Sunday, November 3, 2013
An interview I did for a college project:
Describe your artist background/biographical history of yourself
I hit a really rough spot from the age of 11-14; it was a traumatic & isolated period where art kept me going, giving me refuge/purpose/hope. I was eventually able to leave this poor environment when I got into a magnet arts high school (on my second try) and, again, art gave me purpose, community, & spiritual satisfaction.
I went to art college briefly but felt lost there-so I decided to study art history instead. I enjoyed this period of more academic focus & stopped making art for a few years. In the last semester of my senior year, I found myself in a metal sculpture class (because I needed the credit & it fit my schedule)….before I knew it, I was head-over-heels in love with art again & it was all I wanted to do.
After graduation I moved out to California, impressed by the art that was going on here. I participated in the underground scene: doing performance, installation, & costuming. I apprenticed in architectural metalwork for 5 years. After deciding I didn’t want to continue in metalworking, I started my own business in 2005 through the San Francisco Street Artists Program (I had friends who had done it & I’d always wanted to give it a try). After a bit of searching around to find the right medium/product, I remembered seeing some beautiful hand-made felt (by Wendy Allen of MissFit) many years back & decided to give this a go. I learned online, through books, and by trail & error; in fact, felting was the first thing I had ever taught myself/learned on my own, which was a very liberating/empowering experience. I made bad, bad felt for months (stomping on clumps of wool in the shower & examining the results) & then started to get the hang of it. I was learning business at the same time, so I had certain goals in mind for the hoops I needed my felting to jump through. Overall, it was a really good fit for my energies.
In my life, felting was an unexpected medium and I am grateful everyday to have stumbled across it as it combines many things that I find exciting: color, sculpture, fashion, & materials. More broadly, I believe art is a spiritual practice that has given my life meaning & direction.
Could you please describe some of your processes and how you came about to this.
Many of the techniques I am best known for (ruffles, tendrils, edges) have come from experimenting. Once I noticed something interesting going on, I tried to harness & refine it. I am always learning from the medium, even now some 9 years later, but some of the best “effects” originally started out as accidents.
The medium, (especially felting which seems very wily/mystifying at times) is the best teacher. I asked it “questions” (in the form of “experiments”) and it gave me results (sometimes unexpected ones!). I learned what worked & what tricks the medium could do. Then, like water, I would go with the flow of that rather than swimming upstream. Since I was working with a certain end-game in mind (wearables), some things suited this & some didn’t, so it was kind of back and forth between what the felt could do & what would make a good wearable.
Coming from a personal view I know felt can be difficult to work with at times, do you have any advice that you’d be willing to offer to young fiber artists?
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment. Practice, Practice, Practice.
Don’t be too controlling. Keep an open mind. It’s a language & you have to learn it: basic techniques lead to more complex techniques. Take your time & enjoy the process. Imitate, practice, be inspired by others, take it all in. Then, when you have something you want to say through that medium, use all of what you have learned to express that/make those creative decisions. A medium is a new “voice:” you have to practice & learn, compose & refine, and just really tap in & let it flow.
Does your work use various fibers or do you like to stick to a certain type?
I like sumptuous things, so fine materials are interesting to me: luxurious, sparkling, soft, luminous. When making wearables, this is especially important because the items are worn close to the skin. For fine art, I have more options/choices. I try to keep my mind open to new materials & experimenting, though I still mainly veer towards soft/fine.
What drew you to this work?
Color, sculpture, fashion, sumptuous materials, plasticity, wide range of options in terms of what to make, rareness of felting, historical importance & revalance of the medium, compelling look, safety of material & working conditions.
What’s unique about your work?
I have a unique way with color: I am very at ease with color dynamics, maybe more so than most. Maybe also a conceptual dimension, that gives the work a certain “umph.” I have a sense for/sophistication suited to design/fashion that has evidently worked well commercially.
What themes do you like to explore that are of interest to you that relate to your feltmaking?
Labor: hand-making as a form of meditation. Expression in the process. Femininity/Feminism. Life/Death/Sexuality/Nature/Horror/Seduction/Joy.
Why do you do what you do?
Sculptor Louise Bourgeois once said: “Art is a guarantee of sanity.” I make art because it keeps me sane, it helps to communicate those ideas that I have difficulty putting into words.
How do you work?
Everyday. I get up and get to work; I work until late at night; my working is what holds my life together & permeates the day.
How has your practice changed over time?
From 2005-2012, I worked very commercially: my business was my art. So, there was a lot of business-building, marketing, production, product lines, etc. I kept a production studio, worked with helpers, ordered materials, travelled to & sold at trade shows, developed clientele, provided customer service, and so on. Since its inception, “Harlequin Feltworks” is a machine that I feed & keep chugging along: it has its own identity; it spans a lot of territory (time, space, concepts); it fits into a clearly defined economy/ecology (niche/market); it earns money &, like a gear, churns an industry (materials, shows); it is part of a larger arts/crafts culture & tradition.
Now, I am moving back into fine arts, so I’m exploring more: keeping my mind open for ideas passing by. I’ve managed to bring the business down to a simmer rather than a boil. I have reduced overhead & am finding more time, so that I can work on projects that are more time-intensive. I am studying more art theory again. It is a new challenge: can I take what I have learned & apply that to a new body of work/make a difference in a new field (contemporary art)?
I find all things go in cycles, part of a learning & growing process.
What art do you most identify with?
I like contemporary art, especially if it is edgy, compelling, or stunning (makes you think, sticks in your mind, evokes emotion). I like costume & fashion, for how fused the art & person become. I like folk art, too, for its sincerity.
“Identify” though is a different sort of thing…..I identify, I guess, with Dada: that art is about questioning.
What work do you most enjoying doing?
I enjoy the problem-solving involved in tackling a new, untried project. I like brain-storming too. I like work that takes a certain amount of time (2 weeks-1month)….that timing works well for focus & the feeling that there is a nice pace of accomplishment/production. I like projects that have certain definite steps, so there are different stages & changing challenges….satisfying, bite-sized bits.
What inspires you?
People inspire me. The times we live in. The past. What it is to be human & to be alive. What is happening now & what needs to/should/can happen next. How we subliminally use symbols as a pre-language & how those symbols are used (culturally or commercially) to persuade.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I had a professional felting artist, whom I really look up to, remind me that she is not only an artist, but a professor, a colleague, a friend, a wife/partner, a mother, a sister, a daughter, etc. All of these roles were important to her and needed growth & tending. It was good advice at the time, because I was too singularly focused on my art/business and was not attending to the other roles & relationships that would make for a well-rounded life.
A lot of people have told me to slow down & enjoy the ride. That is good advice that I still struggle with, but I think intensity is something I might be stuck with.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
In a nutshell: I would like to be the best artist that I can be.
I hope/strive/work to be the best little cog that I can be: a part of a larger interlocking machinery and community of artists, contributing meaningful work to the cultural landscape that we all share. I live for the great conversations, for a peaceful place to practice & explore, and for the satisfaction of having a purposeful role in the art community.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
My felt painting, “Aqueduct,” will be auctioned at the Ka-Bloom Benefit on April 24th to help raise much-needed funds for artists struggling with life-threatening illness. To learn more about the event & to buy tickets, visit Visual Aid’s website: http://visualaid.org/
Thursday, March 21, 2013
29 x 28″
felted wool, mixed media
“Soup 2″ will be part of the upcoming Artpsan Benefit Art Auction on April 13th.
Get more details & tickets to the event here: http://www.artspan.org/events/13/04/2013/artspan-benefit-art-auction-2013
Thursday, March 14, 2013
This is a proposal for a book that I was looking into. I had met a lovely woman at a show who was one of the original felt artists in the US and her story inspired me to conceive this project. It seemed as though, back before felting became a big phenomenon, that there was a time when very few people practiced the craft and that they shared the technique in small workshops. My hope was that it would show a genealogy of the craft and tell a story of people helping other people (and also maybe women helping other women & sharing knowledge) back in a pre-internet time. I still think it is an important subject and an important part of the history of feltmaking in the US whose story needs telling. These people have fascinating histories, individual journeys that led them to felting, and moving feltwork to share. Not wanting to take on the task of writing (and hence editorializing) a history, I thought it might be fun to have each person tell their own stories and to follow from one artist to the next based on their “discovery” of the craft (and how many crafts have an eye-opening discovery moment like feltmaking does?) which would fall into a natural chronology and hence paint a much bigger picture of history in motion.
I looked into it, took a trip last May to investigate and feel it out, and came to the conclusion that I was not the right person to organize such a project. Plus, I discovered that the early group of feltmakers in the US were a varied bunch that were much more scattered (some were doing felt over here, some over there) than I had imagined, making it difficult to make a clear connection between one & the next. I still think it is a very compelling project that would enrich craft history & felting culture, but, for now, I’m going to put it out in the universe and work on other things.
If you meet an original feltmaker, give thanks! They were really pioneers out there blazing new trails back when you couldn’t find felt-able wool, but had to ask a neighboring sheepfarm for whatever they had. If you know of any felt pioneers, list them below (a link to their work is a bonus)! Or ask them to tell you their story with feltmaking-chances are it’s riveting.
Felt Pioneers: History of the Felt Movement in North America (working title)
Project: A collection of stories relating the personal journeys and interactions of North American felt artists in their own words, through written testimony (2-3 pages max) or oral history (recorded & transcribed interview).
Organized into a series according to the date of the artist’s discovery of medium (“discovery”) and collected in a “branching” fashion: artists mentioned in a particular story will be contacted for their own story. By organizing by discovery & branching from artist to artist, the hope is to illustrate a “genealogy” of sorts, demonstrating how the spark was shared from one artist to the next.
My expectation is that these stories will describe how artists shared knowledge at meetings, gatherings & interactions, painting a bigger picture of the felt movement pre-1990s (or pre-internet), probably concentrated in the 1970s-1980s.
About Methodology: A book of short stories could be organized in a variety of different ways such as alphabetically or based on date of birth, etc. In this collection, I would like to organize the stories based chronologically on when the artist discovered felting (“discovery”). For example: I first discovered feltmaking in the Spring of 1985 at a meeting of fiber enthusiasts in Springfield, Wisconsin. This story would be organized according to Spring, 1985.
My hope is that it would impart a feeling of concurrency and momentum. This might also help to illustrate a “genealogy” of the craft, the excitement of the period, and the interrelationship of felting artists in general.
2 options: Written Testimony (2-3 pages) or Oral History (transcribed interview) so as to reflect a true history without editorializing.
Goal: A true history where individual artists relate their stories, in so doing demonstrating how the spark was shared/passed between artists.
From each artist:
Write/Record their “felting story.” 2-3 pages for each written by the artist in their own words or transcribed from oral interview. 3 parts
1) Who they are: general introduction/bio
2) The story of their “discovery” : how they discovered felting, what was going on, who was doing it, where they went, who they met, how they met them.
2) Telling their felting story : what they did, where they went from there, accomplishments, collaborations, contributions, style, etc.
Visual Images: Artist’s portrait; 2 examples of work; 300 dpi 5″ x 6″
Artist details. Name, Business Name, Organizations, Website
Signed document (Deed of Gift) giving editor (Jenne Giles) permission to publish their story.*
*This is your story; permission just gives me the right to publish this particular version of your story on the web & in print.
1) Blog: the internet is the ultimate library. This would be a good format for organizing the material, refining it and sharing it so that people can be aware of the information.
2)Wikipedia: part of general encyclopedia. Story transcribed to third person.
3) Self-published (or published) book. I don’t think it would be a real money-maker. I’m thinking the real objective is to get it out into the world in a reverent & respectful manner with personal distribution so that it can enhance the body of knowledge about feltmaking, feltmakers, and felt history.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Far Beyond Pool Tables:
It’s a fabric that dates back thousands of years, and it has thousands of uses beyond pool tables surfaces. Felt has a reputation for functionality, but as an art form? Hardly. Look at Jenne Giles’ paintings, sculpture, and wearable art, though, and you realize that in the right hands felt is an inspired choice for artistic creations. Salvador Dalí used felt to make celebrated art. Giles does, too, now, after spending the first part of her career making art from clay and metal.
“You can do amazing things with felt,” says Giles, who works and lives in Oakland. “It’s a really wily medium. It’s as raw a medium as paint.”
Consider her Hibiscus Rose Scarf, which, when wrapped around a person’s neck, opens out like a rose in bloom. Or consider Knotted Wing, two feathery wings that are as detailed as those attached to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, that masterful Greek sculpture that stands in theLouvre. Giles, 37, has worked with felt since 2005, and has operated a business that specializes in felt constructions since 2007. In the past few years, she’s exhibited in group shows around the United States, and has been a finalist three times for a NICHE Award, given annually to top crafts artists. Thirteen years ago, not long after graduating from Rice University with a bachelor’s degree in art and art history, Giles was making sculptures for Burning Man. Now her expertise is felt, and she couldn’t be happier. “Each project,” she says, “is an opportunity to learn from it.”
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Thursday, January 31, 2013
I have a piece in this upcoming show: “In Motion” put together by Filz-Netzwerk. The opening is coming up on Feb 16th at the Historische Spinnerei (Historical Spinning Museum, I think?) in Gottingen, Germany. Never say never, but I don’t expect that I’ll see the exhibit in person…if you do, will you send me a photo?
The show will be traveling for a couple years. Here are other venues:
16.02-01.04.2013 Historical spinning,
The opening takes place with a vernissage at 5 p.m. clock
Steinsmühle 8, 37130 Gleichen – Klein Lengden (in Göttingen)
15.05 -. 29.07 2013
‘Musée du Feutre’ Place du Colombier,
Palatinate Museum, Chapel Street 16,
Craft Museum of Finland
Suomen käsityön museo