Debbie Smyth Q & A
During your childhood, how did you ﬁrst become interested in art? Where are you from and how do you feel it shaped your artistic ethos. Did you grow up in an artistic environment? How inﬂuenced you? And did you study Art? What kind of teenager were you?
My journey with thread began from a very early age. I don't ever remember not being able to sew, it was something I learnt when I was very young. My mother always mended our clothes so I learnt the basics early and I was constantly altering my clothes as a teenager. It wasn't until I did my art foundation course in my hometown of Cork, Ireland that I really discovered what was achievable through textiles; sewing didn't just have to be functional, and I fell in love with this way of creating art. Then I moved to West Wales to study Textiles and never looked back.
What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?
My biggest challenge for sure is a blank canvas.
As the majority of my work is made to commission, I get given a staring point and work for there. I love working in this way as the lengthy process of coming up with a concept is emitted and I can just inject my own style into someone else idea.
I am preparing for a solo show at the moment; coming up with ideas is so time consuming and I struggle with it. Because it is time of contemplation rather than productivity; it is difficult to see progress and I feel as if I am not getting anywhere fast.
Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when? Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
My plan last year was to travel the world and work simultaneously; this is still on-going plan. I have been very lucky the past 6 months to have undertook several commissions around the globe.
At the beginning of this year, I began an epic work trip which took me the whole way around the world, with commissions in across Europe, in China and across America. Before this trip, I had not even travelled on a long-haul flight before. It was a pretty amazing experience working in such cultural diverse locations, working on a variety of projects along the way; I hope it continues.
Currently I am back in the UK working on a very large-scale commission for a high-end hotel in London. One of the biggest commissions I have taken on to date.
Simultaneously I am working on a project to be featured at Frankfurt Motor show.
I am also preparing for a solo show in November in Cardiff, Wales.
What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Starting out just after graduating, my boyfriend and I (also a budding artist at the time) worked from a spare room in our tiny flat. I undertook some large-scale commissions during this time which took over the whole flat. This was a difficult time, not being able to escape from work as I was constantly surrounded by it. We made it work though because we had to but this really made me realize I wanted a separate workspace.
I noticed I could go for days without leaving the house, which was not healthy for me. Something had to change. I got my first stand alone studio in 2010, which was small but it a dramatic change. I loved my cycle to and from work; my switch on/off time. Home is home, work is work. It takes time to find that balance.
Over the years, I have upgraded to a much large studio which is divided into areas yet still is open plan. An office space, work space and a meet & greet lounging space and also there is a hidden storage place for all the unsightly mess.
I like having my own space for my creative mess which is rarely tidy but always inspirational.
What mediums do you work with?
I work in thread.
The initial theory behind my thread drawing work was to transform 2d into 3d. I wanted to lift the drawn line off the page. Using thread allowed me to draw in space. I can transform 2d lines and planes into 3d shapes and spaces, giving me the ability to create floating linear structures. Also I wanted to use the familiar materials of the textiles practice but in an unorthodox way. Having worked with these materials for some time now, I tend to see them as an alternate drawing medium. My process is very material led; how the thread falls or knots, often dictates my next step.
I like to blur the boundaries between fine art drawings and textile art, flat and 3D work, illustration and embroidery, as I feel exiting things happens when one pushes the limits of a discipline or material. If I can keep exciting myself by what I do, I hope I can continue to excite others.
Where do you turn for your inspiration?
My drawings represent the exaggeration and repetition of mundane and almost romantic forms and linear singularities that I sometimes find in urban settings, relationships and iconic objects.
I am always documenting and recording my surroundings by sketching, noting or photographing situations. I can be inspired anywhere, so as long as I make some sort of note, be it mental or jotted down, I can always return to it at a later date.
The experience of seeing is multidimensional. Drawing what we see entails a mapping: folding three dimensions onto two. There is no way to make an image entirely faithful to what the eye, the human brain, sees. Something is always lost. As designers we choose what to lose, what to gain.
What was one of the ﬁrst pieces you made that you were satisﬁed with?
I visited my oldest friend’s house the other day and I saw an artwork I made for her when we were kids, which I had forgotten about. It was a portrait of her made out of screws. When I think back to making it, I remember being so chuffed with it. It was a labour intensive piece for a child, and completing it was a bit of a mission…. screwing in all those screws. Seeing it again all these years later, I was filled with those lovely feelings again. An iconic piece of my artistic career; a starting point and it is great to have a momento which made me revisit that childhood satisfaction
Who are your the artists who inspire you?
I like the approach of these artists and I find their work very inspiring; Michael Raedecker, Thomas Raschke, Anne Wilson, Chiharu Shiota, Janet Echelman, Jacob Hashimoto, Do Ho Suh, yasuaki onishi rice, Robert Currie Anna Helper and Hilary Ellis. Perhaps it is their way of using textiles/thread/line in an unusual way that draws me to them. Any unorthodos use of a material is fascinating.
I am also constantly inspired by wacky shop window displays, urban art interventions and street art.