Deb Whistler is the latest artist here on life. Deb is currently Associate Professor and Chair of Art and Art History at Hanover College in Indiana. A Midwest native, Deb graduate from the University of Cincinnati with her MFA. Her work explores notions of existence and self-reflection through materiality and the artist mark. Her exhibitions include Coker College,B erea College, The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, South Bend Regional Museum of Art, as well as Suzanna Terrill Gallery , the Vizivarosi Gallery, Budapest, Hungary and the Vincent Price Museum in LA. Recently Deb was named artist of the year by the Southern Arts Council for 2007/08. Deb talks about her process and the meanings within her art here on Life, the Universe and Art..
1.Your work seems to talk about the transformation of materials; thin paper becomes something beyond a flat surface, has a mass and texture that is other than paper. How does the transformation of your materials inform the aesthetics of your work?
Transformation is a good word to describe my work and my use of paper. Many of my pieces contain a quiet history of a past life. The overall image is captured in a state of becoming something beyond what is expected. It peels back from the wall, it explodes from the light source or it spills out from above.
I have always been interested in what lies behind the façade. The mask that hides the truth, the potential of something to become or pretend to be something that it is not, and the length that we will go to fool, deceive and hide our true selves and our objectives.
The overall images and the way I use paper in my work, support this idea of camouflage. Paper masquerades as steel, rubber, smoke, thread, water, or cobwebs. I like that it is the material itself and not the image drawn on the paper that creates this illusion. My favorite response from the viewer is the surprise when discovering that it is only paper pretending to be something grand.
2.Within this body of work, the subtly with which you infer your imagery is intriguing. It is as though you are creating your own mythology. How have you developed this intricate mythology And what are your influences for that mythology?
Wow…that’s a great question… it hits right to the core.
As a child I struggled to make sense out of the world I lived in. I remember my childhood as silence; no one explained anything to me. This freed me to investigate my own explanations. There were two events during my early childhood that have affected my work and my search for what lies behind the curtain. The death of JFK, and the film The Wizard of OZ were experiences that lead me to question my own trust in what I perceived as truth and threatened my sense of security. I had no idea what a president was, but I assumed he was a GOD or the great and powerful OZ, someone who was an invincible ultimate power. I began to search for answers in order to regain my sense of security by combining pieces of information I had gathered from Sunday school lessons, fairy tales, observations from nature, Native American stories and Greek mythology that my grandmother had read to me. I found similarities in all of these stories and began to combine this information to create my own understanding of the structure of the world I lived in. These similarities included the notion that everything is not as it seems, you must take responsibility for your actions, evil is often disguised as goodness, goodness is often hidden or silent, beware of the shortcut, and the man behind the curtain is only a fictional safety net.
My current work continues to combine images taken from a variety of belief systems in hopes that the viewer will begin to find global connections. Most recently I have combined images from last judgment paintings, Chinese scrolls, Greek mythology, and nature to create my works.
3. You have a very distinct aesthetic that is almost meditative, that is the viewer must really look intently at it in order to fully see the delicate details of the work. How have you developed this? And what do you want the viewer to take from the experience of your work?
My usual flippant response to this question is my inability to commit to anything, but in reality I work very intentionally to entice the viewer to search and discover. This activity of searching in order to discover the truth supports the notion of creating an opinion based on a collection of information. I want my work to encompass the mysteries, the every changing, the complex and the overlooked. I use visual seduction as a way to mask the truth and also to encourage an intimate visual experience. The seduction of the work is intended to draw the viewer in close as they become lost in the details and seemingly random patterns. It is within these patterns that images are revealed and with each viewing, new interpretations or discoveries are made.
4. This body of work interacts with the environment around it, creating shadows, and reflections. In a sense the work is extended and becomes part of the environment. How have you developed this, and what does it create for you conceptually?
Peter Pan’s shadow had an independence that helped reveal his true character. I love the idea of a cast shadow and object being dependent on each other. There is a playful engagement between the two, as the cast shadow changes and distorts the original form. The cast shadow often becomes more interesting than its origin and causes you to compare the object to its counter part. The passive and the active roles wrestle for visual attention an ultimately define the object.
I also use reflection in a similar way. The mirror is used to reveal an inverted image of the object, offering the viewer a new perspective. This new perspective reveals visual information that would normally be hidden.
The object, shadow, reflection and placement become visually fused together and it is only when the viewer considers form in space that the whole is understood. I enjoy that the exterior forces of our surroundings can bring our attention to an otherwise invisible object and the objects existence is dependent on the space it occupies.
5. Your work has an adherence to the craft as well as the concept. How does the process of creating the work, the craftsmanship affect the aesthetics of the work? How have you developed your craftsmanship?
The craft and concept are dependent on each other. My process of making visually refers to purely decorative crafts such as crochet or lace. It is the complexity of my process that visually seduces the viewer to move in closer. The craft of my work is the visual hook, it is the familiar, something the viewer recognizes. I feel I am successful when the viewer moves from questioning how it was made, to questioning what it is. When the viewer begins to question, the complexity of the meaning is revealed.
The paper cutting process I use came directly from my wood cut process. I use the same mark in both mediums and I refer to my process as paper carving. Even though I dislike labels, I do consider myself a printmaker.
The manner in which I work has been described as obsessive, although I prefer the term focused. My works were once described as being Rococo with a purpose. This comment made me laugh, since the Rococo style is my least favorite. Although I cringe at the thought of linking my work to the Rococo style, it was however, an insightful observation.
Top Ten Influences
What is not there: negative space, silence
-Fictional characters: the bogie man, Peter Pan, OZ, Mr. Darcy
-Nature: spider webs, cocoons, the solar eclipse, shadows from trees, fog, wood-grain, onions, the changing seasons
-Authors: Virginia Wolf, Ian McEwan, Kafka, Orhan Pamuk
-Craft: Islamic rugs, lace, stain glass windows, shadow puppets
-Artists: Marco Maggi (transforming material), Eva Hesse& Kiki Smith (the combination of fragility and strength), Rembrandt (for what is revealed in the darkness),
-The stain glass in San Chapel on a partially sunny day.
6. What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on an installation that revolves around the idea of search and destroy, and the impact of winning at all cost.
List of Works
1. Falling Angels, paper, steel, glass
2. Detail of Falling Angels, paper, steel, glass
3. Detail of cast shadow, The Dumping of Pandora's Box
4. The Dumping of Pandora's Box
5. Detail of Abyss, paper, graphite
6. Detail of Abyss side view, paper, graphite
7. The Reflection of Medusa
8. Detail of mirror view, The Reflection of Medusa
9. Last Breathe
10. Detail, Last Breathe
11. The Voila Machine
12. Detail of the Voila Machine