June 28, 2011


An occasional series, featuring an interview with one of our members. 

"Art expands lives, and you don"t have to like it", says Ellen Phillips, a founding member of California Fibers.

Tribal Woman - India(photo by Ellen Phillips)
What are the big ideas that influence your work?

Right now, in photography it is tribal costume, customs, dance, crafts, architecture.  Much of my work comes out of my history, family, World War II.  Themes of Passages: walls/barriers/boundaries/ bridging in sculpture and fiber carried me through the 80s and 90s. 
My public art in the 90s was tied to the place the work was going to be, its community and its history.  A different way of working but one I really enjoyed.  After I finished a large public work for the Dairy Mart Bridge which overlooks the Tijuana River Flood Plane, I felt many of my ideas lost their meaning in the process.  After that public art work I expected my sculpture work to return, but it didn't.  I started taking classes at Grossmont College in the spring of 2004 and have continued there off and on ever since.  I realized that my main art interest was photography - which went along with my other passions: family, the out of doors and traveling.  I was particularly  in backcountry tribal peoples of the world, their costumes, customs, architecture, and crafts.  I mostly optimize selected images, make books of them and frame prints.    
to see Ellen's Dairy Mart Bridge Public Art Work go to http://www.publicaddress.us/artists/phillips.html
Bridging #2, side view

What are some of the pleasures you get in your work? 
Watching it happen.  It's often a struggle to get it right - and some pieces never get there.  But the excitement of getting it right is wonderful.

What is your creative process and some of your creative challenges?
Artists have to work HARD!  Thinking, looking for ideas, developing a series of ideas, choosing one to start with and keep going. Also being open to pieces changing - and perhaps introducing new ideas and series.  Keeping going, staying open to new different ideas, keeping my energy up for all kinds of things - as well as for hiking the mountain.  Keeping the work going when there are so many things to do.  There is never enough time to do everything I want to do - along with the chores of life.
How do you view the artists of today?
I'm interested in ll kinds of art but I'm not looking as much as I used to.  Some of it doesn't look much like art, but I've learned those are the artists to watch most closely - I might learn something.  Art expands our lives - and you don't have to like it.

Bridging #2, mixed media

What is your biggest fear?

I have no fear now.  When I started back to school in art in 1974, I was scared stiff.  I went to Grossmont College to take a ceramics class.  I was already a potter so I took the second level class.  I figured I knew something about clay so they probably wouldn’t throw me out.  Les Lawrence had me making art by the end of that semester.  Before that class I made mostly useful objects.  My art piece looked pretty awful – but I knew the difference.  And he said go take all the drawing/painting/sculpture/art history/etc. classes you have never had.  It’s good for you!  So I did.  Scared to death.  And was lucky to have Marj Hyde, head of the Art Department, as my teacher in a Beginning Design class.  We started in charcoal. I had never heard of it.  What a mess.  But you learn – I had a great semester.  And then to drawing – not very good.  And painting – again with Marj a bit later. A fascinating class until we got to paint.  I couldn’t do a thing with paint.  But by the final, I had a lot of ideas that directly sprang from the painting projects – that I wanted to do instead of paint.  She asked me for 10 small mockups of ideas – and urged me on when she saw them – even though I told her I didn’t know where paint would come in.  She just said what I did would reflect all we had been doing that semester.  She was right.  And of  my 3 pieces for the final, only one
had paint – but those three started a 35 piece series, Canvas Is Material, that went on for years.  I was so lucky to have her.  My first show of those pieces at Spectrum Gallery was dedicated to Jane Chapman and Marj Hyde.

      It was scary when I joined my first gallery.  I showed ceramics (most of which sold and kept the gallery going), fiber and sculpture in different media.  But you learn there’s no point to fear.  You might as well try.  If you don’t succeed, try again. It was very liberating!  When I transferred to San Diego State University, it was a bit scary again – but by that time I was used to being a student, and I finally had some formal art background.  And I was doing my own work with my own ideas.  The sculpture department encouraged everything I wanted to do.  That’s why it was my major area, not fiber.  My master show – Walls/Barriers - was a sculptural installation - a good bit of handmade paper, several large twined metal pieces. wood,  light, plastic ladder forms with writings, quilt batting spiral with transparencies on hardware cloth, and built walls to lead the viewer through the seven areas. Plus heart beats, just audible. Huge amount of work but worth it!

Course I also think getting older also makes you realize there’s no point in fear.


Which artist do you most admire?

Magdalena Abakanowicz.  I discovered 
her work at a fiber show in Los Angeles in 1971-72.  Huge, wonderful, strong forms.  She came to the San Diego Museum of Art with the  curator of the Los Angeles show (I think) to have a conversation.  Her English was poor – but her friend, the curator, could translate.  It was an inspiring session for a newcomer to the field.  It started me looking at the wonderful fiber coming out of Europe, South America and Japan.  It was a very exciting time in fiber.  Magdalena was at the top.  I know she switched over to bronze to be recognized as a fine artist.  But for me, her bronze work (though based on her fiber forms) doesn't have the appeal her fiber sculpture did.

 When we traveled to Europe in 1972 (my husband had a 7 month sabbatical), we went through Yugoslavia (presently Croatia) and through the city where fiber artist Jagoda Buic lived.  I had her address. We found it on the map and stopped at 9:AM.  She wasn’t home, but her mother was.  She invited us in and served us Slivovitz (a liquor of some kind) and I looked at the work Jagoda had all over her apartment. What a treat!  Course her mom spoke no English and I spoke no Yugoslav – but you communicate with body language anyway.  I loved it!.  Our kids stayed in the car through all this. It was one of the highlights of a very highlight trip!  We didn’t get to Poland however.  But I hit every gallery and museum I could find in our seven months.  It sent me back to college - as an art major.    to see Abakanowicz's work go to http://www.abakanowicz.art.pl/

detail,  Wall of the Past
What about the fiber medium do you find appealing?

      In the beginning I liked the idea of working in/on fabric.  I had learned to sew in my teens and for many years I made many of my clothes and even learned how to tailor men’s jackets.  Money was tight and it helped!  I also learned how to knit and made sweaters and argyle socks for close friends.  And crochet.  But it was all patterns.  Jane Chapman taught us to “create”.   I remember my first day in class with my big needle threaded with yarn – poised over my piece of burlap – frozen – not knowing what to do – no pattern to help me.  Jane saw me and said “just begin, it doesn’t matter what you do – just begin”.  So I began.  

Passage #13
What tool could you not live without?
My Hands.

What is your motto?

June 9, 2011

Cameron Taylor-Brown: The Language of Fiber

   Detail from Red Offering/ Walking Monk at the Vertin Gallery, Calumet, MI

The work of Cameron Taylor-Brown will be featured at The Vertin Gallery's June show, "The Language of Fiber”, from June 3-29. This show coincides with "Northern Wefts," the 2011 Midwest Weavers' Conference taking place in Hancock, Michigan from June 19-26. Cameron will be teaching three workshops at the conference.