Deborah Kruger: A transformation of the materials
Artist Deborah Kruger’s innovative work is crafted using a combination of fiber, encaustic and digital media. Although she was born and educated in the USA, Deborah now lives in Chapala, Mexico.
She is an award-winning artist who has exhibited throughout Mexico and across North America, where her work can be found in a number of esteemed private collections.
In our interview with Deborah she talks about her passion for wildlife conservation, gives us a peak into her daily working routine and tells us about her artist and writer’s residency program in Mexico.
Background and influences
TextileArtist.org: What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Deborah Kruger: I think I have textiles in my genetic code. My grandparents were textile workers in Eastern Europe and New York City. I sewed all my clothes until I had my first job. I spent my childhood enamored of the masks from West Africa, especially the hairy ones. When I saw paintings in a museum for the first time at age 5, I knew in my bones that I was an artist.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I went to Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City and graduated from their Textile Design program. I spent the next 8 years working in the trades as a wallpaper designer. Everyone thought this was a dream job except me. I hated having someone else tell me what to design. Eventually, I left commercial art and opted for working in the financial world because it left me free to create my own artwork.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
My particular obsession is with the plight of birds and butterflies whose food sources and nesting areas are threatened across the globe by habitat destruction. The growth of our human population has proportionally decreased bird populations. Their loss is ours in spirit and in fact as we face the ensuing domino effect through our culture and food chain. The grand migrations that humbly inspire our imagination and remind us of our place deserve our protection. My work is dedicated to raising awareness about our interconnectedness with the gorgeous flying creatures who are fast disappearing.
Artwork and inspiration
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
For the last 10 years I have been making art out of feathers that I fabricate from fiber, encaustic, waxed linen thread, wire and horsehair. The pieces are deeply influenced by indigenous art from the Amazon, which often incorporate parrot feathers in their ceremonial objects.
Recently, I have begun scanning my feathers and printing them digitally on paper, fiber and metal. This is opening up wonderful possibilities of creating work in the round and that can hang in space.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
Happily, the contemporary art world is finally beginning to embrace fiber and textiles as serious art materials instead of craft. For me, textiles ARE art and there has never been a conflict in using these materials. My work reads as sculpture, installation and wall relief.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Like many artists, I like to work on several pieces simultaneously. Ideas from one piece drift into the next and soon a series is born. I keep a journal of ideas and sketches and have learned not to try to fit too many ideas into any one piece. I note new ideas as they emerge, and eventually incorporate them in subsequent pieces.
I am very fortunate to have a dream studio here in Chapala, Mexico where I live. I retired early so that I could devote myself to my art and I live here because it is extremely affordable and has a nearly perfect year-round climate.
How do you organize your time?
Even though I am retired, there is so much involved in having an art career that I still struggle to organize my time efficiently. I begin my day at the gym, running or doing yoga because being strong and healthy is essential especially as my work grows larger (and I grow older!). I tend to be rather compartmentalized and prefer to spend most of my day either in the studio focused on the work or on the computer handling the administrative side. The business side of art includes updating my website, answering email, applying for shows/grants, re-sizing photos, researching materials and galleries, and ordering supplies. I don’t generally socialize during the day and wait until the evening to spend time with my partner or with friends.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Since I worry about a world with decreasing resources and so many threats, I try to reduce my dependence on equipment and enjoy the challenge of using the materials at hand. Although I enjoy technology (Epson 3000 Printer), some of my most fulfilling moments in the studio are when I am tying knots and sewing with waxed linen thread. At these times, I feel at one with the world and with all the millions of textile makers that preceded me.
Tell us about a favorite piece of work and why?
I have just completed one of my largest pieces titled Migration. This piece (6’ x 12’) is composed of hundreds of digitally printed feathers of various sizes that are stitched together with waxed linen, wire, and smaller feathers made from fiber and encaustic. Although there are no birds in the piece, the components evoke a migration of birds in flight.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
When I was raising a family, my work was necessarily small since I had so little studio time. I love working large and as my time has expanded, so has the size of my work. I just acquired an Epson 3000 Printer and am learning how to print on all kinds of interesting surfaces (paper, fiber and metal). This technology will help me to produce the components I need in order to create larger and more complex three-dimensional work.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
This question could generate another whole article! There are two basic factors to consider:
1. What galleries have a demonstrated aesthetic that make them a good fit for my work?
2. What audience do I want to reach?
Identifying galleries that fit the criteria of #1 requires ongoing research by an artist. You must explore a galleries’ exhibition track record and look critically at the artists they show in order to determine whether your work fits their curatorial interests. Issue #2 requires a deep level of honesty about your work, who you want to see it and why.
Art Philosophy and advice
What artist philosophy do you live by?
I would start with “To thine own self be true.” Although there is nothing new under the sun, for me, outstanding art requires a transformation of the materials so that the piece becomes a unique alchemy of what it is made from combined with your vision. I am always trying to push my work so that the media, meaning and techniques continue to become increasingly complex. I aspire to make art that is both stunning and thought-provoking.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Shadow or be mentored by an artist that you like and admire. Learn as much about the fiber world as you can by seeing shows, meeting artists, reading books/ blogs/magazines and attending conferences. Follow your bliss and passion and find something that you absolutely love to do. Be humble and find qualified people to give you feedback about your work so that you can grow and develop a distinctive voice.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
My favorite magazine by far is the Surface Design Journal, the gorgeous quarterly put out by the Surface Design Association (now available digitally at www.surfacedesign.org). I also read these magazines: Crafts, Sculpture Magazine, Fiber Art Now, Textile Forum Textileartist.org .
Coming up soon
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I founded 360 Xochi Quetzal, a free one-month artist and writer’s residency program here in Chapala, Mexico. We offer winter and summer residencies for International visual artists, fiber artists, photographers, writers and new media makers who may apply through CAFÉ. Please visit our website for more detailed information: www.deborahkruger.com or write to us at email@example.com.
Where can readers see your work this year?
My newest piece, Migration, is now on view in an international fiber exhibition titled Flight Patterns. Curated by Dot Moye, this year-long show can be seen at the Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport in Georgia, USA (the highest traffic airport in the US). The show will travel to Welsh Gallery at Georgia State University from May-August 2015 and other possible venues are under discussion. Let me know if you want to receive announcements about this and other upcoming exhibitions: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Deborah Kruger please visit her website: www.deborahkruger.com