Victoria Danville: Textile sculpture
Victoria Danville’s process is simple, she uses a range of traditional methods like sewing, weaving, knitting and printing, but with different more obscure materials to give a unique and original artwork each time.
In this interview, Victoria talks to us about the various influences in her life that have shaped her artistic practice. We learn why unusual fabrics excite her and how the environment where she lives in France gives her daily inspiration.
Up close and personal
Textile Artist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Victoria Danville: For as long as I can remember I loved fabrics and my mum always reminds me at my exhibitions, that as a child I was very fussy about the fabrics I wore. But it was while I was studying at Kent Institute of Art and Design and later Goldsmiths that’s things really started to take shape.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by stitch?
I wouldn’t say my imagination is captured by stitch as such, but having the fabric, a flat lifeless piece of fabric, in my hands and totally changing its character and meaning really excites me. I often try to imagine what went through Christo’s mind before starting a piece and like to think I can aspire to works that big and impressive.
I also love how intimate sewing is; how, up close and personal it can be and I try to fuse my works with both these things in mind.
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
It all started with my Grandad really, he was a painter, not professionally, but during the holidays, when I stayed over or we visited at weekends I would love to watch him paint. He seemed so calm and happy when painting. He also told fantastic stories, which always included me and fantasy wild creatures and he would bring these to life with drawings.
During this time, I attended a boarding school and the older girls, who were obviously taking their exams, would sit in the TV room in the evening finishing their paintings and other art projects. I wanted to be like them and created a large paper folder with the word art on the front. I carried it around everywhere with me and it gave me a great deal of pleasure to ‘feel’ like an artist.
I studied art at secondary school and wanted to be a window dresser, so went on to Thanet Technical College to gain more arts-based GCSE’s, here I was introduced to textiles as a subject, although I found it very frustrating, as it was all about designing for printed textiles and seemed very flat and lifeless to me, but I enjoyed the messy bit of printing. Through the art history GCSE, I first learnt about the work of Magdalena Abakanowicz, I’d never seen work like that before and I was fascinated. I applied to go to the then Kent Institute of Art and Design and the idea of becoming a window dresser started to fade.
At KIAD my tutor Jacky Cormack really pushed me, although initially, she was very underwhelmed with my work, after some stiff words and some really hard work, part to impress her, we began to see eye to eye. My whole way of working changed, I became more interested in processes and experimenting and where I’d felt frustrated at the previous college I now felt free. I later applied to Goldsmiths college and can honestly say the interview was and still is one of my most terrifying experiences, I so wanted to go there and believed it was the only place for me.
Feeding my creativity
What was your route to becoming an artist?
Being at Goldsimths, in such an inspirational environment, with what I considered as artists all around me, it just felt like home and my time there seemed far too short. I loved having a studio space with no time limits on how long or short if it was Friday!, I could be there. The tutors, all being practicing artists made being creative feel like a natural thing , creativity just required feeding, feed it and it will grow! I was introduced to so many techniques and my fellow students each very different in creativity and background all inspired me.
I became interested in installation art and how things are displayed and as much as I was creating interesting pieces, I was more interested in how they would be later displayed. Again, the works of Magdalena Abakanowicz along with Caroline Broadhead and Richard Serra were discussed and I knew I wanted to be a professional artist.
At my degree show in 1995, I received a fair amount of praise, secured my first exhibition and was featured in Crafts Magazine, as a student/artist to watch and it seemed to both me and my parents that maybe my dream was possible.
Since leaving uni the creative path has had its peaks and troughs but I have remained at all times in the creative sector. I’ve taught, I’ve managed galleries, I’ve written bids for arts organisations, I’ve encouraged new emerging arts and I’ve curated lots of shows, but where I’m at now is the happiest that I’ve been. I don’t make mega bucks but I’m working as an artist, having shows and residencies whilst also working with the local cultural officers in my region of France to change how art is viewed here and this is bringing me a lot of satisfaction.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
I use the full range of traditional textile techniques such as weaving, sewing, hand and machine, knitting, crochet, felting and printing. I use a variety of mixed media, metal mesh, chicken wire, metal thread and wood along with lots of different materials including paper and banana leaves etc but my favourites are hessian, leather and muslin.
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with stitch and sculpture?
Depending on the piece, I start by creating a chicken wire structure, then I create the fabric, by this I mean laying it, adding applique trapping things between layers, printing onto it sewing metal mesh into it etc. Once this is done I cover the structure and sew each piece into shape.
Sometimes I’m not happy with the results as the fabric can alter the 3D look of the structure and it can appear flat, so I unpick and start again! This process can take some time and be very frustrating but when it works I am so happy with the results.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I call it Textile sculpture and it’s both conceptual and decorative. I have a few issues with trying to fit it into a box regarding the sphere of contemporary art but I think that’s more to do with the hierarchy within the art world.
When I apply to galleries to show work I’ve found three responses, which have shaped my view:
- It’s not painting or sculpture
- We don’t show textile craft
- This is wonderfully new
So to answer the question; I just keep an open mind.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
Yes, and that’s a big yes! But it’s not like the interesting ones I used at Uni, now it is much more of a notebook, holding cuttings and pages of text, which are or inform my ideas.
It holds scraps of fabric and pencil sketches and random words that have no meaning or correlation to anybody but me, however, it is essential to my process.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
Recently this has evolved a little, in the past, I’ve applied for exhibitions at galleries and then once the gallery has said yes, I’ve gone about creating an idea unique for that space, this comes back to my interest in not only textiles but in installation and curation. Whilst still in the UK and before the birth of Louis, I worked For Kent County Council in several roles within the cultural development unit, one of which was managing the library art galleries they had at that time.
So, the space would initially generate some sort of idea or theme for me, once this theme was set in my mind I would toy with many variations of how I could express this through textiles. I’d work up ideas in my sketchbook and then move on to experimentation, my initial ideas are often far too complicated or just not practical so they need to be constantly reworked.
However, now I find that I can work much more organically, I don’t need a space to inspire me, I’m inspired by so many things and work seems to be flowing. At Goldsmiths, every piece seemed to require a deep meaning behind it before it could be completed and I responded well to that and I’m glad I have that need to have meaning to the work. The new work does but it comes easier to me now and I’m really enjoying making work.
But the real joy of doing what I do comes when I place the work in an exhibition, don’t get me wrong I love creating the pieces but I am still creating when the work is displayed, I really take my time deciding where pieces should go and how best to display them, hanging, suspended in boxes etc I feel a sense of real achievement when I complete the installation and stand back and view it!
This sounds arrogant but I don’t mean it this way but I have to impress me first if others like the work, it’s a bonus but as long as I like it I can be proud of what I’ve done.
A methodical way of working
What environment do you like to work in?
I’d love to say I have a lovely big studio, unfortunately at the moment that’s not the case, much to the annoyance of my husband and 7-year-old son I work in our dining room; I do have a garage and a storage area, but neither are clean enough as I work with fabric and these tend to be white or off-white, so I need clean space.
I spread out everywhere, fabric sewing machines, half made structures etc, taking every bit of available space, especially on the lead up to an exhibition, and the boys and our dog must work around me. In my mind, I have a methodical way of working, but the week before a show it looks like chaos and I am working every hour of the day and night often just finishing the final piece the morning the show is to be installed.
Each time I try to avoid this but whilst working on any particular project, new ideas always seem to invade my mind meaning I end up creating more work than initially imagined.
What currently inspires you?
Easy question, My environment! Living on the Bassin D’Acachon in Southwest France beauty is everywhere, it’s a very natural beauty.
I’ve always been inspired by repetition and its everywhere here, in flocks of birds moving, the trees, the equipment piled up that is used for farming oysters, the traces on the sand when the water is at low tide, piles of seaweed, fields of small flowers, the streets of Bordeaux with their wonderful architecture its everywhere I look and daily I find something new.
This teamed with visiting exhibitions and checking the internet keeps me coming up with new ideas and themes to work on.
Who have been your major influences and why?
As previously stated my grandfather, my tutor Janet Anderson at Goldsmiths who showed me how to express my ideas; John Brazier at Kent County Council for believing in me as an arts professional and opening up the world of curating which continues to shape my work.
So many artists too many to mention really but in particular, Sally Freshwater for being both conceptual and easily accessible to audiences, which is what I strive for.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
First has to be my degree show work, yes super long time ago, but it took so much out of me emotionally and physically. Seeing my parents faces when they visited the show was a picture! They were both so shocked, in a good way, at what I’d achieved and particularly my dad who wasn’t a great believer in my interests in art, but after that, he was firmly on board.
The work was about war and how children are affected by it. It’s an installation piece featuring large hessian sandbag like coats with images of children painted onto acetate and woven through wire mess. My father was in the army and the piece was based on my feelings and those of other children with links to war.
The second is a recent work which is entitled Nirvana. A freestanding sculpture using a variety of mixed media, wire, wool, fleece, sewing hand and machine over a wire structure.
The piece depicts an essence of freedom, moving forward leaving the past behind, it’s a strong looking piece and is meant to signify that as well.
I created it as part of a larger exhibition in 2015 and it later went on to become 1 of 100 pieces chosen to be exhibited in a major art competition here in France at chateaux in the centre of Bordeaux which is owned by the world known wine producer Bernard Magrez. I didn’t win the competition but it was great to be picked from thousands of entries and the standard was very high.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
It’s developing all the time as I come up with new ideas and become more experimental in techniques. I do want to learn to weld as I believe this will really open up a lot of possibilities to take the world to a larger scale.
I want to do more pieces that can withstand the weather and be viewed as public art and not need to be seen in a gallery.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Keep going, keep experimenting. Learn how to self-evaluate, constantly research new and exciting ways to work, work with others and collaborate!
Market yourself but evolve, don’t get pigeon-holed with your work, just because somethings working and people like it don’t be afraid to move aways from this and try new things. To me, there’s nothing worse than seeing an artist ‘churning’ out work just to make money or please an existing audience!
Be true to creative centre and stop doing it if you don’t enjoy it anymore.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
Yep a few I love are:
Mr Finch: Living in a Fairytale World. Really beautiful works
Ecorces – Galerie d’art ciel Ouvert by Cedric Pollet. The textures just scream recreate me!
Art Textiles of the World Volume 2
The Vanity of Small Differences by Grayson Perry
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
Well TextileArtist.org, of course as its so so informative and interesting.
Pinterest inspires me in so many way from doing interior décor to what I want to wear and buy when I sell my work and Call for Artists, which is a facebook page that advertises up and coming residencies across the world for all types of artists.
I also buy crafts mag and a lot of magazines and about home interiors.
A professional attitude
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I couldn’t be without my sewing machine and also my dog Maui who when things are going well just lays at my feet snoring and when things are going badly, rain or shine will walk for hours with me, listen to me whilst I scream and still thinks I’m a great artist.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I have done in the past but being that most people where I live are French I don’t think anyone would want to listen to my poor French for more than 5 minutes.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I’m keen on different environments to show my work and will consider most but whatever I’m working on the person or place I’m working with must have a professional attitude.
These days and especially where I am pop up art shows are quite the done thing but I get irritated at the poor display and poor informative information. I hate to see prices just stuck on the side of work and no titles or information about why and how the work was created.
So before applying to anywhere or asking to exhibit anywhere, I will always check how the organisers work.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I’m currently working on three shows all are in France but will be shown on my Facebook page and my website.
Maison Louis David – Andernos Les Bains France – group show – October
Ob’art 2017 – hanger 14 Bordeaux France – Art Salon – 24 – 27 November
Mediatheque – Petit Piquey France – Solo Show – 22 December – 1 Feb 2018
For more information visit: www.victoriadanville.com
Got something to say about the techniques, materials and processes used by this artist – let us know by leaving a comment below.