Barbara Lee Smith – The rhythms of nature Part 2
Mixed media textile artist Barbara Lee Smith creates breathtaking representations of the land, sea and sky. Barbara’s art is amongst collections in the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, the Racine Art Museum and the Indianapolis Art Museum. She is also a writer and is the author of Celebrating the Stitch: Contemporary Embroidery of North America.
In part 2 of our two-part interview, she discusses her influences and explains why aspiring artists need to master their craft before spending time on marketing.
Generosity of light
TextileArtist.org: What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Barbara Lee Smith: I think that I could probably write a book about this question. I’ve mentioned my current inspirations and will leave it at that. Other artists that have influenced me through their work include the generosity of light contained in Richard Diebenkorn‘s work, especially the Ocean Park series to the glass art of Bertil Vallien who once said “Glass eats light”. The approaches to the land by Robert Smithson‘s whose Spiral Jetty, built into the Great Salt Lake in Utah in 1970 was one of the first remarkable earth works was influential to a series I did recently. Richard Long‘s journeys through the land remind me of the timelessness of our lives on the land.
Anselm Kiefer never considers size as a limitation, and the power of his passionate work is overwhelming. Van Gogh‘s brush and palette marks still amaze me, and David Hockney‘s draftsmanship and use of new media are inspiring. I see his work and am reminded that landscape is still relevant. Seeing various artists in Cornwall with Jean Draper several years ago, set me in a new direction and approach to the area in which I lived. It was another urge to leave the geometric abstractions that I was doing when I lived in Chicago and to make something of the land in which I now live more a part of my work. The color studies of Josef Albers enabled me to understand how to make colors work, and the influence of Constance Howard taught me how to think outside the world that I inherited and taught me how to teach.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Advice to aspiring artists. Martha Graham said it well, “First you master a craft; then you create a being.” Take the time to master the craft rather than spending most of it on marketing your work. It takes years; patience is truly a virtue. Go to museums and look at everything but the textiles; same for gallery exhibitions. Look at work you don’t like and consider both why and how you might change it or what it says to you and about you that repels you in some way. Listen to others and then listen to yourself. What are your questions? Make the visual answers. Most important, give back a share to your field and to the world. Be generous and you will be repaid in untold ways.
A continual influence
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
That’s difficult, because I love textile books, but I find my best inspiration in books about other areas of art. One of my favourites is Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art by Mary Jane Jacob. This was a summary of a conference I would love to have attended several years ago. The essays in it really spoke to me. I read books about writing and dance and art history and plenty of novels that take me to new places. I always have at least 6 books going at a time, both in volume form and also as eBooks. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I also recommend my book, Celebrating the Stitch, for a couple of reasons. It’s still relevant, so I’m told, but also because I’m so grateful to the artists who allowed me to enter their minds and their work so long ago, and for their continual influence on me and my way of approaching art. My life trajectory was changed by that book and the exhibition that accompanied it.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I subscribe to a few blogs, including yours, but I don’t spend a lot of time with them. I like informational websites, and I find that Golden Acrylic‘s site is great for answering technical questions. I subscribe on line to Modern Painters and Art News, and the American Craft magazine, but usually read them months late, I fear. I couldn’t be without my iPad on which I can check out all sorts of information, but it’s a hunt and peck sort of looking for information as I need it, and not a regular part of my day.
Tools, talks and workshops
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Oh my. I suppose my iPad is now my go-to piece of equipment. My husband threatens to sue Apple for ‘alienation of affection’ since I take it to bed every night! But I couldn’t make the large work I do without my industrial sewing machine. It has a large space to work within and it has no teeth, no computerized parts (except for how it’s run) and I have total control over it. But best tools: my eyes and hands. I’m grateful for them.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes, I give talks and do workshops. I don’t promote them anywhere, since I really like to stay in my studio and work, but I’m open to invitation to come and teach. The other part of my work that I enjoy is occasionally selecting and curating exhibits of others’ work, and writing about other artists.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I have a couple of galleries in the United States and connections with one in Japan. Mostly I do my work and see what happens. That sounds so passive, but I’ve never been much good at marketing, and I’m not proud of that. I think I’ve not outgrown my upbringing there. I’m so impressed with that ability in others. It does seem, as I mentioned in my advice to others, that certain altruistic measures I’ve wanted to do have been repaid in untold and unexpected ways. I’ve been so lucky.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I am happy to welcome people to my studio, but do need advance notice to make sure I’m there.
For more information please visit: barbaraleesmith.com
You can read part one of this interview here, and if you’ve enjoyed this interview with Barbara, please let us know by leaving a comment below