Striking the perfect balance between artistic freedom and adherence to another’s requests can be tricky, as Jane Dávila discusses in her most recent Minding Your Business column, “Artist for Hire: Private Art Commissions,” in our June/July issue. However, commission work can also be liberating and no one knows this better than fiber artist Dianne Gibson who recently created a large-scale commissioned piece entitled CONTINUUM. Here, Dianne discusses how she used this opportunity to explore her own artistic interests while remaining faithful to the requirements of a particular project.
You have been working with textiles for over 40 years! How did you become involved in fiber art?
One of my earliest memories is balancing on the foot pedal of my mother’s old, treadle sewing machine and rocking back and forth. My mother taught me to sew when I was very young. Perhaps she anticipated that I would be tall (6 feet) and knew that finding clothes would be a problem. Mom was a talented dressmaker, quilter, embroiderer, rug hooker, and cross stitcher. Her love of working with textiles was definitely something that she shared and passed on. I attended the Ontario College of Art and somewhere along the line my love of textiles merged with my arts training
Have you always been interested in doing commission work or is CONTINUUM an unusual project for you?
CONTINUUM was my second commission. A few years ago, I created a contemporary altar cloth for a church in Birmingham England. Typically, I work on a much smaller scale. CONTINUUM is the largest work I have attempted—it is 24' x 6'. An essential part of any installation artist’s final design depends on successfully integrating the artwork into its physical location; in this case, the public area of a spacious, three-storey atrium. The work would eventually be mounted fifteen feet off the ground and be viewed from as far as forty feet away. I had to re-think my usual design processes, set aside my normal attention to details, and focus on developing a bolder, graphic design that would compliment the space.
Tell us a bit about this piece. Who commissioned it and what was the creation process like? Were there stringent requirements in place before you began or did you have a lot of artistic freedom?
D’Arcy and Anne Luxton of Elora, Ontario commissioned this work and generously donated it to the Niagara Region. It really was the kind of offer any artist dreams of. After jointly selecting the location for the installation, D’Arcy generously allowed me total freedom to design whatever I felt was appropriate. I showed them some sketches and samples as well as a small maquette as the work progressed, but they didn’t actually see the completed piece until the day of the public unveiling. I truly appreciated their complete faith in my abilities.
The scale of this installation allowed me to develop a bold design. I designed twenty separate panels that interconnect as one unit when installed. Each panel sits off the wall at a varying depth. The surfaces are a collage of machine stitched, boldly colored silks, and synthetic sheers. Zapping the fabric with a heat gun created a heavy texture and the overhead skylights, which cast dramatic shadows, enhance the resulting textures.
What does the work represent and how is this captured in the piece?
The Regional Headquarters is the local, government office, for the twelve municipalities of the Niagara peninsula. To celebrate the diversity of the region, I juxtaposed recognizable imagery with abstract shapes, which add energy and tension to the design. The central panels anchoring the installation depict the Niagara Escarpment: the rocky, forested, backbone of the peninsula. The blue bands that cut across these panels reference the Welland Canal, carved through the Escarpment and across the peninsula, from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. On one end is a suggestion of Niagara Falls, forever associated with the history of the region, a source of water and hydro, as well as the tourism industry. On the opposite end is a suggestion of the area’s tender fruit orchards and vineyards, depicted as an aerial view of the bench lands running down to the shores of Lake Ontario.
Are you currently working on a commissioned piece or have plans to do so in the future?
I’ve recently taken a bit of hiatus from my studio. We’ve done some traveling and are completing some home renovations. I’m now ready to return to my studio and plan to begin with a series of play sessions. I’m a consummate experimenter and love seeing where new techniques lead me! I’m not one to shy away from challenges, but I will freely admit to a number of sleepless nights while trying to work out the design of this commission and all of the details involved with its construction and installation. However, I believe that works of art which are the most difficult for an artist to design and create ( the ones that challenge them to dig deep and really push themselves beyond their comfort zone ) are often the ones that end up being the most successful; the ones with which they are most satisfied. I feel this was the case with CONTINUUM.