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.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Taste is so subjective. Here is my odd duck, a felt painting called Cubix. Turns out this is my husband & the photographers’ favorite. You just never know….
Looking for a poem on “Cubes,” I found this fun project for creating a Poetry Cube for kids:
Something to remember for the next time I visit my nieces!
Friday, August 3, 2012
photo: Moja Ma’at; Felt Dresses by Jenne Giles; Styling by Angelica Garde; MUA by Kenya of Ruby Envy; Hair by Diana Regua; Models: Monika & Sara
Here is the original material for FilzFun 35 by Marion Kaesmayr & myself. It was such a fun interview to respond to and Marion did a marvelous job translating, editing, and laying out the text with images from a photoshoot we did in North Beach for the printed magazine (which is beeea-utiful!). As is natural, some lovely bits were cut from the final printed article in the interest of space. Without further ado, here is the full text.
Who is Jenne?
(tell us something about your life and work and so on…)
Spiritually, I am a bit of an avant-gardist that likes to make unexpected things of beauty. I relish that genuine moment of surprise, both in myself and in others.
Where in the world are you living?
When did you decide to become a artist?
The art bug bit me early in life. Through difficult periods, it has always been a safe place where I could go for refuge & growth. I was fortunate to be accepted into a Magnet Arts High School in 1990, where studying visual art became the foundation of my learning and personal development. It was wonderful to be in a place where one was appreciated for one’s individuality and not harassed for being different. Since then, I have been dedicated to the arts throughout my adult life in one form or another,
What made you choose the materials that you work with?
What other materials would you like to work with in?
For my fine art work, I am currently exploring felt and its relationship to painting. I have a strong desire to pursue more sculptural ideas and hope that my path will send me in that direction soon.
Which technics do you prefer?
Where do you get your inspiration from?
To me, this artistic process is about sensory awakening: being open to the world through your senses by truly seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching. When your mind is open and your senses are fully engaged, you can experience the world as it is: rich with variation, mystery and surprise. Felting is an excellent way to embrace the unexpected and to move through the creative process from inspiration to discovery (and back again).
Personally, I am inspired by geometry, color, form, structure, design, surprise, poetry, nature, perception, and the irresistible impulse to interact with the great big mess of it all.
What motivates you?
Do you create your work in a studio or a home base?
In 2007, I moved into a studio space. My husband and I built it ourselves, putting up walls and shelves and installing doors and sinks. I even overcame my personal phobia of plumbing- a big triumph! It is nice to have a space of my own where I can go to be creative. It has also been very important to have the dedicated space for running my business in an organized way….or at least as organized as creative spaces can be.
Crafts in the 21th Century, what does it means to you?
I believe that craft offers an antidote to much of what we are experiencing in the 21st Century. This era is identified as being the Information Age, with the internet tying us all together and allowing us access to infinite information. The plus side of this is that there is vast wisdom now available to most people; the downside is that it can be an intellectual-overload where we become lost in the sheer volume of information.
Many hours can be spent in front of a computer screen absorbing information, but it is not until we apply that information through doing that we truly learn it. In fact, one could argue that we learn so much more in the doing of things (using our hands, minds and senses in concentrated effort), than we could ever learn through reading/studying alone. After all, as humans we are the “tool-makers” who learn by working with our hands—this is how we build skills, learn, express ourselves, think creatively, and develop as individual people.
Craft is inclusive and it brings us together. Everyone can master a craft. Everyone has something to contribute to craft. So, individually, craft offers us new ways to learn, to be productive, to be involved, and to appreciate the work of others. Combined with the internet, craft allows people to interact and form communities, both locally and internationally. Therefore, being involved with a craft is an antidote to the separation and loneliness that many experience in the Information Age. So on a larger level, craft empowers people, creates community, generates economies, and generally makes this a more peaceful and respectful world.
Add to all of this that craft is historically related to the small-scale production of goods, and this makes modern-day crafting a good remedy for living in the global, big-business world where our day is filled with fast-moving, anxious advertising to buy the latest must-have item from generic, impersonal box stores. Craft is a way to make things that allows us the option to contribute in a personal way rather than to consume. It is an opportunity to slow down and enjoy, making life more satisfying.
In my opinion, the more craft we have in the world, the better the 21st Century world will be.
How do you sell and promote your work?
After that, I showed at many of the national craft shows in the US. This allowed me to practice my craft at a more professional level. Each year has offered new and changing opportunities for growth. I win some, I lose some, but the most important thing is being out there. By doing shows, I meet new people and visit new places. By having an online presence, I can meet people all over the world and can be easier to find.
My advice would be to try different things and keep challenging yourself. If the goal was just to sell a lot, there are many better business models for doing that. For me, running a small craft-based business allows me to pursue the goals of personal and artistic growth coupled with the opportunity for new experiences. These goals have a value that cannot be measured in money alone. I believe that a big secret of marketing is that you will discover your market and your message through the process of discovering yourself.
What’s your typical working day like?
First off, I get up and make a strong espresso.
Next, I drive or take the train from Oakland to my studio in San Francisco. When I am in the studio, the first thing I do is turn on my electric kettles and music. I take care of any office stuff that needs doing or any packaging and shipping that should go out. Then I can start felting.
When I am making creative pieces, I am venturing into new territories and playing with the wool and colors in new combinations. This I do to design new production pieces or to make unique items for art projects, whether it is a dress, a painting or a sculpture. When I do production, I am repeating the same steps to make a particular design over and over again. This can have a nice Zen to it, as I get lost in the rhythm of making. Both are very interesting ways of working and have their own state of being and ways of interacting with materials and tools. Perhaps each process uses different parts of the brain….all I know is that I make a mess when I try to do both on the same day.
What is your working style?
3 words of advice for an Textile Artist?
Do you have a colour you love most?
Who is your favourite artist?
Which artist do you want to meet?
What music do you listen to?
Three likes and dislikes?
warm, fuzzy, dry socks
spending time with family & friends
What do you do to relax?
Do you plan a exhibition, book-project or something like this?
In 2010, I published a book called Felt Fashion: Couture Projects from Garments to Accessories with the help of a production team from Los Angeles. When the producers first asked me to write a book, I did a lot of soul-searching about whether I had something worthwhile to contribute, especially when there are so many great felting books already available. At the time, I was learning much about pattern-making, couture sewing & garment construction and I felt there were many unexplored opportunities to combine these techniques with feltmaking. At the very least, the Felt Fashion book could bridge two disciplines: sewing for feltmakers and feltmaking for sewers. To this end, I took a wide range of feltmaking skills (basic to advanced) and sewing/patternmaking skills and blended them together to make 24 different projects, each designed to teach specific skills. I also added techniques and tools for making jewelry and hat-making so that readers could experience those traditions as well. My hope is that readers would have a comprehensive set of feltmaking and sewing skills once they had tried all the projects and that they could then combine these skills to make personalized pieces.
Often, in books or in classes, it seems to me as though one must choose a technical approach or a creative one. I tried to balance the 2, as I really appreciate technical know-how and skill-building but also enjoy a book when it inspires or encourages my creativity. Further, I wanted to appeal to both a craft-aesthetic of exuberant self-expression and to a fashion-aesthetic that can be more about subtlety, materials, details, and finishing. I hope that readers will feel it addresses both.
I believe that good learners make good teachers and I learned very much about feltmaking by writing Felt Fashion.
Friday, June 29, 2012
I am really enjoying the new app for photos called Instagram. It allows me to take casual images of work in progress or little snapshots of daily-goings-ons and share them in an informal way. Here are some recent felt paintings snapped on the app, which uses filters to play with the mood and grain of the image. You can follow the developments of this little photo experiment at this link: http://statigr.am/jennegiles
Between Instagram & Pinterest, there is so much visual candy out there to marvel at! What’s a visual girl to do??
Monday, May 21, 2012
I was inspired to name my business Harlequin Feltworks by the personal & symbolic importance of the “harlequin,” a classic figure in Italian theater.
As a young child growing up in the Veneto region of Italy (my father was a doctor at the military base in Vicenza & my mother became part of the local community), I vividly remember certain moments of the annual Carnival festival in February. One particular memory was of the Arlecchino throwing candy from the rooftops. To a small child, this was literally candy raining down from heaven. Abundance, sweetness, joy….mythical costumed characters coming to life and sharing their gifts.
Costuming became an important form of artistic expression in my life. There were many opportunities for costuming growing up with a birthday so close to Halloween (tragically, I was induced early and missed being born on the holiday) and costuming even became a genre of art that I took very seriously for a couple concentrated years. During this time, the elegant clown character became something I would return to over & over again. Fortunately, it had special resonance in the Bay Area which has a strong tradition of Commedia dell’Arte & circus. During this period of intense costuming in my early to mid-twenties, I would piece together costumes from found materials in an ad-hoc & spontaneous combination (most costumes were completed in under 24 hours), always aiming to be elegant, fanciful, and over-the-top; a momentary manifestation and statement designed to dazzle and amuse.
When I began to make wearable art from felted wool and other materials, I wanted to retain this sense of playfulness, spontaneity, and a subtle element of spectacle/theater. The Harlequin became a great mascot for the business: agile in making new designs and pieces (but also kind of mentally slow, as some skills took longer to develop); a sort of greedy & vain character (business can be a bit greedy & vain-at least those are aspects that one wrestles with: profit & presence); a romantic figure who personifies love and enchantment. Colorful & illusionistic, he is a character as well as the concept of animation through color (near & dear to my heart). His mask is anonymity or a new/auxiliary identity, something you become as a business entity.
The harlequin brought to mind notions of old-world traditions & craft, which related strongly to the craft of feltmaking. Coincidentally, the harlequin also had great currency in high fashion, inspiring such designers as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, and Miuccia Prada. No matter when or where, the harlequin has a delightful, charming innocence juxtaposed with a certain sexual mystique.
Since the beginning of Harlequin Feltworks in 2007, the years have been full of nimble acrobatics in the fields of design, fashion, art & business. These 5 years have seen a lot of evolution & change, yet the harlequin continues to be a source of inspiration, keeping me company and sharing his gifts.
Harlequin or Arlecchino in Italian, Arlequin in French and Arlequín in Spanish is the most popularly known of the zanni or comic servant characters from the Italian Commedia dell’arte and its descendant, the Harlequinade. The Harlequin is also known to be a type of clown.
The Harlequin character may have been based on or influenced by the Zanni archetype who, although a slow thinker, was acrobatic and nimble. Interpreted thus, Harlequin’s distinctive motley costume may be a stylized variant of Zanni’s plain white garb, designed to reflect the ad-hoc patching necessary to prevent the garment’s degradation
The primary aspect of Arlecchino was his physical agility. While generally depicted as stupid and gluttonous, he was very nimble and performed the sort of acrobatics the audience expected to see. The character would never perform a simple action when the addition of a cartwheel, somersault, or flip would spice up the movement.
He is typically cast as the servant of an innamorato or vecchio much to the detriment of the plans of his master. Arlecchino often had a love interest in the person of Colombina, or in older plays any of the Soubrette roles, and his lust for her was only superseded by his desire for food and fear of his master.
He eventually became something more of a romantic hero around the 18th century, when his popularity provoked the Harlequinade.
Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlequin
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Alexander McQueen’s Ready-to-Wear A/W show, during the 2009 Paris Fashion Week. Photography by Eric Ryan / Getty Images.
When it comes to fashion, we often talk about beauty and desire. But the industry is really about inspiration, provocation, and constant reinvention. Fashion is, more than anything, an engine of innovation. This is why its success should be measured in terms of the passion—positive or negative—it incites in people, versus its loveliness. Full Article from Design Mind Here
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Stone Scarves (2008) by Jenne Giles/Harlequin Feltworks
photo by M. Clement
Well, we are back in the Bay and brushing some of the road dust off. Our Easter trip to visit Texas was great: not only did we get to spend important time with family, but enjoyed the time we spent on the highways and byways. Many beautiful wildflowers, funny hotels, odd experiences and encounters.
I think of the roadtrip as a quintessentially American experience what with the vast expanses of open land, the car culture and, up until now, the cheap gas. At $5 a gallon, it is not quite the budget vacation option anymore. I’m glad to have embarked on many mad-cap trips in my twenties, as sitting that long in one position is not quite as easy as it once was either!
Now we are back home, back on a healthy diet, and surveying the road ahead for Spring/Summer. I am excited to get some new projects started and to spend more time in the studio experimenting & exploring. Summertime always has its own sweet rhythm.
Some blips & bleeps:
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The 8th Annual International Shibori Symposium just wrapped up in Hong Kong. I was so excited to see images from the show: it looked pretty spectacular! I can see pieces by Anne Evans (front jacket in sienna browns) and Jeung Hwa-Park (long, snake-like pieces; one in blue/green and the other in red/orange/purple). I wish I recognized some of the other work because it all looks amazing. I had a piece called Tendril Wrap in the show which you can just see on the mannequin to the right of the full red dress mannequin.
I really like the way the displayed it: wrapped with the tendrils on the inside. Not only did it show more of the shibori dye on the flat side of the felt, but it has a sort of reverse hedge-hog look to it. I would never have thought to do it that way but it is very cool!
You can see more images from the exhibit at this link:
Sunday, January 15, 2012
felted wool, mixed media
This is one of my favorite felt paintings. It is titled “Plumbing” and represents the flow of creativity from one idea to the next. As one idea module fills up, the creative waters flow on to an adjacent idea module. Some light up like bulbs and some are simply there as a pit-stop between two ideas. Each has its particular organically-laid circuitry. In this piece, I am inspired by the metaphor of creative flow and the relationship between water and electricity: one propelled by pressure and the other by the desire to seek its ground. Likewise, I think that creative ideas are compelled by both internal pressure and the desire to leap out and be dispelled into the world, finding their ground.
The kind of work that I do is of two types: creative and production. I often get lost in the meditation of production, especially after the holidays, where each day has more to do with the factory running smoothly. A small tweak here or an adjustment there to keep the wheels rolling in their well-tread tracks, all towards the goal of making a more perfect product. With a few personal photo projects and upcoming shows on the horizon, it is time to switch gears. It is now time to turn off the comforting hum of the smoothly-running factory and to power-up the clanky creative machinery again with its intimidating hisses and spurts. It is a jalopy that is not anchored to solid ground, but is a vehicle for driving though unchartered spaces: those scary spots beyond the comfortable and well-travelled paths. There is nowhere to begin but to jump off the edge of the canvas and to discover what lies there in undefined space, pushed by creative pressure and pulled by the desire to find new ground.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Oat Tendril Scarf 2010
Good article on Craft in the Arts in NYTimes/Int’l Herald Tribune:
By ALICE PFEIFFER; Published: December 2, 2011
PARIS — “Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons; there is nothing more depressing for a young artist,” said Bianca Argimon, a student at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris who favors traditional techniques when working with ceramics, engravings and pyrography over what she views as ultraconceptual, increasingly dematerialized art. “Most of us can’t afford — nor approve of — having an entire factory of workers.”
Artisanal techniques, once deemed the opposite of cool, are making their way back into art fairs and galleries, particularly in Europe. Dedicated spaces and university programs are contributing to the renewed recognition of these trades — albeit with modern twists and messages — while also providing young artists with marketable skills. As a result, the line between gallerists and craftsmen, once so clearly delineated, is increasingly being blurred.