How did you first get involved in art?
I’ve loved making art since I was old enough to hold a crayon. When I was five, I announced to my mother that I wanted to be an artist. Coloring books were okay, but making my own drawings was even better. I liked paper dolls but preferred to create my own and design their clothes. In school, art class was my favorite.
DO YOU HAVE AN ACADEMIC HISTORY OR ANY ART-TRAINING?
I’ve been fortunate to have access to art training—starting with art classes in high school. After two years as an art major at Southern Illinois University–Carbondale, I transferred to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) to complete my BFA in painting. Later on, while living and working in New York City, I took a weaving class at the Fashion Institute of Technology—and I knew I wanted to use textiles as an art medium. My MFA in Studio Art came later, at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where I had an opportunity to work three-dimensionally with fiber materials and techniques.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Whom do you draw inspiration from?
I’ve always had a strong response to what I see in the material world around me, and I usually express that through nonobjective imagery, with a painterly approach and sometimes lots of texture. Abstract Expressionism had a strong influence on me when I was a student, and it still informs the way I work. I owe a lot to painters such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, and Arshile Gorky; New York School artists Jon Schueler (with whom I studied as an undergraduate), Grace Hartigan, and Joan Mitchell; and color field painter Mark Rothko.
Paradoxically, during the years when I lived in New York City, I was drawn to the landscape—in particular, very open, luminous, deep spaces such as marshlands. Rothko’s influence especially made its presence felt in this period of my work. Later, when I moved to the country, a shift occurred, and I became fascinated by urban spaces, detritus, and industrial surfaces that bear traces of human activity. Ordinary surfaces can be full of unintentional marks that form wonderful abstract compositions. My Jacquard tapestry What We Do is based on a photograph of automobile fluid leaked onto asphalt. But I am also attracted to the calligraphic beauty of attention-seeking forms of communication, such as graffiti on a wall. Despite their recognizable subject matter, Fun and I Love You reveal my concerns with color, texture, and composition. In their own way, they too are abstract.
And here’s another paradox: although I work mostly two-dimensionally, these days I find myself amazed and inspired by sculptures and installation. To mention just a few: Antony Gormley’s rendering of the human figure through cumulative lines in space; the woven forms of Martin Puryear; suspended thread clouds by Lenore Tawney; Janet Echelman’s mesmerizing outdoor works composed of light and netting; and Tara Donovan’s way of assembling humble objects such as paper plates to build textured environments.
What is your connection with the Foundry Art Centre? How did you discover it?
I recently became aware of the FAC through its interesting juried exhibitions. When the call for artists was sent out for Form and Function, the theme appealed to me strongly and I submitted my work. I “paint” with threads, but although my process is deeply rooted in textile traditions, the end result is nonfunctional. Participating in the exhibition at theFAC is also a bit like coming home as I grew up only a hundred miles away, in southern Illinois.
What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing a series of Jacquard weavings based on my photographs of urban and industrial subjects. However, many of these new Jacquards are completely non-objective, and I’ll manipulate the image further by applying dyes and hand-embroidered threads to the woven surfaces. This process, in turn, will lead me back to constructing weavings entirely by hand on my own computer-assisted dobby loom. It is not a Jacquard loom, but it will allow me to work with richer and more complex color combinations than the industrial Jacquard loom set-up permits. I am also currently weaving a series of small warp-painted tapestries on a traditional hand loom. These are inspired by the geometries I see in the landscape. I now live in a former industrial town (it had textile mills) that is surrounded by the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. Who knows where my new environment will lead me next?
We love when weavings hang in our galleries as our Exhibitions Manager, Melissa, is acutely aware of just how much time and skill goes into fiber work given her background in the field. Approximately how long does it take to complete a Jacquard weaving?
My process, and time frame, for producing Jacquards is very different from that of creating my handwoven, warp-painted tapestries.
A handwoven tapestry can take weeks or months to complete, depending on size and complexity of the design. I develop the images from my photographs or watercolor sketches. Designing, dyeing, and weaving are entirely by hand, using a mechanical, weaver-controlled loom. Finishing and mounting are also done by hand.
The Jacquard weavings combine my photography, designing in Photoshop and weaving software, and then fabrication on an industrial Jacquard loom at a mill. The time spent designing each pixel of color and specifying every weave structure at the computer might be days or weeks. After I finalize the image, I provide a completed digital file with loom instructions to the mill for weaving. The speed of an industrial Jacquard machine is astonishingly fast—a large tapestry can be woven in as little as 20 minutes. A skilled technician operates the loom. After the weaving is off the loom, finishing by hand takes me at least a day or two - sometimes longer. Each tapestry is washed and dried, blocked, steam pressed, trimmed, hemmed, lined, and fitted with Velcro for mounting to a support rod. I do most of the stitching by hand.
When you are not creating artwork, what do you enjoy doing?
When I'm not engaged in the creative aspects of my artwork, I am involved in related professional pursuits—marketing and exhibiting my work, networking with other artists, and teaching workshops. I live in a wonderful art town—three great museums!—and love to catch up on what's on view there. I enjoy listening to music, reading, meditating, and exploring interesting places.
How do you connect with people through your art? Why do you create art?
Art-making enables me to see, enjoy, and understand the world in which I live, and to express my response to it. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. What I express is personal, and someone else looking at my work may or may not see my intentions in it. But I believe the viewer completes the process by bringing their own perceptions and point of view to what they see in my work.
Studio practice is by necessity solitary, but I also find it essential to connect with other people in multiple ways. The work of kindred spirits in the visual arts, music and dance, and literature lets me know that I’m not alone. There is friendship and support in networking with other artists, and I also share what I love through teaching others. I like to feel that I am making a contribution to people’s lives.
Betty is the Going Solo Show award winner from the FAC's current exhibition, Form and Function. View more of Betty's work on her website and be sure to see her three woven pieces in the Foundry Art Centre galleries, on display through June 17, 2016.
Article by Jillian Schoettle.