Monday, June 7, 2010

An Interview With Darlyn Susan Yee

Does Knot Hold Water I
knotted cotton 10-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 7-1/2"
Darlyn Susan Yee

From hand-tied knots in cotton, Darlyn Susan Yee constructs intricate versions of seemingly everyday objects.

At what point in your life did you decide to be an artist?

I don’t think I really decided. It decided for me. I started entering some of my craftwork into fairs. From there it was recommended to me that I should put some work in galleries and that the best way to do that would be to enter competitions. So I started getting my feet wet there. And that’s how it all started happening.

Is the craftwork you started with related to what you do now?

I started knotting when I was about 9 years old. That’s the one constant throughout my life. That’s my favorite medium. I also paint and have done some paintings that have sold, but I’m thrilled by the knotting and what I can do with it. It’s a guilty pleasure in a way to be able to do what I want to do.

How did you learn knotting?

I was at summer day camp and we started on basic knots to form things around the campsite. We made a belt and a little pendant and all sorts of little decorative items and I thought that’s really cool, I could do a lot with that. Since then no string was ever safe with me again.

What is it about the string, or the knots that you like?

I like the ability to make a fabric, to make a structure, to construct something. I am really in a way hand building my forms, knot-by-knot, piece-by-piece and choosing the knots that will help it to stand up, that will help it to move in a certain way. There aren’t many people who knot structurally. Jane Sauer is really my inspiration. She currently has her own gallery. Her work is hard to find online, but she has pieces in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design.

Can you share about your technique? Or is it a secret?

It’s not a secret. In fact I’m working on a book right now about the knotting techniques. It is a “how to” and has a segment that has some of my artwork. I was really lucky to be tapped - right after being included in 100 Artists of the West Coast II, one of the editors wanted me to write this book. I’ve never written a book. So again, I’m trying something I’ve never done, but I’m really enjoying the process. It’s causing me to analyze everything that I do: “Why is this not working, why am I still doing it?” It’s been enlightening to go back to the basics and find the words to describe what is second nature to me.

Excessively Handled
knotted cotton 13-1/2 x 8-1/2 x 8-1/2"
Darlyn Susan Yee

Do you have an idea in mind before you start about what it’s going to look like?

I have a general plan. I don’t work from patterns or anything like that. I’m an anti pattern person. I like trying to build something. Awhile back I looked at a tree and I said, “I bet I could make that in knots”. And I made an abstract knotted tree that people do recognize is a tree.

How often do you start a new work?

Not often enough. I get sidetracked by gallery work, various obligations, family things. At this point I haven’t been starting new pieces more than once every three months and completing them about once a year. They really are time consuming. What normally happens to me is that I get a burst of desire to complete - right around show time. I pull a few all nighters and get it all finished. I decide what’s the closest and I often have to set a piece aside because it’s not clear where it needs to go next. Everything lives in a corner somewhere and I pull out a piece when I see what I need to do with it. And I always work faster on a deadline. I grew up in magazine publishing and the idea of the deadline and how do I get to that point from here. I have to set my own deadlines in order to get things accomplished.

Is there any separation between your "normal" life and your artwork? If so, how do you manage to keep each in its place?

I really strive to do work at work and as soon as I leave I can put on the other hat. I try and keep it really separate and distinct – I wouldn’t want my employee doing something else on the side while I was paying them.

There’s a lot to being an artist that isn’t about doing the actual work. There’s the website, there’s trying to develop some sort of blog, I’ve been hammered recently, “Why aren’t you on Facebook? Why aren’t you Twittering?” If I had eight arms and maybe four brains I could do all that. There’s a lot that goes into it. I realize that I’ve had accumulated a lot of knowledge about the various pieces along the way. The skills I’ve acquired in my normal life have informed my work and life as an artist, and vice versa.

Do you find that your own life experience plays a role in your imagery?

Sometimes. I know that some of the first few pieces that I created I could correlate to dreams that I had, that I really wanted to flesh out. Not everything though. More of my recent work is just things, trying to represent things and people and thoughts, clearing out the clutter in my brain with all those projects that I’ve wanted to do. The last several years have been about clearing the clutter in my life. Part of moving is reassessing, “What did I have this for? Why haven’t I used it again,” and clearing some of that out, finding new uses for things, finding new ways to express using the tools that I have.

Does art serve a function beyond decoration?

Yes. I think most artists will say the same thing – that it’s meditative. They get into a groove, they get going, and where does the time go? I have to set an alarm to tell myself to do other things if I allowed myself, I would procrastinate on everything else. I’d rather be knotting, but the balance of activities is better for me in the long run.

Darlyn Susan Yee

Darlyn Susan Yee's exhibition at TAG Gallery opens June 22.

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