One of the great joys of my gig is that, every day, my job involves poring through the posted art work by Minnesota artists on mnartists.org, or hanging in local galleries or area studios, with the aim of ferreting out some of the most interesting stuff to share with you-all. Aside from the pleasures of seeing the artwork itself, I’m consistently intrigued by the rich variety of people making it, and in how their creative practice is lived, day by day. In this series, I’m hoping to offer brief thumbnail sketches of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own words, as well as a window on the nuts and bolts of the processes that go into creating the work on that ends up on gallery walls: the tics and rituals, work spaces and unorthodox inspirations, supplies, and works in progress that comprise a life steeped in art.
For this first interview, meet Mary Giles, a St. Croix valley-based fiber artist and sculptor. She weaves both metal and linen to create organic sculptural forms evocative of the landscapes and fauna outside her sylvan home and workshop.
Fiber artist and sculptor: Mary Giles
Where do you live and work?
I live on the banks of the St. Croix River north of Stillwater, looking at Wisconsin.
What’s your preferred medium?
Waxed linen and metal
What is your work space like?
I have a studio and a shop. The shop is a room in the garage where I prepare all of the metals. There I have a power hammer, torches, drills and the basic dirty stuff. The studio is an addition to the house where I build the pieces using the ancient technique of coiling while adding thousands of hammered and torched pieces of metal.
What objects (not artwork) in your studio provide inspiration or reference for your work?
The views out of my windows….the light on the river, shadows in the woods, and the textures of the water, rocks and trees.
What are your work habits and routines in the studio: does your studio time take place during “business hours,” or on evenings and weekends? Does your practice follow a regular, disciplined schedule, or is your time for art-making more catch-as-catch-can?
Fortunately, I am now a full-time studio artist and I can work anytime and all of the time if I want. I like mornings best for problem solving and thinking; I never finish a piece or make decisions in the evening. Much of the work is done on my lap, so where I can make a lap, I can work.
Beuys made a practice of sweeping up; painter Jehra Patrick says she leaves a glass of Malbec out “as bait.” Do you have any rituals for the studio?
I try to keep the cats and the husband out. The cats are better trained!
Name five supplies you can’t live without.
Waxed linen, wire in various gauges, a good pair of pliers, Zap-A-Gap, and my husband’s supply of criticism.
Is there a local artist whose work has caught your eye lately?
The St. Croix valley has a whole group of great potters whose work I admire. Tim Harding, a fiber artist makes beautiful work just down the road in Stillwater. Morgan Clifford, who lives in Stillwater, does handsome weavings and recently I met the jeweler Judith Kinghorn, and I think she is a Twin Cities treasure.
What are you working on now?
Large abstract forms that were inspired by split rocks found when I built my studio last year, and wall panels which comment on issues of population.
What’s on the backburner? Do you have any projects sitting around you just can’t bring yourself to complete (or, maybe, which you never officially started)?
I am very excited about and engaged with my current work. However, I am constantly making notes about possible projects….and I might even make some of them eventually.
Related exhibitions, links and information:
Mary Giles was the featured banner artist in the last issue of mnartists.org’s biweekly e-mag, access+ENGAGE. Read more about Giles, her work, current exhibitions and more in the “about the artist” article created for the newsletter.
Mary Giles’ work is currently on view at the gallery of College of Visual Arts in St. Paul, alongside that of Nancy Mackenzie and Kelly Marshall, in the exhibition, Over and Under. The show will be on display through June 25; it is running concurrently with Confluence, the 2011 International Surface Design Association Conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul, which takes place from June 4 – 17. Her work is also on view at the Racine Art Museum through Oct 2, and will be featured in an exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum, July 10-Dec 10, 2011.
Image credits: Top right, Golden Fissure, 10’x28’x13′, waxed linen, hammered brass, iron and brass wire. Bottom left: Quarternion, 27″x35″, found iron and iron wire figueres. Photo of Mary Giles as she’s working, overlooking the St. Croix. (All photos courtesy of the artist)