Susan Klebanoff interview: Textile installation art
Susan Klebanoff has been working as a textile artist for thirty years. She has exhibited in major galleries worldwide and has had work commissioned by companies such as IBM, Hilton, USA Today and BP. Susan’s multilayered tapestries combine hand-dyed yarn and painted thread with collaged textures to create awe-inspiring installations.
In our interview with Susan, she talks about the use of light and shadows to add an extra dimension to her work as well as a very special upcoming project for the National Air and Space Museum.
Breaking through the barriers
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Susan Klebanoff: Originally, what captured my imagination about textile art is that it can be so versatile. It can be painterly, functional, sculptural, conceptual etc. it is not restricted to a square canvas. I feel as though I’m making my own canvas at the most basic form.
I once created an artwork that was spun from the hair of our United States senators. It was called “Heads of State” and woven in loopholes!
I created another artwork called “Twisted Words” which was woven out of newspapers. It was purchased by the owner of USA Today newspaper.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Some of my early influences were artists such as Kandinsky, Klimt, and Abakanowicz. As far as my upbringing, I’ve always done weaving. I was making potholders at five years old. Then when I went to college, I was inspired by my initial exposure to the contemporary textile artists in Poland.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I studied fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University. Since graduating in 1977 I have been supporting myself with my art. It was an exciting time when fiber arts were breaking through the barriers of being limited to “craft”. I must say it has been an uphill battle.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I developed the multilayered tapestry technique to express the natural phenomenon of the effects of light in the water. My chosen medium is a collage of various textures. The work combines many different fibers. This makes for an exciting, rich, tactile experience. I incorporate wools, cottons, synthetics and metallics to make a vibrant surface.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My artwork is a unique expression which brings the understanding of the effects of colors and shadow in space to a new level. The main comment that I receive about my work is that people have “never seen anything like it before” (given all of art history that is a huge compliment).
Unfortunately my work does not readily fit into the sphere of contemporary art as I have experienced it. Much of today’s art is one sentence “shock art”. Whether you like my work or not, nobody goes home and says “I could make that!” My works are very detailed and need to be studied. As the viewer moves around the tapestries elements come in and out of alignment. It challenges your perception of the background and foreground and what is real or shadow. Only the human eye can discern the difference. I believe the fact that I still work in fiber has been a limitation to the exposure I would like to receive in higher-end galleries.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Weaving for me is a very meditative process. I enjoy working from my home/studio with my favorite music playing, good light and dogs surrounding me.
Love what you do
Do you use a sketchbook?
Yes I use a sketchbook for many of my large works. I majored in drawing at Carnegie Mellon University. I did this because I believe drawing is basic to any designing. I could easily have worked from a simple pencil drawing for my large installation projects, however my clients would never be able to interpret what I am intending to create for their space from just that. So I create very complex multilayered maquettes to illustrate the project I’m intending.
What currently inspires you?
Currently I’m extremely excited about a project request for one of my works for the National Air and Space Museum. This is to be my largest project ever. It is a portrait of the universe’s structure. I’m pleased to say that the Dr. Mark Price former director of the Parks radio-telescope in Australia and former Chairman of Astrophysics at the University of New Mexico says “it’s the most elegant portrayal of the universe he has ever seen.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
My recommendation to young textile artists is to follow what interests them. If you love what you do you’ll be good at it. If you’re good at anything you can make a living. Say yes to any opportunity that will broaden your world. Show anywhere and everywhere. You never know where your teammates will find you.
A fondness for textiles
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
“The Art of Fabric: Mainstream” and “Beyond Craft: Art Fabric” are a couple of books that were meaningful to me when I first started working in textile art.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I have lectured extensively at universities and consulates around the world. I was fortunate to be the first American to exhibit and lecture at the first American gallery in Moscow in 1988. This was the beginning of Glastnost. I have had exhibition opportunities and lectures recently in Japan and Thailand. The Orient seems to have a fondness for textiles because a lot of their gross national product is dependent upon the export of textiles.
I am currently seeking new exhibition and lecture opportunities. Please contact me directly at: susanklebanoff.com or telephone me in the US at 505 – 266 – 0309. I will look forward to the possibility of working with you in the near future.
For more information please visit: susanklebanoff.com
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