Without formal art training – but with an innate need to create, Deborah Weir’s fiber art career was sparked when she saw textiles displayed as fine art in the 1970s. She channeled her sewing and theatrical costume design skills into creating abstract art without traditional fiber boundaries.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was always attracted to art, but early on I had no training nor the courage to pursue it. BUT . . . I always sewed my own clothes and when, at age 18, my theatre history professor asked me “what do you do?” I jokingly said, “I sew.” So into the costume shop I went and graduated with a degree in Theatre Arts/Costume Design.
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After 10 or 12 experiences job hunting, every time a show with my costumes opened, I then moved in an entirely different direction career-wise and paycheck-wise. But of course I continued to sew, follow what was going on in fiber, visit museums, take workshops and sew (did I already mention that???).
What inspires you to create? Does your work have stories to tell?
I am absolutely driven to create; it’s a calling. So I am NEVER at a loss for ideas. I am inspired by almost any and everything. As a retired linguist, I have done artwork about language. As a citizen of planet earth, I have developed series on wind, water and the earth itself. I’ve been involved in various aspects of social justice since my teen years and my recent series on incarceration delves into that. I am not a literalist but an abstract artist, and I don’t like to force feed viewers. Instead, I prefer they bring their values and experiences to my work.
Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
While I do not work exclusively in series, the majority of the work I produce is serial. If an idea is worth exploring it usually takes my attention from 6 months to 3 years. At the end of that time I have a body of work that I want to show, so I spend a lot of time on social media and proposing exhibitions and applying to shows. It would be great to have a tech person and an agent as many successful artists do, but I’m on my own with all that.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Because I use so many media, I try to keep my studio as well organized as possible. I have a large number of tools (sewing machine, dry felting machine, heat guns, iron, camera, tripod, most recently a sander, etc., etc.) as well as supplies (dyes, paints, screens, PFD fabrics, ochres, Tyvek, papers, etc., etc.). And books, lots of art books which I not only read but happily mark up.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When I’m not designing I listen to podcasts, especially comedy. Andy Zaltzman’s The Bugle is my #1 favorite. When I am designing I want silence. I usually have an idea and then will research it in every way I can think of. I take notes about my explorations and begin to think about the way I want to represent the concept. Then I usually make small trial pieces, sort of mock ups. I might need to dye fabric, or acquire a lot of tooth picks.
Which artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?
Early on, I was blown away by the work of Miriam Schapiro. The very first show catalog I ever bought was of an exhibit of hers in LA in the 1970s. Her work was my first introduction to fiber as a serious art medium. I still get goose bumps thinking about how seeing her artwork changed me. I was also influenced by the costumes hippies donned in the 1960s, very liberating for a theatrical costume designer.
This leads me to “advice for emerging artists.” Do the work. Put in the time. Educate yourself any way you can by jumping into the scene that appeals most to you. Join a group of makers who will push you in new directions. Nowadays there are countless organizations that support textile work of every stripe. Museum collections are available online from all over the world. There are TV programs and YouTube recordings that feature individual artists’ work. Dive in. Play. Experiment. Don’t rush. Don’t scrimp. Work with integrity. If what you’re doing feeds your spirit, develop it further. If it’s annoying or doesn’t provide you with meaningful value, drop it. I don’t believe that artists have to search for their “voice.” One day you will wake up and recognize it.
Interview with Deborah Weir posted September 2020
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Deborah is a member of Art Cloth Network.