I met Crystal Gregory the first time when she came to install her work for the very first exhibition that I curated in NY, since then she has been in more shows of mine, was am important member the fiber collective I founded in Brooklyn and someone I respect and value greatly as a colleague. She is not only a very intelligent and innovative artist but she is equally warm and generous as a person. When she left NY to pursue a graduate degree in Chicago I could not wait to see how her work grew during that time and as I thought it would be I was blown away. I am delighted to share more about Crystal and her work with all of you.
Tell us a bit about your background?
From a very young age I understood the importance and the poetics of cloth. It is a familiar and common material and a basic necessity of life for shelter and clothing. Each culture has their own ways of making and uses, each with unique series of patterns, colors, and textures. Cloth is embedded in our language and our thinking as a structure or a as a tool. It helps to build architecture and technologies. To my mind cloth is filled with meaning, social connotation, and poetics. Cloth has also been a powerful tool for me to use in my art to think about social structures and feminism.
What was the most influential moment or thing, to you as an artist, in your background?
That is a hard thing to pinpoint. There have been so many people artist and events in my life to form what I think about and what I make about. I see it more as a series of events, a thread of moments making up the foundation of my practice.
If you had to describe your work in 3 words what would they be?
Balance Form. Structure Tension. Material Poetry. I guess that is six…
You recently finished graduate school in a Fiber and Material Studies Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Can you talk about the challenges you faced as a more mixed media artist and the best takeaway from that experience.
The FMS department is full of multi disciplinary artist. All the students and faculty come from different backgrounds, some fiber based and some not. This department was a perfect fit for me because the artist had the capability to talk to a wide range of ideas, works, and issues in artist practices from weaving to kitsch to video and heavy theory. This community was and is full of my closest friends, toughest critics, and the smartest people I know. Graduate school was such a growing time for me, I am still untangling it in a way but am hugely grateful for the experience.
Your work has included elements of construction/architecture with craft for a long time can you talk about these connections and how you got to them?
With my background as a weaver I use cloth construction to understand structure systems within architecture. I arrive at the built landscape through an understanding of structure through my knowledge of many different types of cloth construction including lace making, crochet and weaving. I see both cloth and architecture as structures of building very coded and full of contrast but at the root very much the same. Accumulation of bricks? accumulations of threads, they both build stories and are containers of space.
What is the biggest challenge with your work?Art Making is easy, like breathing. It comes naturally and inspiration forms from everywhere. A challenge I face today is public speaking, but I am getting better with each lecture I give. Your most recent work combines weaving with concrete… Can you talk about this body of work?
How do you build it? What are the biggest challenges with it?
My series, Variation on a Theme, looks specifically at Wall Hanging, a tapestry by Anni Albers. I look to Albers with full admiration highlighting the importance I find in her materials. I expand on her dense tapestry weavings of grids and strips, and create a spatial weaving using the gestural line of an open weave plain cloth. Once off the loom I cast these weavings into concrete to still the gestural action, archiving this moment of reflection within history. Anni Albers is someone I look to with great admiration. I see the importance of her tapestries as groundbreaking and a beginning of a movement. She translated abstract painting into rich tapestry, but did she herself wish to be a painter? How does my looking back onto her work differ from how they were thought of at the time?
What was the last really inspiring work of art you saw and why?
I am currently living in Amsterdam and have been stunned and surrounded by so many wonderful installation artist. It is hard to choose. I also was excited to go this year to the Venice Biennale where I saw so much great work. One artist that I think about often was showing in the Danish Pavilion, Jesper Just. He made an incredible video installation based in ideas of displacement within architecture.
What is your favorite thing about your studio?
My studio is on the second floor of an old office building in an industrial part of Amsterdam. I have a wall full of windows that overlooks a canal with a lone houseboat floating. It is truly wonderful.
You are from the west coast, lived in NYC, went to school in Chicago and now are abroad what are the biggest differences in the art communities you have found in these varied locales? Do the different communities respond to your textile based work differently?
There are so many differences between these communities. When I was younger I didn’t understand how you could group artist together because they are all so individual, but I am beginning to understand how place and surroundings change individuals and form groups. The West Coast (and I should say I haven’t lived there for many years so I can speak mostly from an outsiders perspective) seems to live life and let it influence their work. They are laid back in general and maybe more balanced in work life and art practice. New York is quite opposite. People live to work and have so much energy and passion and intense inspiration for their work it can really carry you when you need it. Chicago is full of incredibly intellectual artist. They are close knit community that shares and supports great art both formal and conceptual. Amsterdam (also have only spent a few months here so far) I think is more comparable to the West Coast mentality. They making great work from a personal place, a place in the heart. They marry easily life and art, very bohemian. I think all communities have been really open to my work and have enjoyed my background in textiles for differing reasons.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
I am currently living in Amsterdam doing research and investigations into the materiality of Dutch lace and hot glass sculpture. I am investigating the techniques, histories, and social connotations of these materials. I am working with a group of Dutch lace makers to hone skills and learn traditional pattern. I am also holding a position as an Artist In Residence at the Rietveld Academie of Art in the Glass Department. There I am working with students, faculty, and technicians to build sculpture, but also talking and developing new understandings of the cultural connotations within glass.
What else do you spend your time doing? Do any of these inform your work?
All informs each other. I see little separation between reading a novel (currently I am fascinated with Gertrude Stein’s novel Ida) and building a new sculpture. I read, write, draw, go out with friends, dance and make art. A pretty good life! I am so lucky to have been granted a Fellowship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship for the Arts so I am fully focused on art making, but in the future I see myself teaching which can fold nicely into an art practice.
Where can we see your work?
I am excited to have a pretty full next few months. My website is www.crystalgregory.org
I am very excited to have a few exhibitions coming up:
How many of those who are yoked together have ever seen oxen. Solo Show December 5, 2013 Reitveld Academie Glass Pavilion, Amsterdam NL
Repetition, Rhythm, & Pattern,Group Show Curated by Lindsey Landfried RR&P will travel throughout 2014 2015 San Diego CA, New York NY, Jackson MS, and Pittsburg PA
Abstract, Group Show January 9, 2013 First Street Gallery, Chelsea NY
Two Person Show October 2014 Roy G Biv Gallery, Columbus OH
Thank you so much to Crystal for sharing and for being such an inspiring woman. Until next time keep your needle threaded!