Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Art Space Talk: Jessica Danby

Jessica Danby is a mixed media encaustic artist, her work focuses on the struggle between human industry and development with the survival of our natural environment. Both her paintings and sculptures contain areas of negative space that are not really empty. Finding places in nature devoid of human activity is becoming increasingly more difficult. Therefore, the negative spaces in the pieces are cluttered with billboards and grocery carts faintly drawn in, but ever present. Jessica holds a BA from Southeastern Louisiana University and an MFA from Memphis College of Art. She is a full-time instructor in the Talented Arts Program at Fontainebleau High School.

Untitled, each circle 2" x 9", 7,437 yards of yarn

Brian Sherwin: Jessica, you studied at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Memphis College of Art. Can you tell us about your academic background. What did you enjoy about those programs? Also, did you have any influential instructors?

Jessica Danby: SLU was a good experience mainly because of the small size of the Art Dept. Professors were deeply involved in your work ( when they took a fancy to your style/personality...) and it was great to feel like you belonged there. My painting professors, Gail Hood and Rancy Boyd Snee were very supportive- in much different ways. Ms. Hood would call me at home to get me out of bed and to my 8 a.m. class ( far too early for a late night painter) and Rancy was just incredibly tough!

Graduate school was a completely different experience. The chance to submerge myself in ART and history and my studio was exhausting and amazing. Unfortunately, many of the professors there were not kind and did not believe in constructive criticism. It was a "tear them down and watch them cry" mentality with a lot of them. I feel fortunate to have survived the Art Boot Camp and I am still digesting things I learned there. Being at MCA certainly showed me I was working in my studio because I believed in myself and demonstrated what not to do as a teacher.
They didn't get a goldfish or crackers, 3" x 3", Watercolor, Embroidery, Encaustic, Found.

BS: Jessica, your work focuses on the struggle between human industry and development with the survival of our natural environment. Can you tell us more about the thoughts behind your work? For example, what are your specific concerns about industry meshing with our natural environment?

JD: It seems that everyday there is a new plot of land being stripped of its foliage and new construction going up. I have seen so many places that were woods turn into neighborhoods and strip malls- it just strikes me as excessive and ridiculous. I start to imagine where I would move to if I was a wild animal and my "home" kept disappearing. Probably the pillow aisle at Pier One... I just worry about things like that- we can't just keep eating away at our resources without it catching up to us. I have to talk about my thoughts somewhere and my art is just the perfect outlet.

Bird's Eye, 26" x 26" x 38", Encaustic (mixed)

BS: So do you recycle the majority of the materials that you use?

JD: Many of the materials I make my work out of are recycled or organic. My encaustic pieces are painted on found wood (old doors or scrap plywood others are throwing out). The knitted sculptures are made from bamboo and cotton yarn, although I have made a piece from all of my old X-Files VHS tapes.
I enjoyed recycling the material, but the tape is physically unpleasant to touch. Cassette tapes are a little better, however the color is not really me. What is nice about knitting works is that they are all capable of being undone and reused- if I was ever that desperate for yarn!

BS: Can you tell us more about your process and technique? For example, your use of negative space...

JD: Negative space really resembles "quiet time" to me. I don't have much down time in my life and feel overwhelmed with images and sounds daily. My paintings have small bits of negative space which, when viewed up close- is "littered" with subtle imagery. It just reflects how I feel about the world around me- full of stuff, noise, information and trash... there is no real sense of peace just the illusion of it.

Untitled, 48" x 60", knitted yarn

BS: I'm interested in your soft sculpture works. Can you tell us more about those specific pieces? What are your thoughts behind them?

JD: I really wonder if I didn't just want an excuse to knit more when I started the pieces. The actual process of knitting is so great- once I am through with sketches and watercolors of what the sculpture will look like, I get at least 100 hours of "mindless" work with my hands. After my first sculpture I started to see an influence of Andy Goldsworthy in my work. I am glad studying him helped me figure out a way to be a little more zen with my sculptures.
The idea behind all of my soft sculptures has been to try and simplify my work. I have so many layers, physically and conceptually, of meaning behind the encaustic pieces, I just gave myself the task of thinking only of a few basic elements. Concentrating on form, color and texture resulted in the wall sculptures. The simplicity made me nervous at first, but I am pleased with the product.

BS: Your husband is the sculptor Eric Danby... have the two of you collaborated on any projects? Is there an exchange of ideas? Critiques?

JD: Eric and I went to SLU together and we attempted to do a couple collaborative paintings. The end result was always the same- we always painted over everything the other one had done. It was really funny. Eric is amazing when it comes to critiques though. He always seems to see my vision and sometimes even sees it more clearly than I do. I rarely hang a piece without his nod of approval! At the moment- we are working on our first collaborative sculpture- a baby due in January!
Weekly Shopping, 3" x 6", Encaustic, Found Grocery List
BS: What are you working on at this time? Will you be involved with any exhibits in the near future?

JD: I am working on a ceiling hung sculpture made from a mixture of knitting and encaustic for the Art Melt coming up in July. The Art Melt is an annual juried art show in Baton Rouge which does a great job showcasing artists from Louisiana.
I have also promised the Make it Right Foundation in New Orleans an encaustic painting for each new house they build. The foundation is rebuilding in the 9th Ward- which still looks like it did the day after Katrina. I really should go back to work right now...

BS: Finally, you are a full-time teacher in the Talented Arts Program at Fontainebleau High School... would you like to close this interview by saying a few words about your students and the program?

JD: Thanks so much for asking about my students! The Talented Arts Program is wonderful for the students and it is amazing to me that there is such an interest in the Arts in Louisiana. Each of my students have such great potential - I am excited to see them progress and it is so much fun to try and challenge them! Their excitement about their projects make me love my job. There are a few of them that are going to be spectacular artists later in life and it is great just to be able to talk to them about art.
Jessica Danby is a member of the www.myartspace.com community. You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page-- www.myartspace.com/interviews.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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