The Patternbase Discussions: Gillian Tobin

Please tell us about your work and talk about the medium and/or materials you work with. What is your relationship to them?

At the heart of all my work is an investigation of materials and processes. The repetitive nature of it allows rules and constraints to form as well as openness to experimentation and discovery. It’s through the physical act of making that concepts and ideas emerge. I really need a process I can get obsessed with. I think obsession is really important to my work. There is a sort of transcendence that occurs during the tedious process of making multiples, a calm that allows reflection and meditation as well as consistent inquiry.

I’ve been using fabric in my work for the past couple of years. It’s a material I feel I’ve gained an understanding and control over, so I’ve started adding new materials for the fabric to have a dialogue with. Chicken wire, insulation foam, and found furniture have entered the equation now, setting up some interesting tensions: interior/exterior, hard/soft, authentic/fake. It is important to me to maintain a level of truth to these materials.  For instance, leaving chicken wire in its raw state.

Do you feel that there is a message or meaning that can only be revealed through these materials?

There is poetry in the ephemeral nature of fabric, in its malleability, as a sculpting material and its skin–like quality as a painting or drawing tool. The found furniture is something I’m still trying to figure out myself. Furniture has inherent history. It is already charged with meaning. It represents the psychological weight we place on objects, and how our memories and thoughts are entwined with the physical presence of “things” we surround ourselves with. I’m trying to figure out how to alter the furniture while still allowing it to maintain some of its original presence. However, both the fabric and furniture are materials that are part of our daily lives. I don’t know if there is a message or meaning that can only be revealed through these materials.  I think they appeal to me because of their lack of specificity. I’m more interested in levels of interpretation as opposed to particular narratives.

 Tell us about your studio and how you work.

Right now, I’m in a great studio at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL. It’s pretty large, and I’m surrounded by other MA students. This program allows me to spend the majority of my days working in the studio. It’s essential to maintain a rigorous studio practice. I try to spend at least 40 hours a week in the studio. While my work is process driven, my studio practice also relies on drawing, writing, and reading. Material–based works inform drawings that simultaneously act as plans for three–dimensional pieces, creating a fluid method of working. Writing about my works allows me to view it in a more lyrical manner and keep my thoughts and intentions concise. I’ve always loved to read. Unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time to do so as of late. Poetry and literature allow metaphor to enter my work.

From your studio to installing/exhibiting your work, how important is space to your practice and work?

Space is becoming of increasing concern to my work. I used to rely on the wall or the substrate of a canvas. Over time, that became restrictive. Now as the work develops into more three–dimensional or free–standing objects, the spaces they reside in effect their physical presence which in turn effects the emotional response from the viewer. My work feels most at home in my studio. That’s something I’m struggling with right now.  My intentions are to create a disconcerting or overwhelming experience through the accumulation of multiples. Whenever I move things out of my studio, I realize I either don’t have enough or that scale shifts need to occur. I’m also realizing that altering the spaces these objects reside in will be essential to their effectiveness.

What are you currently working on?

My current work explores ideas of inaccessibility, both physically and emotionally.  Abstract forms reminiscent of packages or stacks of books are sealed and wrapped in fabric, denying access to their contents. These forms multiply to excessive, claustrophobic amounts and begin to overtake nostalgic furniture pieces, containers, and spaces in rooms evoking a disquieting sense of loss. The packaged forms act as a metaphor for stowed away thoughts or memories. As time progresses our memories become less accessible, fading into the recesses of our minds. However, some of these thoughts are purposefully packaged and hidden away.

The forms are all similar yet maintain a certain level of individuality through size, shape, and subtle tonal variations. The shiny top layer encasing the forms feels fresh and more precious than stained and deteriorating finishes, which are reminiscent of an eroding thought, sliding between the grotesque and alluring. Stacks lean and rely on each other to hold themselves upright, creating a palpable tension. These abstract forms interact with found furniture. Cabinets that once functioned as a place of storage are sealed off with fabric surfaces that coalesce with shine and stain.  Tupperware containers and boxes are masked in a wrinkled skin, evoking mystery concerning their contents.  Corners of rooms become overgrown and unapproachable, like the most solitary corners of our minds.

What do you do to sustain your art practice and living as an artist?

I have a teaching assistantship at Eastern Illinois University. I teach one section of an Intro to Art class for non–majors two days a week. This has been really beneficial to my practice as an artist. I often find myself applying the information I give my students to my own work. This experience requires me to develop curriculum, projects, and lectures. I think teaching art is a great way to support oneself while constantly having to remain engaged in the creative process.

How do you think the role of the painter has changed in contemporary art?

As someone who trained and began as a painter, I find defining disciplines to be obsolete when discussing contemporary art. There is so much overlap.  That being said, for a painter, it seems there is an obvious desire to break away from the confines of the rectangle, to explore one’s imagery and materials in real space and time. Painting seems to be more and more about pushing the boundaries of traditions.

What is the hardest part of being an artist?

I think the hardest part of being any type of artist is continually pushing your boundaries and allowing your work to evolve. Risk–taking is pivotal to growth as an artist but can also be difficult to embrace.

Where do you imagine yourself and your work to be five years from now?

Five years from now I hope to be an art educator in conjunction with a career as an exhibiting artist. As far as my work is concerned, I hope that several shifts and evolutions occur in the next five years.

Do you have any shows or exhibitions coming up?

I will be in the 2012 Graduate Art Exhibition at the Tarble Arts Center in Charleston, IL. That show will be on view March 31st – April 22nd.  I will also be in a 5–person group show at Indi Go Gallery in Champaign, IL, which will be on view April 27th to May 3rd.

0 Responses

  1. garry noland

    Nice job Gillian. Garry Noland