World on a String
Looking at the image above, you maybe forgiven for thinking that you see lines drawn by pen on paper. Have a closer look and you will find that every single line is a piece of thread stretched between two nails. Some of us might find it enough of a challenge to hang a single picture and to hit the nail on the head, literally. UK-based Debbie Smyth, however, has turned it into large-scale art and her means of living.
Always on the lookout for new talent, we came across her work and were instantly impressed by her fresh approach in taking very basic, centuries old material – i.e. string and nails – and turning it into modern, urban landscapes. The results are unexpected three-dimensional images that are simply stunning. Her work features bridges, streets, houses and cars and mundane everyday objects such as a shopping trolley. We asked her to create a piece of art with the theme “Mobility”. Here is what she has to say about the result, which features the Mercedes-Benz Concept A-CLASS:
“Mobility is the ability to move and to depict this, in a static artwork, I needed to capture time, space, energy and motion in a spontaneous instance. I have always had an interest in utilizing spontaneity, quick time, fleeting-time and uncontrolled movement when creating. By utilizing motion and the impulsiveness of the instant moment the effect creates a blurred reality. Abstract yet recognizable, but not entirely clear. Wavering between realistic representation and abstraction, the finished work relates as much to imagination, colour and ethereal space as it does to the visible world itself. This blurry intersection of now and then creates an elasticity that alludes to the future of mobility.”
What is unusual about Smyth – young artists take note – is that she is diligent, reliable and exceptionally fast. She may be a very talented artist but her approach to work is clearly professional. These days, she is also lecturing and has good advice to pass on. Read on to find out!
How did you come to be an artist/designer?
My family are all very creative and hands on, so art was a central part of my upbringing. However I remember having a “what I am going to do when I grow up” discussion with my parents towards the end of my school years. I mentioned art and they thought it would be best if I keep art as a hobby. Being a rebellious teenager, I decided to follow my passion and here I am today.
Academically speaking: Following completing a foundation course at Colaiste Stiofain Naofa, Cork in Ireland, I went on to study for my BA Hons in Contemporary Textiles at West Wales School of the Arts. I graduated in 2008 with a First Class Honours degree. The Crafts Council Development Award that I received in 2009, was extremely beneficial and really pushed my business and practice forward.
Your way of working with thread is unusual and fun. When did you start working with thread and what gave you the idea?
I was initially drawn to pins and thread because I was studying textiles. I wanted to use the familiar materials of the textiles practice but in an unorthodox way. In doing so, I believe I have created a new and exciting way of working with basic materials. The initial theory behind my work was transform 2D into 3D, and drawing with pins and thread was a bit of a “happy accident” which happened during a lot of experimentation in my final year of studying. I like to blur the boundaries between fine art drawings and textile art, flat and 3D work, illustration and embroidery, as I feel exciting things happen when one pushes the limits of a discipline or material. If I can keep exciting myself by what I do, I hope I can continue to excite others.
We see some making-of photos above – can you mention the main steps from idea to finished artwork?
Firstly I do a lot of research, sketches, photos etc. I then scan all my drawings and begin to piece together compositions to suit the size of the artwork or the shape of the room. With installations, the shape of the space is always the main factor, which comes in to play when composing the artwork. I always like to create perspective and create illusions of depth within an artwork. I then go through a thorough planning and plotting process and finally when I am happy with the piece and the planning at a small size, I am ready start pinning/threading. I then begin to upscale the piece from my plans to the wall/backboard. Plotting an outline initially and then filling in places, and building up density, literally drawing with the thread. And yes, I still manage to hit my thumb at times. My advice to novices: get a small hammer!
Having worked with these materials for some time now, I tend to see them as an alternative drawing medium. My process is very material led; how the thread falls or knots, often dictates my next step.
You also lecture. What one piece of advice you repeatedly give to students?
It’s all well and good making artwork but you have to be able to sell it to make a living. Go for every opportunity you are presented with and get yourself out there. I know I am still in the early stages of my career but I have done a lot of work for nothing, a lot of shows that don’t seem promising and may have cost a lot of money, but something has always come from the exposure, maybe not immediately, but at some point.
What part will mobility play in our lives in the future?
Well I would hope the future of mobility would involve getting from A to B quicker, more efficiently comfortably and sustainably than we are now. I think communications technology will also contribute to advances in the future of mobility. We live in a world that is constantly connected and online, this can only go on the benefit our mobility.
In my artwork, I want to capture time, space, energy and motion in a spontaneous instant.
Speaking of the future: What’s next on your agenda?
I plan to travel and I would like to travel with my work. Hopefully do some residencies abroad and take some time to develop new work. I feel as if I have been just making, making, making for the past ages and I just want to take some time to focus on new work and approaches and see the world. I feel as if this technique has given me a lot of momentum, but I need to push it forward to keep it exciting and relevant.
All the best and thanks for the interview!
To see the final artwork as well as work in progress, click on the image above.