Daniella Woolf interview: Paper, paper and paper
Daniella Woolf is an artist of huge skill and experience. She describes her work as ‘an amalgamation of materiality, mathematics and repetition’ and her preferred medium is encaustic because of the versatility it offers. We were attracted to Daniella’s stunning paper textile art and were keen to find out more.
Super gonzo about textiles
What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Back in the olden days, I was studying jewelry at Haystack in Maine during the summer between my junior and senior year in college. The jewelers were quite serious and subdued, while the weavers were staying up until all hours of the night, listening to Bob Dylan, and having the most of fun. One evening I wandered into the weaving studio to hear a talk by the instructor, Walter Nottingham, about The Magical Mythical Qualities of Fiber. He talked about one of his students, who put a lock of her lover’s hair inside a special secret pocket, inside the quilt she was making, and nobody knew about it except her. I was gonzo over this concept. Then he said to me, Oh your hair is so dark, let me do something with it. For hours he wrapped small strands of my short hair with every color of fiber from the weavery, until I had an entire head of these wrapped palm trees in every color. It turned my head around, and brought me into the textile world. I was transformed at that moment into a fiber artist. Now I was super gonzo! I returned for my senior year at university and took every textile class they had.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My parents had a business in Hollywood, a prop house. They rented all kinds of furniture and accessories to the movies: oil paintings, wagon wheels, silver samovars. You name it – they had it – including indiginous artifacts, like Navaho rugs, baskets, Kachina dolls and my very favorite item, an Indian breast plate. Imagine a 10,000 square foot warehouse of colorful objects, piled to the tippy-top of 18 foot ceilings.
On the desk in my father’s office were books on antiques, information about the history of furniture, and a special book on styles of ornament and patterns. I loved to look at this book in particular, with its repetitive pattern designs, and drawings of ionic columns, architectural ornamentation. Our furniture was always leaving our home to go into the movies, especially our English Mahogany Chippendale dining table and chairs. When I was 12, we traded that set for modern. Now our tables and chairs were by Charles and Rae Eames, we had those Cherner chairs with the loopy arms, and I had turquoise and white Formica bedroom furniture. By high school we had gone to 1910 Mission Oak.
Another early influence was going to the theatre with my parents. We went to the Civic Light Opera and saw musicals. We went to dramatic theatre. My childhood was quite culturally enriched. I remember the musical Oliver having a tremendous influence on me. I was fascinated by the way the set rotated and became a new scene by simply changing the angle. I think this is where I began to think about making artwork large scale, and how it relates to human form.
The right place, the right time
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I showed promise in the arts at an early age, winning an art scholarship at 13, and some awards for jewelry design at 16. My training was formal. I started as a biology major in college, because I loved science, especially physiology. I wanted to be a surgeon (in those days art was a hobby-not a career, right?). I always had excellent fine motor skills. But I needed math and chemistry in which my skills were quite lacking! So I changed my major to studio art.
I went to UCLA in 1971 to study Textile Structures. It was a magical time. In October there was an exhibition at the gallery at UCLA entitled Deliberate Entanglements, showing the international rock stars of the fiber world. Simultaneously the Pasadena Art Museum was having an Eva Hesse Retrospective. I remember sitting out in the courtyard thinking that I was in the right place at the right time. I wrote about about this history on my blog, Encausticopolis, in December of 2005. Here is a link: http://encausticopolis.blogspot.com/2005/12/2-now-ladies-fly-to-your-looms.html
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques ?
For the past 10 plus years it has been encaustic, which was the perfect glue for all the mixed media in which I’ve been working for most of my career. My question has always been: Does wax make it better? In many instances the answer has been yes, but lately I’m finding that paper alone is perfect by itself. I seem to be using less and less wax. My chosen medium is paper, paper and paper. I create paper textile art. My techniques are stacking, wrapping, piercing, weaving, gluing and sewing.
Exploration of identity and memory
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
A sculptural and accreted exploration of identity and memory through the use of paper that has had a previous incarnation.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My process typically begins with writing my morning pages or journaling. I have a beautiful, light-filled studio that is my favorite place in the world. I like to work in silence. I work on multiple series at once. I find that when I am doing “mindless work” I will get an idea of how to solve a problem in another series, or get an idea that will start another series. My problem is not having ideas, it is channeling my wild mind. Many times I will use the “container” approach. That is to say that I will limit the amount of things I use to create my work. I give myself an assignment – use only shades of blue, or work in black and white, with these 3 pens and a cross cut shredder. I find that limiting my options allows greater freedom of exploration.
Here is a one minute video of one of my works and its inspiration:
Do you use a sketchbook?
Sometimes. I start many, but almost never finish them. I take a lot of photos. I usually make models out of paper or foam core. I prefer to work really large-so 3D models work a little better. I am process driven.
Nature, patterns and architecture
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
My inspiration comes from nature, patterns and architecture. There are so many artists I admire, and you’ve inspired me to start a Pinterest Board (http://pinterest.com/daniellawoolf/art-crushes/) called Art Crushes! Here is my short list of artists that stir my emotions and have aesthetic resonance.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Beauty At My Feet is constructed of sewn eucalyptus leaves. It was bought by a married couple, who are both landscape architects. They were so in love with it, they felt like they were adopting a child. Only a few weeks after they bought the piece it was selected for the Fiber Art International. I asked the Fiber Art International people if I could make a twin for their show – they declined. I felt terrible about asking the couple to give back their child so early in the adoption. So I made them a “sibling” and sent them the crate containing the sibling. They shipped their piece to the exhibition and it traveled for two years. At the end of the run, the original went to them and they shipped the sibling back to me.
Study with those you admire
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Take business classes to learn how to make a living, and study with the people whom you admire.
What other resources do you use?
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes?
Where can readers see your work this year?
Papercuts, a traveling group show, curated by Reni Gower is on its 7th venue. Here is the URL for where it’s been, where it’s going. http://renigower.com/curatorial-projects/papercuts
I am preparing for a solo show next year at Glendale College in LA.
Encaustic With a Textile Sensibility is the new book by Daniella Woolf complete with a foreward by Joanne Mattera. It’s a curated gallery show in book form, featuring the work of 23 artists working in encaustic with a textile sensibility. Designed by award winning art director/Designer, Carol Inez Charney. Encaustic With a Textile Sensibility is a museum quality book produced in gorgeous full color. It is sure to inspire artists working in any medium.
Award-winning encaustic artist Daniella Woolf shares her groundbreaking techniques and ideas in working with encaustic, a highly-versatile and popular mixed-media technique that unifies and brings all elements together. Inside this essential resource on encaustic art, you’ll discover a thorough introduction to materials and methods, pigment exploration, sculptural techniques, and incorporating found objects.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview with Daniella, let us know by leaving a comment below.