Visual Arts Director, Sebastopol Center for the Arts
From July 28 through September 3, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, in
collaboration with the Surface Design Association, presents Fiber Art VIII: International Biennial Fiber Arts Exhibition, one of many shows curated by
Catherine Devriese at SCA since 2011.
Please share how you became interested in the art world and who or what influenced you to follow an artistic path.
When you look at small children, some will be climbing trees and others will be drawing, painting, making “things” in clay or with paper. I was that last type of kid. It was a privilege to be raised in the cultural town of Antwerp in Belgium; a town with a medieval town center but also hosting very contemporary cultural areas like the open-air sculpture Middelheim park where I played amidst sculptures from Rodin, Wouters, Moore, Max Bill, Meunier, Hepworth… and so many more. I believe strongly that our environment shapes us. That is why I make high quality art accessible to all ages and especially children whose minds and hearts are still open and malleable. The good fortune I experienced as a child, I want to share with everyone.
How does your international experience and outlook, combined with your art studies, support your vision and goals as SCA’s Visual Arts Director?
I studied in London and travelled extensively, encountering different cultures and outlooks on art. When I arrived in Sonoma County, I discovered artists who were very skilled and authentic. I was struck by their total engagement and genuine connection to their work, which I found very refreshing. As a local Art Center, we want a gallery that highlights local art but equally opens a window to “the world that’s out there” in skill and ideas. Incorporating artists from other locations inspires and teaches all of us.
What can people expect to discover at the upcoming International Biennial Fiber Arts Exhibition? (See article on Page 46.) How do you and your team prepare for this major exhibition?
International Fiber Art VIII is a biennial, juried exhibition, which invites national and international artists to submit innovative and traditional fiber art work. We encourage the expression of contemporary concepts when using traditional or unusual materials. Every year we receive hundreds of applications and when three highly respected jurors (Wendy Lugg, Jason Pollen and Eszter Bornemisza) have the opportunity to select the best work of the year, it is bound to bring forward a very special and high quality show.
This year, in Gallery III, organized by Mirka Knaster, we will show “Korean Voices in Cloth: Translating Tradition into Contemporary Art.” The exhibition will be highlighting the ancient heritage of fiber art in Korea as well as its vibrant modern transformation of both traditional and unexpected techniques and materials.
We also organize tie-in events: interesting lectures and panel discussions by prominent fiber artists. Even a “Korean weekend” with fiber workshops and maybe a Korean meal. It will be an extremely exciting and interesting time for everyone with even a minimal interest in fiber arts. Our visitors get “wowed” and always complain that the exhibitions are too short!
It must be exciting for people to walk into a ‘world of fiber art’ because of the uniqueness of the pieces themselves. Yet, making all the pieces work together in the gallery space must present challenges and require a strategy.
I have curatorial oversight of all the exhibitions but have dedicated coordinators for certain shows, linked to their specific expertise in a medium or their interest in the theme of the show. For Fiber Art VIII, the show coordinators Bill Yoes and Joy Stocksdale are experts in the subject of fiber arts.
How to make pieces work together in a gallery space is called curating. We generally take several days to curate: install and display work in the gallery. There are certain basic rules to follow but some decisions are made on an inexplicable, intuitive ground. The process asks the same concentration and focus as when an artist creates her/his masterpiece. We “create” an exhibition. Bill and Joy have been installing the fiber arts show since the very first time (17 years now!) and they know how to handle with insight and care the often extremely delicate fiber art work. Our visitors range from people interested in the arts to established fiber artists.
Tell us about fiber arts—its evolution as an art form and the many interesting, often surprising materials that artists use in their work—including how it ranges from beautiful to controversial.
To describe the evolution of fiber arts would require an entire article. In the past, fiber creations were most commonly associated with women. Women were making wearable, useful, beautiful work: weaving, sewing, crocheting. In the 1960s and 1970s an international revolution in fiber art occurred. Artists in the United States and Europe explored the qualities of fabric to develop works that could be defined as art work. Since the 1980s, fiber work has become more and more conceptual, not only experimenting with materials and technique but also approaching cultural issues by using the medium in its unique quality. In our shows, for example, an artist will use the visual strength of shadows created by carefully lined up horse hair, or the powerful colors or felted materials, weaving patterns that are beyond the imaginable.
You have said that art is related to society. Please expand on this.
Art is a reflection of our society. Some visual artists will choose a hyper realistic reproduction of their environment; others will present a philosophical, or political, a critical comment on the world. Or throughout art history we have seen examples on how artists encourage us to look at our surroundings and our lives.
You were voted Best Curator in the North Bay (by “Bohemian” readers, 2017). How do you feel about receiving this honor?
I was so grateful to be voted best curator in the North Bay. It is not in my “ex-Belgian” nature to boast. I am passionate about what I am doing without further thought. I love the arts. I also love my incredible volunteers who make any vision possible. When we curate an exhibition, we try to give a new/fresh experience to the visitors every time. Yes, it is my passion to bring high quality exhibitions to a broad audience and to keep it accessible. It is rewarding to know that my efforts are appreciated and recognized by the public. I work hard and such recognition makes it worth even more.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Over time I have discovered that every life is so fascinating! For me: Although Belgian, my parents lived in Africa and I was born there. I did a luthier course and can build a violin. I was a rose-judge in the Royal National Rose Society in England and juried in the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Every day I pinch myself and think… is this really the place I live in? The blue skies, the apple orchards, the ocean?… I love California! SD
About Catherine Devriese
Catherine Devriese studied Pedagogy in Antwerp, Belgium and Heilpedagogy in the Netherlands. She also has a certificate to teach adults and young people, 16 and above. Fluent in three languages, she worked as an executive assistant to the Director of Logistics in an international company in Brussels, Belgium and to the Diplomats in the Belgian Embassy and London, England. During a career break to raise her daughter, she became a student of Margaret Lillford (oil painting), which rekindled her love for the arts. Catherine attended the University for the Creative Arts in Epsom, England and graduated from the University of the Arts in London, England, with a Bachelor in Fine Arts. Catherine came to the United States in 2009 and has been working at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts as the Visual Arts Director since 2011.