seem stranger than life and pregnant with meaning. The robot’s environment is steeped in a visceral aura and reflects, as source material, my studies of artificial intelligence. My works also draw from photographic, microscopic scans of simple celled plants and animals. These species represent the life source, the spark in the primordial soup from which we evolved.


Kathy Weaver. Optimized Persistence. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 36"x36".


Janna: Where does the robot environment intersect with the human environment?
Kathy: We are all part cyborg as Donna Haraway, writes in A Manifesto for Cyborgs, Routledge, 1990. If you take into consideration devices like diabetic pumps, pacemakers, prosthetics, phones and computers that are practically appendages of our fingers and bodies, one can see that we are already dependent on the tasks these robots do for us. As time goes on the boundaries between robots and humans will intersect in ever more complex ways.


Kathy Weaver. Mimetic Concerns. Satin, Airbrushed, Hand Embroidered, 44"x57".


Janna: What are the organic forms based on?
Kathy: They are based on electron microsopy of brain scans, neural networks, amoeba and other simpler celled animal/plant forms and on abstractions of sketches I do from nature and from my imagination.

Janna: Who are some of your favorite artists?
Kathy: At present my favorite artist are William Kentridge, Kathe Kollwitz, Sue Coe, Jean Baptiste Chardin, Franz Hals, drawings from the Italian Renaissance, street art from Nigeria and Ghana.

Janna: Are you part robot?
Kathy: My FB image is me in all my gear getting ready to airbrush and what with respirator, air compressor blasting, protective gloves and smock, ear plugs, and with shammies covering my shoes, I am definitely separated from this world. It’s just me and the satin in front of me and my ability to make sense out of that space; so yes, I feel quite single minded and divorced from “real” life in that situation….quite robotic, but with lots of feeling.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through Thursday, October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. 

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Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Carol Zeman

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s second interview is with Carol Zeman. Zeman retired from graphic design to pursue her interests in fiber art and papermaking. She creates structural forms using petioles (the part of the tree that holds the leaf on) and Japanese paper. She is based in Osage Beach, Missouri and has taken part in many exhibitions throughout the Midwest.



Carol Zeman. Floating. 2011. Handmade Kozo Paper, Petioles, Manzanita Root, 7”x8”.



INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST CAROL ZEMAN

Janna: Where did you grow up?
Carol: I had a very idyllic childhood in the small town of Jefferson City, Missouri, but haven’t lived there since I was 18. I have lived in Colorado, Tennessee and now reside in Osage Beach at Lake of the Ozarks. I’m still growing up.

Janna: With a background in graphic design, how did you come to start working with sculptural forms? 
Carol: I went back to MU Columbia in the early 90’s to finish my degree in art (I quit my junior year (1967) to marry). The graphic design industry was going to computers and I had just gotten laid off from my job at a printing company for trying to unionize, so I returned to school to learn electronic layout. I had to have a craft class to fill out graduation requirements, so I took a fibers class and fell in love with papermaking. Computers became coincidental. And that turned me to non-traditional baskets which led to the sculptural forms.

Janna: Could you describe the process of making the forms? 
Carol: I gather the petioles (the part of the tree that holds the leaf on – the ones I use are just very large ones) this time of year. In fact, I am doing that right now. I don’t know what kind of tree it is, similar to a mimosa but no flowers and the leaves are bigger. 

The green petioles are pliable when they first fall from the tree and I wrap them around forms using duct tape at first and then later replace the tape with tied strips of cotton, as the tape leaves marks. It takes several months for the petioles to dry and harden in the shape of the form, so I put them away in a closet and try to forget them.

Because kozo (made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree) is so strong and because of it’s shrinkability, it is the best paper to use for the walls. I use several layers of dry, torn (about an inch in size) pieces of paper and dab them with methyl cellulose onto the form with a stencil brush–mushing the fiber under and around the petioles until I have the desired effect. The work is then left to dry (a couple of days) and when it is, I break out the form, if necessary, and finally get to see what I’ve made.


Carol Zeman. The Winds of Change. 2011. Handmade Kozo Paper, Petioles, 4”x35”. This artwork was selected by "Fiber Focus 2011" juror Lia Cook to receive an Award of Excellence.


Janna: Congratulations on winning an Award of Excellence for your artwork The Winds of Change in the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. Could you tell me more about this specific piece?
Carol: The Winds of Change has been in my mind for a long time. It started with a small spiral I exhibited at “Fiber Focus 2009”, two years ago. I expanded the design to create the wind effect. I used a piece of 4-inch PVC, with applied silicone, as the form. It took me three days to accomplish and is the largest one I’ve done. It was very hard to get off the form–almost wrecked it—and then I had to put it back on to touch it up! The title and statement drove the work. I am environmentally and politically aware (I call myself a “passive subversive”) and really wanted to use my voice on this piece. I have always had an abiding—possibly idealistic—faith in mankind’s ingenuity to come up with the answers to the challenges of present day. Jung said (I quote loosely) “art is relating primordial images to the times.” That is what I was going for with this artwork.

Janna: Each of your pieces is accompanied by a poetic statement. Which comes first, the poetry or the object?
Carol: I have kept a drawing/writing journal for over 40 years and this is where the poetic statements usually come from. I published it once in 2005 for a solo show called “Pilgrim Flirting with the Universe” at the Wingspan Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky. I scanned all the drawings, coupled them with the writing and printed the whole thing as one piece on a 13”x60’ paper roll on my printer. It went all the way around the gallery, stopping and starting again for doors and windows—black and white with one spot of color. (The journal still grows to this day.)

To answer your query: it’s the old “What came first-the chicken or the egg?” question. One leads to the other.

Janna: What do your vessels contain? 
Carol: I found a fable in Omni Magazine many many years ago that went something like this: A farmer fell in love with a mermaid (for lack of a better word) and tried to talk her into marrying him. She finally said she would if he would promise not to look in her basket, as it was her most important possession. He promised, surprised that was all it took and they lived for many years together. One day, she was out in the fields and his curiosity got the best of him. He took a look into the basket. He laughed out loud when he saw that there was nothing in it and confronted her when she returned, wondering, incredulous, what all the fuss was about. She looked at him, sadly, and said “Things of the spirit cannot be seen.”

Janna: Could you tell me more about the concept of time in relation to your work?
Carol: I am fast approaching (some say I am there) my crone years, so there is a veiled sense of urgency in my life, along with a constantly growing respect for how precious time is. I did a piece last year which as of yet hasn’t been shown called In the Moment. The statement reads: "I have used 2,049,840,000 seconds. I probably have about 630,720,000 left. If you have read this statement, we have spent about 16 of them."

Time is all any of us really have–a gift. And I choose to spend it on my work.

I related totally with Marci McDade’s (keynote speaker at Innovations in Textiles 9 and former Editor, Fiberarts magazine) ending quote to her talk was by Louise Bourgeois: “I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.”

Janna: Who are some people who have inspired you?
Carol: The first art course I took was at a small women’s college in Kansas, my junior year. I was sooooooo excited, as I had been dabbling in art my whole short life. The nun made us copy the masters. I was really frustrated, as I wanted to do MY thing. I saw no value in what I thought at the time was stupid. But as I look back, I think it is of enormous value. I look at everything I can get my hands on and have looked at so much artwork for so many years, it is impossible to narrow it down to a few.

The first name that instantly popped into my head when I read your question was Bob Dylan. The second was Gandhi. And then an Einstein quote: “My sense of god is my sense of wonder of the universe.” Artwise—too many or all that have gone before.

Janna: What is one of your favorite memories?
Carol: I was in the Florida Keys several years ago with my sister. We drove down from Miami and along the way we kept seeing signs saying “Swim with the Dolphins” which sounded great—always wanted to do that but the dolphins that were available were in captivity, so we didn’t stop. Just didn’t seem right to keep them captive so tourists could swim with them.

We got to Key West and stayed in a charming B&B. I was chatting with the owner about the dolphins and she said she had a friend, Captain Bob, who had been following a pod in the Gulf for over ten years and he did charters. We signed up and went out in the ocean with him and his crew, which consisted of his Lab, Pisces and a college student who served as his first mate. We were out about 45 minutes when he slowed and although I didn’t see anything but the marvelous Caribbean, he said they were under us, were feeding and we would wait until they were done. As with any animal, they shouldn’t be bothered while feeding. After about 15 minutes, one of them surfaced, turned over on his back and flipped a fish in the air, catching it in his mouth and dove back under the water. Pisces was freaking out and was straining at his leash to get in the water with them. There were about 15-20 total. A few more started popping up and did tricks just as if they were trying to entertain us. Captain Bob could tell them apart by their dorsal fins, had them affectionately named and told about his experience with them over the years. He said he thought they were about done feeding and that we should get our snorkel and fins on and jump in the water.

My heart was POUNDING but my sister jumped right in with no fear at all, so I did too. And so did Pisces. Once I got in the water, I treaded water and waited, excitement taking over the trepidation. They were spectacular up close—HUGE and thankfully, friendly. They didn’t let you get too close but they would swim up about five feet in front of you, (grinning like they do), usually in pairs, “clicking”, dive under the water (so clear you could easily see them underneath you), coming back to the surface a few feet behind you, almost teasing you to touch them but not really letting it happen. They looked you right in the eye and seemed to love it when you laughed.

We swam with them for about 30 minutes until we were totally worn out and had to get back in the boat. Some of them actually waved a fin in goodbye. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in the wild—almost metaphysical.

Epilogue: I started a conversation with the captain on the way back to Key West, saying he should write a book about his pod of dolphins and that I was a writer and illustrator and could help him. But when he found out I was from a landlocked state, he blew me off.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
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Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Interview with "Fiber Focus 2011" artist Bette Levy

by Janna Añonuevo Langholz

Art Saint Louis Fall 2011 volunteer Janna Añonuevo Langholz has been interviewing some of the artists featured in our current “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition.

Janna’s first interview is with Bette Levy, a fiber artist based in Louisville, Kentucky, who practices what she calls “fine art embroidery”. Bette earned a BA in Experimental Psychology and MA in Art Therapy, and later earned a second MA in Fiber Arts. Her vividly colored hand-stitching on black noil is recognized for its meticulous and intricate detail. Levy has taken part in many exhibitions throughout the country, including three prior “Fiber Focus” exhibitions at Art Saint Louis.

INTERVIEW WITH “FIBER FOCUS 2011” ARTIST BETTE LEVY

Janna: How did you transition from your background in experimental psychology to fiber art? 
Bette: It was a circuitous journey that included stints in market research at an advertising agency in New York, living in a commune in San Francisco in the 60's, working in fund raising and event production for non-profit organizations, and achieving two master's degrees (in art therapy and fiber arts). Nonetheless, I believe that all knowledge and experience is accumulative. Each piece of work I do today is informed by some experience in my past, and each piece is enhanced by the piece before it. I can only do what I can do today because of every step I took yesterday.

Janna: What was the first thing you ever embroidered? 
Bette: I've always done handwork (see below). I don't know that I can identify the first piece of embroidery I did, although I must have been very young at the time.

Janna: Why were you drawn to hand-embroidery as the medium for your work?  
Bette: Fine arts and needlecrafts have permeated the lives of women in my family for generations. At the turn of the century, my great-grandmother started a beaded handbag company in New York City,  and my grandmother, her daughter was the designer. I can remember as a child, sitting on the floor in a company workroom, playing with thousands of seed beads, strewn all over the floor.

My mother also was a creative woman, a clothing and interior designer, as well as an exhibiting painter and sculptor,  As a child, I learned about creative art and needlework from these women. They were always creating with their hands, and I grew up surrounded by exotic fabrics and clothing, as well as sparkly trims, beads and sequins - magical stimuli that delighted my senses and spurred my imagination.


Bette Levy. Dawson Hill: Three Aspects of Black Locust. 2009. Hand Embroidery. Triptych: 13”x11”; 17”x13”; 13”x11”.


Janna: Can you tell me more about the specific piece you have on display in the "Fiber Focus 2011" exhibition?
Bette: I am primarily a hand embroiderer, using vividly-colored silk thread on black grounds. This approach intensifies thread colors and sets up strongly contrasting figure-ground relationships. Over the years, I have developed a personal language of stitches that enables me to "paint" or "draw" with thread on fabric.

My subject matter is often based on my photographic studies that I abstract and manipulate to emphasize seemingly inconsequential structures. I am interested in textures and how to give form to structures through the layering of stitches and use of color. Additionally, I am intrigued by the micro/macro shift - the change in perception of scale that occurs when looking at a surface. This piece was inspired by a series of photographs I took of a black locust tree at a friend's home in Kentucky.

Janna: Many of the titles of your pieces reference a place. How does the concept of place factor into your work?
Bette: I'm not sure that it does actually other than to identify where I took a particular photograph. What I find intriguing is not so much that an image comes from a specific place but that the image, the texture, the shape, generalize - they could be anywhere, on any scale, and still be familiar.



Bette Levy. Abiquiu, NM A Portrait in Orange. Embroidery.


Janna: I read that you have done textile research throughout the world. How have your travels influenced your work?
Bette: My travels have exposed me to many other cultures and to other people who work with textiles. I don't know that I can identify how this has influenced my work other than to say that it's broadened me as an individual and as insofar as my work reflects who I am, my work must have been influenced by my travels. Perhaps more importantly, my travels have exposed me to many people who are engaged in the textile field which I find invigorating. Despite the differences in language, culture, and nationality, we all are engaged in the same field, part of the same community or tribe, and we communicate across our differences.

Janna: Who are some artists that have inspired you?
Bette: Obviously, the women In my family have inspired me. Certain textile artists like Dorothy Caldwell, Alice Kettle, Ilze Avics, and Karin Birch have been hugely inspirational. The early featherwork artists from Peru inspired me to use silk thread as a way to mirror the luminosity of feathers.  The Mexican muralists, Mark Rothko, Lionel Feininger, pen and ink artists like Ben Hirschfield, Ben Shahn, Turner, Georgia O'Keefe, on and on and on!

Janna: How do you feel about machine embroidery? 
Bette: I'm starting to do some machine embroidery work on discharged fabric. In the past, I've felt I didn't want anything to mediate between me and my work. I felt the intrusion of a "machine" was a confounding factor. I'm far too enraptured by the visceral feel of the fabric and threads. But, I'm giving it a try. As I've gotten older, I've found it harder to sit for the length of time it takes to create a piece of hand stitched work and have been looking for ways to speed my execution - machine work is a good alternative. However, I am finding it a definite challenge - I don't know the rules yet, and learning is far more difficult than knowing.

Janna: Do you listen to anything while you embroider? 
Bette: I work in silence. My work is meditational and I can only get lost in it with silence surrounding me. Sound of any sort tends to distract me and distance me form my work.

Janna: If you could give advice to an aspiring fibers artist in one sentence, what would it be?
Bette: Follow your instincts, ignore rules, keep your senses attuned to what's around you and keep your fingers moving.
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"Fiber Focus 2011" remains on view at Art Saint Louis through October 13, 2011. Art Saint Louis is located at 555 Washington Avenue, #150, St. Louis, MO 63101 (downtown on Washington between 6th & Broadway). Gallery is free & open to the public Monday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
_____________________________________

Janna Añonuevo Langholz is a Fall 2011 volunteer at Art Saint Louis helping with the “Fiber Focus 2011” exhibition. A St. Louis native, she recently moved back to the city after graduating with a BFA in Fibers at Truman State University this year. After taking some time off to travel and work on her portfolio, Janna plans on attending graduate school and continue her studies in fibers and mixed media.