Elise Vazelakis: Pushing the limits
Elise Vazelakis is an American artist, currently living and working in Los Angeles. She has had solo and group exhibitions in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dubai. Currently, 8 pieces of her Woven Metal series is being exhibited in North Hollywood at the Laemmele NoHo7 Theatre.
Installations include City of Malibu mural at the Michael Landon Center and three outdoor installations in Dubai. Her work is also in many private and public collections throughout the world and most recently work was purchased for the Faisaliah Resort and Spa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
In 2014, Elise moved back to Los Angeles after four years of living in Dubai. While in the Middle East she was influenced by the geometric arabesque motifs of those cultures as well as the colorful headwear worn by the Dubai Labor Force. This work evolved into The Gamcha Project that integrated fabric and photographs into weavings.
Upon her return to the States, Elise continued to weave and work with fiber by integrating together unorthodox materials such as copper and steel wire. Her various multicultural experiences have had a profound effect on her artistic senses.
In this interview, Elise explains her techniques and processes, including the clever integration of metal wire and paint. We learn why her various multicultural experiences have had a profound effect and how rummaging through her garage one day took her art into a totally new direction.
Pushing the limits of the fiber
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Elise Vazelakis: My fiber art practice solidified when I was living and working in Dubai. I began a social art practice consisting of weavings that I did in Dubai. Twenty-five weavings focusing on the immigrant labor force launched my fiber arts practice in 2012.
The body of work featured tapestries integrating the Dubai laborer force’s photographs and colorful headwear (gamchas), known as The Gamcha Project.
With a solo show, two installations and inclusion in a group show my weavings were well received and resonated with the public.
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
My earliest inroads to creativity began with my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. With my current work, I feel I have gone back to my roots working with a foot operated weaving loom. I continued to explore all types of fiber practices (knitting, embroidery, needlepoint, crocheting, macrame, weaving) throughout my teens.
My process now is unconventional but influenced from traditional fiber arts during my childhood. Today I use techniques that are inventive pushing the limits of the fiber by integrating metal wire and paint elements.
Finding my own artistic voice
What was your route to becoming an artist?
From an early age, I have recognized that I loved and excelled in the arts. Being an artist and majoring in fine arts was my goal, but I was strongly encouraged to major in Business Administration by my parents. I began to take photography classes as electives and expressed myself through film.
Once graduating, I set out to be a professional photographer, working three jobs to support my artist goals. While dragging around my portfolio a marketing/PR director at a shopping center asked if I would become her assistant marketing director enabling me to integrate my photography by in the advertising campaign and photograph events. Broke, I took her up on the offer. It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to dedicate myself full-time to art.
I began taking classes in color theory, figure drawing, stone sculpting and ceramic sculpture. Ten years ago I began studying under an esteemed artist, Tom Wudl. There I began to find my own artistic voice through contemporary painting. It was under his direction that I was encouraged to integrate fiber into my work. Along with working with Tom, my various multicultural experiences have had a profound effect on my artistic senses.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
I use a Saori Loom produced in Japan. When I began The Gamcha Project in Dubai I wanted to weave the photographs and material together. Unable to find a loom locally I began weaving with a hand loom I made. Once back in Los Angeles for the summer, I found a wonderful teacher, Fumi Omiya of LisFiberWorks (12955 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA 91604 Phone: 310-948-1603 Email: email@example.com) who taught weaving. I shipped my loom to Dubai and began making large-scale tapestries that integrated the photographs, fabric and construction materials. Today, I use the same floor loom to do my metal weavings.
Engulfing myself in the work
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with weaving and metal?
After four years in Dubai, I returned to Los Angeles and continued to weave and work with fiber but began to integrate unorthodox materials such as newspaper, canvas, Japanese rice papers and recycled material.
While rummaging through the garage, looking for inspiration, I found wire. That was the beginning of the end. I found the material that spoke to me. With the wire’s flexibility and strength, I could manipulate the shape once off the loom resulting in a sculptural effect that is more organic in spirit. I still view the woven material as a cross between a canvas and sculpture enabling me to paint and explore different activities on the weavings.
I still view the woven material as a cross between a canvas and sculpture enabling me to paint and explore different activities on the weavings
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I try to draw daily. I will make sketches of existing work or work I want to make. Along with sketching I journal my thoughts and creative ideas. I also make 3-Dimensional sketches and studies.
The other activity that I have found useful is to completely study an artist I am interested in by reading books and articles on the web. Currently I am reading Eva Hesse by Lucy Lippard. While I am doing an in-depth study of the artist I will go view their work in person and watch videos or movies that are made on the artist. By totally engulfing myself in their work it informs my own work.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
I decide the general size of the piece I am going to make and the fiber color for the warp. Then I choose the wire gauge and material (copper, steel or brass wire). Depending on the size, it can take months to produce the work. Once I have completed the weaving I begin to connect the individual pieces.
For instance, I am currently making a 10’ x 10’ work. My loom’s width is approximately 12” so the individual weavings must be sewn together. After the pieces are put together I begin to manipulate the shape and/or insert tubing. I tack the piece together and take it apart and put it together again.
This process goes on until I am satisfied with the shape. At this point, I permanently put the piece together. Then I usually put other elements onto the work, either paint or other fiber elements.
What environment do you like to work in?
My home studio in Malibu California and Tom Wudl’s studio in downtown Los Angeles Art District.
Who have been your major influences and why?
My major influence have been a number of women artists that I admire and they continue to inform my work. Lee Bontecou was one of the first artists that I began to study. Her use of wire and canvas attracted me to sculptural work that integrated materials that I also love to work with. I also admired her because she was a woman using non-traditional materials. She welded the metal materials together to make a frame and then covered the fame with reconstituted canvas from military items.
I also love Eva Hesse’s work. She also made sculptural art using non-traditional items. The material themselves became the subject of art. Other influences are Ruth Asawa, American Sculptor known for her wire sculptures, Ann Albers, American textile artist known for her geometric patterned compositions and Shelia Hicks, American fiber artist known for her vibrant woven works.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
These two pieces I just love. I like the negative space and the movement of this work.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I can’t live without is my loom.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I go to many gallery exhibits. If I think that the work is a good match for their gallery I will send a letter with photos of my work. Sometimes the gallery finds me as in Dubai with Showcase Gallery. Sharon Harvey read the article in The National, written by Anna Seaman. Some of my exhibits have been juried exhibits and installations.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Currently, I have 8 pieces exhibited in North Hollywood California. The work will be up through December 30th, 2016 at the Laemmele NoHo Theater. I was fortunate enough to work with a talented curator named Joshua Elias, he viewed all my work and chose the pieces he wanted to feature in the exhibit. He hung the work by integrating the larger pieces with smaller ones in between creating tension and interest.
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