Thursday, September 18, 2008

Questions about me!

Natalie Portman Wears (detail)

detail of tapestry "What Natalie Portman Wears"

I had an email from a student at ANU Canberra today who is studying tapestry with Valerie Kirk. She had to complete an assignment on tapestry weavers who use the human image or form in their work. She had discovered me and sent me a list of questions for me to respond to for her assignment. It's always interesting doing these exercises as it makes me think back to why I do this stuff and what I think about.

So here are my responses to her... yes, I did feel like I was starting to write a thesis again!

1. What is your background? What led you to pursue tapestry as an art form?

I have completed a Bachelor of Fine Art majoring in tapestry at Monash University Melbourne in 1998 and have also completed my honours and then a Masters of Fine Art by Research all primarily working in woven tapestry. Kate Derum was my supervisor during that time.

I pursued tapestry mostly as I saw it as a challenge. I had previously worked in painting and printmaking and had initially thought that I would major in one of those disciplines at university. I had seen tapestry but had thought I knew how to do it to major in it! However after a discussion with Kate Derum out in a corridor who claimed that my work and style would lend itself to tapestry well, I decided to take the plunge and move into a new discipline. I should mention that I had always had a strong history with textiles. My parents owned a Singer sewing machine store, were boot makers, milliners and pattern makers so I had always worked with textiles, even when I was printmaking, so it seemed a natural progression for my work.


When it comes to being an artist, in particular an artist working in woven tapestry, I love being part of a very old tradition but showing contemporary imagery. I also like the fact that it’s a skill based art that not everyone does, so it makes it a little special - it has a bit of ‘wow’ factor. When it comes to motivation and inspiration, the everyday is what inspires me. Now that I don’t have much time to spend on my artwork, I make things that I want to make and that I feel strongly about or have a connection with. I don’t make work that is controlled by what may sell or what other people want. The imagery I create is made very intuitively but the selection of what will be woven is selected on aesthetic basis and because it has something to say, either about me or because there is a narrative I want to share. I’m heavily influenced by artists such as Karen Kilimnik and Elizabeth Peyton with whom I share a love of figurative works that have a quiet narrative and who also put the viewer and artist into a range of characters.



2. Do you practice other art forms, and if so, what would they be?

Although I primarily work in woven tapestry I do work across a wide range of media. Most of my tapestries have a collage starting point and mostly I will work on paper, either collaging, mixed media or drawing. Often I will work with objects as well and during my honours year I was making 3D dolls to add to tapestries and also bags that held objects and tapestries, primarily looking at new ways to display tapestry as well as ways to get my ideas across.

I still work on paper constantly, mostly as my tapestries are big and it’s a quick way to get ideas down. I am still working with objects and the idea of the doll as well as creating artist books of images. I’ve always been very interested in artist books as I’m heavily influenced by popular culture and fashion magazines and liked the idea of creating my own.


3. I notice that your work features young, attractive women. Is there a particular reason for your work taking this direction?

I have always worked with the figure and when it comes to what inspires me to create my imagery I stick with things that I know and that relate to my own personal experience. More and more now I find that I am intuitively drawn to selecting figures (or characters) that seem very much like me; that they become the vehicle of my statements within the tapestry. Although it seems very egotistical to say that I am a ‘young and attractive woman’, the works are very much about my view on the world or an imaginary character that I would like to play at some point. The works for my Masters thesis titled ‘Outfit’ talked about our obsession with celebrity and the role of the fan. I can relate to the role of the fan and in some ways idolise and fanaticize about the role of celebrity.

I am interested in the notion of ‘people-watching’ and find it an important inspirational tool to capturing the essence of the everyday for me and my work. I think that people watching can be used for static forms such as magazines also and that this crosses over into my work whereby the images created through weaving are static. I also enjoy the strong history of portraiture in art and think that most people are obsessed with looking at others and situating themselves within how others appear.

Often viewers have asked if the girls in the tapestries are me. From a resource point of view they are not. The original images are often found from fashion magazines or advertisements. Though I think even when I was still painting and creating portraits and figures, they inevitably ended up with qualities similar to my own. Now, they have dark hair, big eyes and a fringe, which most people would say are my own features.

4. I'm interested in the career paths that a Fine Arts degree can lead to. I see that besides being a practising artist, you are also the curator at the Town Hall Gallery in Hawthorn. Could you comment on your choice of career in the arts field?
I usually describe myself as a full time curator and part time artist these days.
I always had an interest in how exhibitions were constructed and the role of the gallery in educating, inspiring and challenging people. Becoming a curator is something that I fell into. I started working as a volunteer in a regional art gallery at a very young age and then was mentored by the Director. I had been given the opportunity to curate an exhibition in my final year of VCE and found that I loved the balance of creating my own work and working with other artists and being inspired by their ideas.

Although I had always thought that I would do a Fine Arts degree, I continued with curating and being heavily involved in the behind the scenes in exhibitions mostly as I felt that it allowed me to become a better artist. Many curators have gone on to do Museum or Arts Management studies, though I believe that the continual hands on work has allowed me to become the curator I am today, along with being an artist as well, gives me insight into dealing with other artists, their aspirations and when they will panic!

Being a tapestry weaver and a curator also has allowed me to continue with my passion of tapestry being seen as a contemporary art form. Working in the industry allows me to push the envelope, so to speak and to put it into a critical context with other works. Most people say that I’m very lucky to work within the arts but I think that the curating and creating feed off each other in the way that I think and approach both my works.

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