In view of the upcoming exhibitions and prestigious projects planned, including the Avianto exhibition that will be touring the United States between 2023 and 2025 and the exhibition at MAD in New York scheduled to start in May 2024, we propose an interesting interview with Deborah Kruger, to provide an overview of the career of this award-winning artist and an in-depth look at the salient aspects of her practice.
We therefore give the floor to one of the most active figures on the global textile art scene, who is present in our magazine’s selection of international artists with a dedicated showcase and a selection of works that can be viewed in the online Gallery dedicated to art collecting.
A selection of her works can be viewed and purchased on the AM on-line Gallery
Deborah, let’s get right to the heart of your work. Can you tell us about the works that will be in your new traveling solo exhibition?
My solo show, Avianto, will be traveling throughout the US in 2023 – 2025 and includes work from 2018 to 2023. My production studio is on Lake Chapala, Mexico, where I have a team-based practice and this traveling show will mark the first time in many years that I have had a
body of my new environmental artwork in the US. The show will include Red Wing, one of my mural-scale pieces, seven mid-size pieces and some of my new framed small works. I am excited about bringing my work back to the US, where I had a home in Amherst, Massachusetts until I moved to Mexico in 2010.
On the advice of my art coach, Houston-based curator Peter Gynd, I developed a body of smaller scale work that is more affordable for new art collectors. All of these pieces relate to the larger work and are built with my signature tail feathers.
An exhibition of my smaller work will debut at the Tennessee Tech University Art Gallery in summer 2023 and travel to the Shelley Heffler Gallery in Palm Desert, California in December and January. Avianto will open at the Gately Gallery of Marion Francis University in Florence, South Carolina and run from March 26 – May 14, 2024.
Go to the AM on-line Gallery: REDWING
You are a finalist for the Arte Laguna Prize 2023. Your work was exhibited at the historic Arsenale Nord in Venice. Can you tell us the story of this work and the theme it explores?
With the encouragement from my colleague Doug Winter, I applied for the Arte Laguna Prize because their mission is promoting art with a sustainable theme. I will never forget the morning that I woke up and saw my name listed as a finalist in sculpture and installation!
I traveled to Venice to attend the closing of the exhibition in April, 2023. This was my first trip to Italy and it was thrilling to see my artwork in this important cultural center and also see classical and contemporary Italian art
Now that the show is closed, my work is on display at the Stile Design Center in Brescia.
Go to the AM on-line Gallery: CORONA DE PLUMAS
Habitat fragmentation, bird migration, the extinction of species and the loss of indigenous languages. These are the central themes around which your practice revolves. Where does your interest in these topics come from?
Reading Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ when I was a young woman made a deep impact on me about how poisons, especially DDT, were affecting the songbird populations in the US. This book sparked the international environmental movement and pushed me onto the path of becoming an environmental artist.
Researching and drawing endangered birds has become the backbone of my art practice. I use the drawings to create the designs that are hand silk-screened onto recycled plastic bags. My signature tail feathers used for building all of my artwork: wall-hung pieces, sculptures, and installations. Choosing to use recycled materials is also an important aspect of my work because it brings attention to the waste and consumption that contribute to pollution and habitat fragmentation. These factors, along with climate change, are all responsible for the alarming drop in worldwide bird populations.
In the course of doing research about endangered birds, I also learned that the issues affecting bird populations were also impacting indigenous cultures around the world. There are currently 7,000 languages spoken around the world. However, only 3,000 will remain by 2100. I feel very sad when I think about this dramatic loss of indigenous history, culture, knowledge and art. My hope is that my artwork spurs more conversation about the ways that each of us can shrink our footprint and take steps to preserve our precious planet. To see my bird drawings: : https://deborahkruger.com/the-latin-american-collection/
Which cultures and traditions influence your work? Which artistic currents are sources of inspiration for you and how is this reflected in your work?
I grew up in New York City and loved looking at West African masks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When I started incorporating feathers into my artwork, I also researched feathered ritual objects from indigenous Amazonian tribes. I think you can see the influence of both of these cultures for whom beautiful, locally sourced ritual objects were central to their art and spiritual practice.
I was trained in textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and my interest in women’s clothing, especially traditional clothing, has persisted throughout my life. I have an ongoing series inspired by traditional women’s garments such as Kimono from Japan and Korea, and the Huipil, still worn in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala.
Let me say that I believe that artwork is a product of our early experiences as well as the art that we were exposed to early in life. I don’t think we can escape who we essentially are. In my case, the content and form of my work is clearly impacted by these exposures, specifically textiles, patterning, ecology and women’s garments.
I am inspired by artists who push the boundaries of their materials, especially in fiber, and go on to create new forms. Some of my favorite artists are Olga de Amaral from Colombia, Magdalena Abakanowicz from Poland, Nick Cave from the US and El Anatsui from Ghana.
Can you tell us about the process of research and experimentation on techniques and materials that is an important aspect of your practice? How do the characteristics and identity of the materials you use influence the final work? Is the material only a medium or does it somehow become an integral part of the narrative?
I am always looking for ways that materials can also speak to my themes. By using recycled plastic bags, I am conveying information about the relentless consumption that is at the root of the environmental crises we are facing. Giving the material a chance to speak allows for a more nuanced end product. My work has morphed from literal textiles to art that falls within the scope of textility and abstraction. Sometimes viewers think that my tail feathers are fiber or paper and are surprised to encounter plastic. That the feathers still read as textiles is very satisfying to me.
When I transitioned from fiber to recycled materials, I did so with the intention of finding a visual solution that was more integrated with my content. I experimented with digital printing on alternative surfaces. Although I liked the quality of the images, I realized that the crankiness of the digital printers would not be a good solution for my need to produce thousands of feathers.
Go to the AM on-line Gallery: RED VESSEL
In the end, going back to a hand process like silk-screen printing felt right and also like a homecoming. When I was a young textile designer, we did all our samples via silk screening. Choosing this method checked off a lot of boxes. Hand screen-printing was part of my early design background. It is a skill that I can share with my Mexican team so that they have a bigger employment toolbox. Preserving culture is central to my overall themes. Bringing screen-printing back into my studio practice is a way to preserve these skills that are waning due to the advent of large-scale digital printing factories.
In a sense, all of my work is about extinction. Not just birds and languages, but also clothing forms and technical processes.
As you will read in another part of this interview, working in different media and materials is both challenging and energizing. In addition to textiles and recycled materials, I have also worked with ceramics and plan to explore 3-D printing, neon and extruded metals. Each media allows me to express my themes in an exciting and new way.
Is there a project, a work that is in your thoughts that you have not yet had a chance to realise?
I have two projects that have been rumbling around for a few years. One of them is a neon wall installation that addresses bird extinction. The other is a public art sculpture shaped like a birdcage. Instead of bars, the cage would be made from simplified drawings of endangered birds fabricated from aluminum, steel or 3-D printing. I am excited about using other media to express my environmental concerns. Both of these will require funding and I am applying for grants. I welcome additional support through my Patron page: just press the Support button the bottom of my landing page. I would be most grateful for donations of any amount!
Looking back into the past, how do you feel your work has changed from the beginning until today? Do you feel that there are significant stylistic or conceptual differences between your early work and your more recent work?
In some ways, I think that there is a consistent arc to my artwork. Viewers can see how my experience in wallpaper design flowed into my artwork as well as a preference for working in fiber and textiles dating back to the 1980s. By the late 1990s, feathers starting appearing and marked the beginning of my environmental work.
When I was younger, my work was more narrative and figurative. Issues that were hot in my youth like feminism and spirituality were apparent. I think that my mature work includes those elements but in a more abstract and subtle way. My art practice has also matured and working with a team of Mexican women is evidence of my ongoing commitment to helping women.
I am a deeply spiritual person. Instead of making art about spirituality, I now make art in an intentional and spiritual way. I consider my studio a sacred space and feel deeply grateful to have the time, space, finances and help I need to make museum-scale work.
Viewers can see portfolios of my early work on my website: https://deborahkruger.com/2003-2009/
In 2012 you founded 360 Xochi Quetzal, an artist residency program based in Chapala, Mexico. Can you tell us about this project of which you are the director, how it came about and why, what results it is achieving and how you hope it will grow?
When I was a young artist and a young mother, I had the opportunity to attend the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, NY as their first fiber artist. For the first time in my life, I had the chance to focus on my artwork for an entire month. It changed everything! When I moved to Mexico, I realized that Lake Chapala would make an ideal place for a residency because of the perfect year-round weather and beautiful scenery.
Go to the AM on-line Gallery: DEBORAH KRUGER
Over the last eleven years, over 300 artists and writers have attended the residency. Most stay for a month, some longer. What I never anticipated was that some of the artists fell in love with Chapala and have moved here. We are now seeing a year-round artist community grow and flourish. The local artists enrich the experience of the resident artists and vice versa.
This year, I have begun a collaboration with textile and performance artist Sunya Folayam. Sunya came for a two-month residency and decided to make Chapala her home. We offered our first BIPOC residency in Spring 2023 (for Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in order to extend the residency to creatives for whom this opportunity hasn’t been possible.
I am happy to report that I have just sold the residency to a friend and colleague, Bethany Anne Putnam. She is already an administrative powerhouse and is the outgoing president of the Art Association of Lake Chapala where she has implemented a wide range of art-related programming which will enrich the residency program. 360 Xochi Quetzal is in excellent hands and I have more time to devote to my growing international art practice.
The Museum of Art and Design (MAD) in New York City has just acquired two of my large environmental pieces, Accidentals and Ropa Pintada. This is a dream come true and is sure to open more doors for my artwork. These pieces will be on display at MAD beginning in May 2024 as part of their upcoming exhibition featuring new acquisitions.
After a long hiatus due to Covid, the World of Threads exhibition, which is the largest fiber exhibit in North America re-opens in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto, Canada in October 2023. Devotional, my largest mural and part of my White Series, will be on display.
Go to the AM on-line Gallery: KIMONO 2
Art Website: https://deborahkruger.com
Merch Website: https://deborahkrugerdesigns.com/
Artist Residency Website: https://360xochiquetzal.com/
AM Artists Selection: https://www.artemorbida.com/artists-selection/?lang=en