Meet Shanna Robinson who has been making things for as long as she can remember. She uses found objects from her environment to create complex fiber sculptures using a variety of techniques.The slow work of twining and tapestry allows the time for the materials to assert themselves in the process collaborating in and helping inform the outcome.
How did you get started making art? Why do you do it?
I’ve been making things almost since I can remember. My grandmother was a very accomplished seamstress and knitter. My grandfather was an avid gardener. My oldest sister is also an avid maker. I think it trickled down.
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I think I do it because it helps me understand the world better.
In a world that has always seemed just a little bit incomprehensible and overwhelming, the things I make myself feel familiar and known.
There are always ideas rolling around in my head for new things to make or materials to explore. My mind seems to work best when I’m thinking through my hands.
Which are your favorite medium(s)? Why? What about them helps you best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I work primarily in fiber and in printmaking.
Fiber and fiber processes are familiar. I’ve known them since I was a child, and explored many in depth throughout my adult life.
When I’m working in fiber I can interact with materials by hand. I can feel the shape and the texture of the fibers as they pass through my fingers. I love to weave in three dimensions, and even when I am making a two-dimensional weaving I like the finished artwork to feel like an artifact rather than like a picture, if that makes sense.
I love slow work like twining and tapestry, as it allows time for the materials to assert themselves in the process. It feels a bit like a collaboration between the process, the materials and me. I prefer to work in a way that asks the materials and the process to inform the outcome.
When I work with prints I most often make monoprints because it feels like I am collaborating with my process and materials. I really like the feeling of surprise and discovery when the idea I set out to realize becomes something more because the material or the process lures me down a new path.
In all of this work I am able to use natural materials, and that twines in with my theme of that natural world.
Are there recurring themes in your work?
Recurring themes are the natural world. I hope I can make people notice the world around them a little more, and maybe even think about the nature of being human as a part of the natural world rather than outside of it.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My work is about the materiality of the things I choose to use, and the simplicity of my approach.
I seek to create work that feels familiar but can’t really be categorized. I strive to make minimalist work that expresses a feeling or elicits a feeling. One of my professors referred to my work as expressionist minimalism. I think that is right.
What motivates you artistically?
All these ideas in my head!! They are always clamoring to get out into the world. I’m also motivated by seeing the beautiful work of my peers and my s/heroes, and by reading. I’m an avid novel and poetry reader.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Some of each. I usually have a plan, but the materials and processes often send me in new directions. I try to stay open to both the original idea and the suggestions of the materials and processes that occur when I begin.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I don’t schedule start and stop times. Having retired from a job that felt hopelessly overscheduled, I am reveling in unscheduled time .
Depending on where I am in a project or body of work, I may work longer or shorter amounts of time. I find that mornings are when I like to have unscheduled time to think and plan and dream.
I do hope to spend at least 4 hours each day on what I think of as my art time. I’ve had to remind myself that all the tasks I do around the studio work also count as part of my art practice.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a new studio space that continues to evolve.
A year ago we converted a small barn into studio space for me. It is about 450 square feet with white walls, and sea-green floor and a sky-blue ceiling. It has lots of windows and one long pin wall. It is on an unbuilt parcel of land we own about a mile from our house in a secluded spot. Very quiet.
We are in the process of closing in a three-season porch to make more space. I do still work outdoors on my patio at home on smaller projects because I like to hang out there with my dog.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Hmmm. I’m forever using things from the hardware store in ways they weren’t intended. I’ve learned that I can’t really explain things to the nice sales people, unless they have worked there for a long time and know me.
I also feel like I use all kinds of looms in ways that they weren’t necessarily designed to be used, but maybe I just don’t know what the design goals were!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do keep what I call a notebook. There are sketches and written observations in it, notes about materials, maybe thoughts about new ways of dealing with a material, as well as passages from books I am reading and references to authors and poets. It seems to work to help me keep track of the ideas that keep me going.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
All of the above except movies. The soundtrack depends on the activity. Silence is the sound I like when I’m listening to the ideas in my head and thinking about how to approach them. Audiobooks seem to work well when I am in a weaving project and can just flow along. Music motivates me if I’m tired. I’m trying to build in some purposeful movement because weaving can = sitting. Talking Heads are on my playlist when I need to get up and shake off the sedentary.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
I seem to like to have many projects going at once. Deadlines are good for me because then I have to finish some things, clear the decks and begin anew.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Inspiration often comes from materials. I have been in love with bicycle inner tube for years, and I am always looking for new things that it can do. I’m also highly influenced by the plants in my environment. I live in a rural place and I spend a lot of time outdoors.
The pine tree outside my studio sheds cones and needles and I’m always looking for ways to present these, especially if I can weave them right into a piece of tapestry. Genius loci: Pine is an example of this, as is Genius loci: Boxelder. I wanted to weave a series of pieces that focus on repetition of pieces of plants woven into a tapestry structure. I see many more possibilities and so I will keep exploring this idea for awhile.
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
Hmmmm. Not to cop out, but I hope I stretch myself all the time.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
Nature is my theme I think, and materiality.
Repurposing things that otherwise would be discarded, inner tubes, plant stems, coffee filters…
Getting humans to realize they are part of nature not separate from it is another theme, gently coercing people to really LOOK at the world around them by making things that seem familiar but they can’t quite place.
How does your environment influence your creativity?
See inspiration above. I have no idea who I would be if I didn’t live here surrounded by the fresh water of the Great Lakes and the thousands of small inland lakes, the forests, the orchards. It is all part of all of my work.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I don’t really know. I remember being sick as a child, maybe I was 8. I was bored, so someone (my grandma? My mother? My older sister?) taught me to crochet. I made a big lumpy vest. I think that ever since I have wanted to make things.
Shanna Robinson Bio:
Shanna Robinson has been making art from a variety of materials for more than 40 years. Working in textiles, sculpture and printmaking, she creates a varied body of work connected by a love of nature. Making dyes and inks from plants and bugs, weaving with plant, animal, or reclaimed materials and making prints based on signature marks such as tree rings and fingerprints, she seeks to work in ways that connect her with the natural world. She is a retiredProfessor of Art from North Central Michigan College, where she taught art history, design, textiles and ceramics. Robinson holds a BFA and an MFA from Eastern Michigan University.
Shanna Robinson Artist Statement:
Weaving and printmaking are my primary means of expression. Drawing from a mix of local materials, repurposed materials and commercially available materials, I seek to make things that feel familiar but cannot be identified, to evoke beings we might see in the wild but cannot place. I want to invoke a sense of recognition and also dislocation, to provoke more questions than answers. I hope that my work might burrow or fly or float, becoming something new to each viewer, causing them to rethink their place in the world, and that my reverence for the world will inspire that reverence in others.
Interview posted September 2023
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