Conversation with Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Australia
Marie-Therese Wisniowski works full time as a studio artist, researcher, author, curator, speaker & tutor and is the Director of Art Quill Studio at Arcadia Vale in New South Wales, Australia. She is a casual lecturer at the University of Newcastle, Australia. In 2009, she curated the inaugural international "ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions" exhibition which toured nationally until 2011. She has authored two books (e.g. Not in My Name), numerous journal articles (e.g. Literature and Aesthetics) and is co-editor of Australia’s flagship textile magazine, "Textile Fibre Forum".
She specialises in the area of ArtCloth and has created signature techniques (e.g. MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS)). She conducts workshops/lectures on these and other techniques which she tutors at international/national conferences.
Her Artworks have been widely exhibited nationally and internationally and are held in major public and private collections in Australia, Canada, England, Hong Kong, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden, Thailand and the USA. She has received numerous international awards for her printed fabric lengths e.g. Honorable Mention, 20th Annual 'Quilt Surface Design Symposium 2009 Fabric Show Competition', Columbus, Ohio, USA. In 2013 she was nominated as a Finalist in the inaugural 2013 Australian Craft Awards. For more information see http://artquill.blogspot.com
CONVERSATION WITH THE MAKER (CWTM) Did you always envision a life as an artist?
MARIE-THERESE WISNIOWSKI (M-TW) I came from a family, the matriarchs of whom, always dabbled in textiles. For example, my grandmother was excellent at crochet, lace making, tapestry and making garments. My mother designed and made clothing for some of the most important fashion houses in Melbourne. She was also an expert at using computerized knitting machines and was well known internationally in this area. By the time I was thirteen I knew it all I was going to be in theatre or doing contemporary ballet. Whilst I always dabbled in screen printing on textiles, in 1998 I announced to my husband that I was going to elevate him to the lofty heights of being an art patron, and promptly gave up my job as a senior graphic designer, illustrator and art director, enrolled into a fine arts degree at the University of Newcastle and became a full-time artist.
CWTM What was your first experience with making art?
M-TW Finger painting was all the rage when I was three! But helping my grandmother cooking cakes was my real passion!
CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?
M-TW I refurbished my studio in 2012/2013. It now is a professional textile and fabric studio, with electronic outlets, computer and auxiliary hardware, printmaking equipment, image making equipment, photographic lighting, back lit wash trough, refrigerator, separate toilet and wash basin, and most important of all, two print tables, the largest table measures 2 meters in width and 4 meters in length.
CWTM Can you describe a typical day?
M-TW Typically I get up between 6:00 - 6:30 am everyday. Hit the treadmill, take my dog for a walk, cook breakfast, clear my emails, work on my editorship roles (e.g. Textile Fibre Forum and my blogspot - www.artquill.com.au ), program into my schedule future ArtCloth and prints on paper projects - and on some days even get to complete these projects! I normally return to the house by 7 pm to cook dinner and then catch up with reading or return to the studio! Other days, I teach and also tutor master classes from my Art Quill Studio.
CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?
M-TW It is always about the concept. I have created a number of new printmaking and ArtCloth processes (e.g. multiplexing, low relief screen printing (e.g. talc powder prints), MultiSperse Dye Sublimation (MSDS) techniques etc.) However, each of the processes that I have created is with a particular concept or purpose in mind. For example, my continuum of art cycles between - Primitive Art (scratches on cave walls) to Post-Graffiti Art (scratches on urban walls and landscapes) to Environmental Art (the natural landscape). I could not have explored the natural landscape with my own artistic voice until I had developed the MSDS technique for ArtCloth.
CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?
M-TW Art - whether on paper, canvas or cloth - is an imprecise communication system. No matter how it is defined in your mind, when your artwork births into reality it no longer becomes yours. It is now an entity in its own right that others who engage it may view differently from yourself and so give it a greater breath of life than what you have originally scripted.
CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?
M-TW In my MSDS work on synthetic fibres - it is my iron that is totally indispensable (how womanly of me!). For my prints on natural fibres - it is my silk screens. For image creation - it is my drawing tools and computer.
CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?
M-TW I often do a ‘rough’ before I begin the final artwork, since it gives me an idea of the techniques I should use and how the design elements in the work will come together. A rough is usually completed on an A4 or A3 sheet of paper, sometimes using water colors, as my ArtCloth pieces are 3-4 meters in length x 1-2 meters in width. When I originally concepted my Winter Bolt ArtCloth piece, I had six wavelets flowing down the piece. None of these appeared in the final piece since, when I was in my ‘Zen’ like trance whilst doing the artwork it just appeared wrong (see http://artquill.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/self-directed-critiquing-art-practice.html for a more lengthy explanation).
CWTM How do you know when to stop and when do you consider a piece actually finished?
M-TW When I work on my finished artwork, I free myself of all of the pre-planning, I then set about producing the first stages of my ArtCloth in a ‘Zen’ mode; that is, the Zen Masters - as outlined by D.T. Suzuki - have felt that: ‘Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating or thinking’.
In other words, I let all my research seep into the body of my sub-consciousness and do my artwork in a non-thinking but reactive mode. It is important to note that a "no mind" state is not a mind that is in a coma. It is a reactive state of intuitive feel rather than conscious thought. You often hear sports people confess that on a particular day they were in the "zone"; that is, they were in a "no mind" state.
In my "no-mind" mode, the critical but unconscious questions that seem to come back to me from time-and-time during reflective pauses in the stages of the ‘implementation’ period are as follows:
(i) What assumptions am I making about the artwork unfolding before me?
(ii) What should be known and/or not known to the viewer about the concept?
(iii) Is the artistic framework becoming too dogmatic in the viewers mind and do I want to transmit this?
(iv) Is there a strong focus within the piece?
(v) Are the techniques delivering my intention? (Note: this may not be my original intention but instead my Zen "no-mind" intention).
(vi) Are the colors working and interacting the way I want them to?
(vii) If the colors are not interacting, do I desire such an imbalance?
(viii) Is there a balance between objectivity and subjectivity in the piece?
(ix) Is the composition becoming over crowded, too simplistic and/or imbalanced?
(x) How does the integrity of the piece hold from a different viewing point? For example, I often view my very large ArtCloth pieces (4 meter x 1.5 meter) some 3 meters above the piece itself.
These questions are not consciously imposed or addressed. Rather they encapsulate how my "no-mind" reacts to my artwork as it slowly unfolds before me. Let us just say that these are streaming responses that are fleeting in nature and so do not take hold on my consciousness in a forceful manner, but imperceptibly and incrementally influence my "no-mind" reaction to my artwork. After all, is not the sub-conscious just streaming thoughts that are so diluted that they cannot take a strong hold onto our conscious state?
Finally, once the complexity of activity has ceased, I make myself a cup of tea, sit down, sip it and feel emotionally drained and sometimes - but not always - I feel satisfied as I view my finished artwork.
CWTM Favourite quote?
‘Be Brave‘ the rest will follow!’ This was the advice the first Prime Minster of India, Nehru, gave to his daughter Indira Gandhi.
CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?
M-TW I usually do it over dinner and with a glass of wine in my hand, talking about my concept to my husband - who listens, occasionally makes a suggestion but most times is silent and so acts as my sounding board. Hearing me espouse a concept enables me to progress it. At times I wake up in the middle of the night and progress these ideas even further . . . .
CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?
M-TW The freedom it gives me, the artistic voice I can use for socio-political comment - to uncover the plights of the down trodden and the biosphere that is under threat due to the predicted 9 billion humans roaming planet Earth.
CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?
M-TW It came from my husband he said whatever you do, do it with passion and with your head!
CWTM Worst advice you’ve ever received?
M-TW It came from one of my university art lecturers who said “You would create great canvas artwork if it wasn’t for that silly ArtCloth.” Mind you, the piece I created was a burning ballerina jumping into a pond!
CWTM Best part of your day?
M-TW Whenever I sit down, pat Kira my beautiful dog (who accompanies me in the studio) and sip a cup of tea . . . a little bit of "me" time to think and ponder.
CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?
M-TW In no particular order - Banksy, Simone de Beauvoir, Barak Obama, Rudolf Nureyev, Margaret Preston, Dale Chihuly.
CWTM What inspires your creativity?
M-TW Life in general.
CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?
M-TW Textile art is becoming accepted as a true art medium. It is now housed in museums, exhibited in renowned galleries and commented on by art critics. It is a new continent in art, that has many different landscapes (i.e. movements) see Aboriginal batik and compare it with contemporary batik ArtCloth works. Yet, ArtCloth is an artistic medium dominated by women artists. It is the only such medium where men are scarce and not at the forefront of the art.
CWTM You’d be lost without...
M-TW My husband, my family, my friends and my dog Kira.
CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day?
M-TW More art, less administration!
CWTM Your favourite luxury in life?
M-TW Long lunches with family and friends.
CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?
M-TW Computers and technology have enhanced and impacted greatly in my artwork - from creating digital prints on paper to printing computerized images on cloth. Nevertheless, it should never replace the ability of an artist to will a concept onto a medium. Sometimes, artists play with images in Photoshop to such an extent that the original intention of their work is no longer evident; that is, their work has ended as an effect searching for a cause. I view a computer and associated technology as having greater impact than any other process such as a paintbrush, some paint and a canvas. It is the intention of the artist that must always control the process they are employing, rather than creating serendipitous effects.
CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?
M-TW It is in the doing, in the birth and then in the act of engagement that others have with it.
CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?
M-TW Fibre Forums and textile workshops (e.g. Glenys Mann’s Fibre Arts Australia and Janet de Boer’s Fibre Forums) are important education tools in order to refine technique as well as informing one’s artwork.
Art that is never seen or that does not surface is not art - without the act of engagement art is an invisible idea. If I had time, I would develop an on-line gallery where exhibitions would surface from time-to-time. Exposure, especially for not so well known artists is very important and so if one could secure and direct a large national and international audience to such a site then more people’s artworks could be viewed and commented on. We need to create a greater buzz!
CWTM What is next for you?
M-TW More art!