When I first saw the work of Janice Jakielski‘s work I was blown away by it. It has an incredible sense of color, relationship, and beauty. Her work talks a lot about communication, the relationship with the self, and she is amazing at construction and the use of negative space. When I visited her website I could tell she was a fabulous character with a great smile and when she came to the artist’s talk in New York for Cutting Edge I was SO delighted. She was wonderful to hear talk about her work and made me even more excited about this interview and she was a delight in person. I hope I have the opportunity to meet her again and will definitely keep her work always on my radar!!!
And I have to say it is one of my favorite interviews yet.
Where do you live? Does this affect your work?
I spent the last year living between Roswell, New Mexico and Boulder, Colorado. I find the west to be such a magical place. The intense light and vast open landscape has influenced my color palette as well as my interest in how we navigate space. About a month ago I moved to Massachusetts. I’m very excited about the vibrant art community in Boston as well as the beautiful fall colors and smells.
Describe a little bit of what your work is and your background.
I grew up in a small town in Lancaster county Pennsylvania. My formal education is in ceramics with a BFA from Alfred University and my MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. I started graduate school with a portfolio of pottery and with the knowledge that the pot was no longer working as a vehicle for my conceptual ideas. I currently work mainly in fabric with mixed media elements-including porcelain integrated into the pieces. My current work is a series of wearables which address issues of communication and connectivity. Fabricating for the body, I use recognizable forms and particular craftsmanship in order to lend the pieces authority as functional objects. The forms that I choose are drawn from personal but familiar sources;my grandmother’s circa 1930’s hat collection, Amish bonnets from my childhood trips to the farmer’s market, the colors of a Brahmin town visited in India.
Are you self taught or formally trained in fibers? Do you think this affects your practice, if so how?
I am not formally trained in textiles. I have always fiddled around with the sewing machine but it is only in the past 3 years that I have gotten serious about constructing with textiles. I sometimes think that my lack of formal knowledge has given me permission to break rules that I didn’t know existed.
What drew you specifically to embroidery as a medium?
When I was working in ceramics I had a specific interest in surface decoration as a way to add another layer of meaning to the pot. Embroidery acts in the same way. I am also drawn to the labor of embroidery, I can easily lose myself when embroidering and hand sewing, the repetition becomes a form of meditation.
How do you come to the work of the head pieces?
I began the headdresses during my last year in graduate school(2008). I spent the summer before this year traveling in India, an experience that was both overwhelming and amazing. After returning to the states I had an acute awareness of the senses, the smells, sights and sounds that I experienced while traveling. I began exploring methods of disrupting and enhancing the senses through the use of body objects. The goal was to make possible an exaggerated self-awareness, a break in the normalcy of daily experience. With the body dressings I am creating a threshold space between reality and the imagination. The work is a social experiment of sorts, a mediated event to explore communication, comfort and complacency through play.
You seem to be talking a lot about communication but you sometimes choose to show the mannequin heads facing away from each other- why is this?
My explorations of communication began during this past year while I was on a residency in Roswell, New Mexico. I was living in a fairly remote location and away from my husband who remained in Colorado. Being isolated I became interested in actual and metaphorical means of communicating with people. In Japan there is a belief that we are connected to our soul mate, heart to heart with a red thread. I use thread in this way in these pieces a fragile means of connection. Sometimes the head face apart and sometimes they face inwards. When facing apart the distance between the subjects is emphasized. There is a heightened element of cooperation and unspoken communication that must take place while wearing those pieces.
What is the role of ceramics?
Conceptually ceramics and textiles have many similarities. They are both pedestrian, easily accessible materials. They both involve familiarity and intimacy with the body and many times ritual. I continue to use ceramics for all of these reasons but most of all because I love the material. My first priority is to use a material that is the best vehicle for my concept, sometimes that is clay.
You use a bellows shape frequently does this have meaning to you?
The bellows shape is used as a means of directing movement. I use is because it is functional and easily identifiable. There is no doubt what action I am asking the view to imagine or act out.
Many of your pieces reference historical head pieces-What does the role of history have to do with your work?
My father introduced me to musicals from the 1930’s when I was a child. In particular, Busby Berkeley and anything starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. I have continued watching these films ever since. Much like the action of embroidery the continuous repetition of these movies is a form of meditation, I unconsciously draw from the sets, costumes and lyrics.
Your use of color is very strong can you talk about the role of color in your work and how you make color decisions.
My travels have greatly influenced my use of color. I try to be as intuitive as possible when using color. I am learning not to second-guess myself, especially mid-process. It’s amazing how unattractive some pieces can seem until they are finished. I use quite a bit of white as a way to showcase the intensity of my color pallet. I often add surprising touches of color through the use of top-stitching and interior liners.
Can you briefly describe the construction process of one of your pieces?
Unfortunately the process in never brief! I begin with sketches but most of the work is roughed out directly on a mannequin head form. I do use muslin quite a bit when trying to figure out the trickier pleating. My seam ripper is one of my favorite and most used tools.
My process is pretty fluid, the end product is often a departure from the initial sketch but is always closer to what is in my mind. I try really hard not to work myself into a corner, I hate ending up with unresolved connections.
What is the next direction or step for your work?
I have some ideas for performance that I want to explore. It seems like a logical direction to activate the objects beyond the privacy of my studio. I am also craving a scale shift and have been thinking about moving from the object as a catalyst for experience to installation.
Describe your studio and studio practice.
I am in the process of setting up my studio in Massachusetts. I have a 400 sq ft sewing/clean studio and a basement for my woodshop and ceramics. My intention is to have an organized space but once the frenzy of making coupled with deadlines takes hold the studio becomes a fascinating disaster. My studio practice ebbs and flows, I tend to work very intense sleepless months through a project or series and then crash and recover for a few weeks. At times that I am teaching this takes its toll but I haven’t had much luck in changing my patterns. Like procrastination I’m trying to accept and work with how I work.
What are the challenges you personally face as an artist?
Time, there is never enough time. I recently finished a residency that was all about giving time to artists, it was pure bliss. My transition back to reality has me craving time once again. During down periods in my making process I will eventually wonder, “was that it, is that the last idea I will ever have”. Then, inevitably, I’ll wake up at three in the morning my brain bursting with too many ideas as I scramble to get my sketchbook.
Who inspires you?
Too many people to list, from my personal life to an ever-growing list of favorite artists. I just went to the Charles LeDray exhibition at the ICA in Boston, I found his work ethic and the work itself to be extremely inspiring.
What else do you spend your time doing? hobbies? family? jobs? activities? Do any of these inform your work?
My husband is an engineer and an artist, we met at Alfred University, he is my number one go to person for discussing ideas. I spend a lot of time reading and cooking and even more time looking at cooking blogs. We have a chubby beagle named Kate who I enjoy hiking with and occasionally, fruitlessly try to train.
Give us an idea of a day in the life of you.
Daily activity varies depending on what stage I’m at with the work and whether or not I’m teaching. When ending in the studio at night I try to leave at least one thing started, this gives me a way to be instantly focused in the morning. I am an obsessive list maker but I’m more interested in making the list then following it. I prefer to work late at night but have been trying hard to match my husbands more traditional schedule.
Where can we see your work? links, websites, galleries, shops, etc.
My website is in the process of being updated but it can be found here: www.janicejakielski.com. I have upcoming shows in New York, California and Oregon, check out my website for more information.
Janice was also a featured artist in the current Fiber Arts magazine.
Until next time keep stitching!!!
Joetta Maue is a full time artist primarily using photography and fibers. Her most recent work is a series of embroideries and images exploring intimacy. Joetta exhibits her work throughout the United States and internationally, and authors the art and craft blog Little Yellowbird as well as regularly contributes to Mr. X Stitch. Joetta lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, baby son, two cats, a goldfish.