Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Erica Gray, Gold Coast, Australia

Erica, a Gold Coast based artist works in mediums including painting, stitched textiles, wearable art and soft sculpture. Initially influenced by garment design and the construction processes, Gray utilises similar principles to produce soft sculpture and installation art. Her art often contains reference to personal experiences, as well as her concerns for humanity, our environment as well as the treatment of animals. The pieces often translate into works comprising a blend of human and animalistic form that is often layered with meaning, through to pieces designed to play on emotions; works that toy with childhood memories and growing up, spending time on farms, disjointed family connections, empathy for the lost, a love of animals as well as the fun times amongst a family full of plumbers.

Her goal in life, as in her art, is to produce works that represent her moods and ideals, from bright and cheerful, through to more sombre representations of other darker expressions.

Erica will be teaching for Fibre Arts Australia in April 2016…go here to enroll


Conversation with the Maker(CWTM) Did you always envision a life as an artist?

ERICA GRAY(EG) From childhood I have always had a fascination with how objects were made and would imagine deconstructing them to envisage how they were meshed together. However it wasn’t until my late thirties that my career path transformed over to a more art based one, a combination of my love for fashion, of art and form along with my own unique style that have all merged into the work I produce today.


CWTM What was your first experience with making art?

EG My first memories of art, was spending time with my mum sketching horses in the field, on one of her visits. She would tell me these little tales; her own form of wisdom, random ideas, and life antidotes. So for me drawing became another form of storytelling, uniting a connection between illustrations and narration, though this now extends to my sculptural work as well.

CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio? 

EG That’s a very ambiguous yes; the whole house is my studio and is also shared with my partner, an architect, so my artistic skills are utilized when I do work for him on occasion as well. My dining niche is my primary work zone, with easy access to the kitchen sink which gets a regular work out when I mix dyes, plaster, glues and paints etc. My industrial sewing machine sits under the window and I am surrounded with storage drawers which I load up with all manner of collected objects. Most times my immediate work area looks like a bomb site and while I try to contain my stuff within it, however more often than not, depending on the size and scale of my work, I end up migrating into every other free space that my partner hasn’t yet barricaded off.


CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

EG In my painting Breakfast Poses, art imitates life with the mornings banter over coffee, we catch up on the days plan. The cat watches as the dog stretches, his legs often woven through the furniture. Mornings at my breakfast / work table are the positive start before getting on with the rest of the “doing” part of the day. Most of my day is made up of one or a combination activities including designing, computing or the manual production of my pieces, but the order invariably changes based on deadlines and my specific moods on that day.

 CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

EG When I worked in fashion I was obsessed with the process. Everything had to be done a certain way so the outcome would be a beautifully tailored garment with the perfect fit and precise finishes, especially any visible detail stitching. Now in my artwork I take special care to display my stitches and they make reference to my labour, my emotion and the character of the piece. Now nothing makes me happier than seeing those stitches all bunched up and on display where once they would have been unsightly. My stitches are the process which provides layers of meaning to my work. So whilst the outcome is the primary important element the process itself is a very, very close second.

 CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

EG Definitely… Although I usually start a project with concept sketches, that doesn’t mean the outcome will be exactly the same. Some of the larger pieces I work on in multiple sections and when these components are finished, only then do I join everything together. There is always opportunity to adjust elements of the design during construction, which I feel helps keep the process much more current and stimulating.

 CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

EG In my teens I begged, borrowed and st…um worked so I could afford to buy my first industrial sewing machine. Initially it was used for clothing, but as my interest in art grew it saw more unconventional use. My sewing machine is definitely my most indispensable piece of equipment and looking back over all those years that we’ve lugged it from house to house, used it to earn a living and to cloth us, it has never broken down and I still rely on it as heavily in my art process today.

 CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

EG My sketches are often a starting point from which to plan the best methods of construction. Although once I have moved onto the production, the process can be in constant flux as I often rely on instinct throughout the development of the piece and these adjustments can range from moderate to extreme depending on the individual piece. My sculpture, Rock Anemone required much more fullness when produced in its larger 3.5 meter scale and with extra rows of limbs and added bulk to the internal core I achieved the look I was after, even though I was initially working from a maquette and sketches, scale can throw a concept.

 CWTM How do you know when to “stop” – when do you consider a piece actually finished?

EG The Simple answer is to, just stop when you’re happy with the piece and the effect or story seems apparent. Although instincts play a big part in knowing when you’re work is finished. My garment Hybrid started life as a finished soft sculpture and later I was inspired to developed it further into a head piece, and then it was again transformed into a finished wearable art piece. So one piece may have multiple, “stop” points as is altered based on developing themes.

 CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is….

EG I would love to say it’s just the joy of making stuff and I often explore happier sentiments with my mix of quirky plumbing imagery, brightly coloured form and anthropomorphic cuteness.

However sometimes when you watch people portrayed in the media doing shitty things to each other or worse to animals. That also inspires me to produce much of my work. I don’t want to be someone who just makes beautiful things as I want my work to be reflective of different ideas and emotion.

 CWTM Favourite quote?

EG ‘Now that I know what I want, I don’t have to hold on to it quite so much’. Though I am not driven by quotes, I can identify with the sentiment by artist Lucian Freud, of whom I’m a fan of his paintings. Maybe being less controlling and enjoying the moment; the process; the objective is a reasonable thing to do. As sometimes just the hint of an idea is enough, rather than pushing the purpose further and further.

 CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

EG Generally I am thinking about my art most of the time; what needs finishing, what needs starting, stuff in the pipeline and other random images and ideas for future proposals. The mornings are the best, when I just wake up, before I have to get out of bed and that’s generally my best time for creative insights.

 CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

EG I enjoy the design and the initial production stage of starting on a new project. Mainly because you’re about to transform an imagined idea into an object; with all the pieces laid out and ready to be joined together; all the challenges you’ll have to work through to make the piece a self-supporting form; these are the exciting stages.

 CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?

EG Get someone to proof read your (artist) statements. I’m happy to admit my shortfalls and in the past I have written some woeful artist statements- I laugh just thinking about them. They won’t ever be perfect, but taking the extra time to check your wording can make such a difference to the interpretation of the work.

 CWTM Worst advice you’ve ever received?

EG You can’t do that! However the worse advice can often turn out to be the best incentive and make you strive even harder to reach your goals.

 CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?

EG I’m very inspired by music, visual media, socially synced and inventive thinkers. I also love clever and witty conversation so would not enjoy an evening spent sitting across from strangers who were too pretentious, ignorant or apathetic even if they were super famous sorts. The best mix of table guests would be those endowed with a good sense of humour, good listeners and those with interesting views on an array of topics. My guests would probably consist of director John Waters, fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier, songstress PJ Harvey, the cast from TV show Broad City, hmmm and maybe Salvador Dali’s gorgeous ocelot “Babou”.

 CWTM What inspires your creativity?

EG I’m very interested in the look and feel of materials; the skin like texture of rubber; the smooth feel of shiny surfaces; the soft textures of stuffing and felt as well as the sharp, hard and pointy components of teeth, claws and spikes. My pieces often reference animalistic qualities while others are an anthropomorphic version of plumbing components and imagery. My recent work often blends together these concepts and for me the work is inspired by an array of questions, hopes and concerns centred on humans and animals.

 CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?

EG New technology is pretty exciting, 3D printers and hand held plastics’ extruders are very inspiring right now. Designing components which are self-supporting, unbound by conventional structures and processes. Currently I am utilizing these new forms of technology to produce new work in my collection of sculpture and wearable pieces.

 CWTM You’d be lost without…

EG A work area; a place to leave art pieces in process; a place to lay out my tools and other ‘Bits n Bobs’ ready for the latest project. Sharp scissors, snippers, pins and needles also help me do my work efficiently and are just some of the tools I would be lost without.

 CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day? 

EG Paperwork, ready an exhibition proposal, document my work, edit photos as well as update my website, research events, spend some time on promotion/ social media stuff and make myself some new clothes. These are all important jobs but somehow the hardest to find time for.

 CWTM Your favourite luxury in life?

EG One of my favourite luxuries in life is going to fabric stores in search of interesting prints from which to make myself new clothes. I have always been a collector of stuff and initially in my teens it was vintage fabrics, garments and accessories sourced from thrift shops which put a sparkle in my eye. Now fabric shopping brings out the hunter in me and there is something very satisfying when discovering an exotic print which was buried under rolls of cloth and hidden from view.

 CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

EG Yes, at a simple level regarding the documentation of my work; storing images and text documents in files on computers makes life so much easier. I also utilise software like Photoshop to edit photos which can often need lighting adjustments, re-sizing or the removal of unwanted backgrounds and now means I can present better images of my work. At a more complex level there is the creative potential available with 3D software and printers, which I am really looking forward to exploring.

 CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?  


EG I enjoy all aspects of producing my work, sometimes it’s the ranges of emotion you can experience whilst your hands work away on a piece.  The joy, humour, sadness and even angst that can surround a piece, which in turn can also fuel me with a great sense of purpose.

 CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

EG Personally I feel the work itself is the important thing, it has the story, the visual, the impact. The artist can’t always be there to deliver that message and it’s really just up to the work itself can speak. 


 CWTM What is next for you?

EG Generally producing more soft sculpture, more wearable art, more experimentation with soft media and printed (3D) media. I have a piece included in the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial currently touring Australia as well as new work at Weswal Gallery and the Lorraine Pilgrim Gallery. For more details you can check out the links below: