Artist of the Week: Jade Walker

Jade Walker is an artist living and working in Austin, Texas.  She received her BFA from the University of Florida and her MFA from the University of Texas at Austin.  Her work has been exhibited throughout Texas and the southeast.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. My wonderful day job is as director of the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art + Art History at the University of Texas at Austin.  The gallery promotes contemporary art by hosting over 18 exhibitions annually, lots of public programs, and an artist residency.  What a lucky lady I am to love my job, which allows so much interaction with artists that I find interesting and projects that are so dynamic.  I also have a rigorous studio practice that keeps me busy.  I recently built a new studio and the work is expanding with the extra space.  My husband is an artist as well and we just gave birth to our first little artist baby (August Hawkins Boland) on 9/10/11.  Add yoga, fiction reading, and lots of travel and that is me.      

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? My practice is a mixture between an exploration of materials (fabric, rubber, found objects, crusty old paints, tool-dip and whatever else I can get my hands on) and my desire to reproduce the human body.  I am interested in the mechanics of gender both physically and symbolically and that interest patinas the work as well.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? Materials are the catalyst in so many of my works.  Many times, a found or recycled object is the first material.  I love to reconstruct this first piece by adding a new skin of fabric, fur, leather, or paint.  This reworking of a slightly recognizable piece is then the central form that I build around.  I adhere to a set of parameters in the process as well, such as using each and every part of the initial object or limiting my palette to a specific set of tones.  I like the process or rethinking each nut and bolt and how to recreate them to fit the piece.

What kinds of things are influencing your work right now? I very recently gave birth to our first child with a midwife at home and have found a new application for my body.  In my work, I have always been intrigued by the female body and am inspired by my new sense of understanding around its capabilities.

I am also recently home from three long trips to Japan and am still pumped about the landscape, culture and textiles from those visits.  So many small tokens of Japanese traditions have found their way into the new work.

At the gallery, we are working on a project with artist Diana Al-Hadid and visits with her here in Austin and in her studio in NY have been on my mind in the studio as well.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I completed an installation for the Texas Biennial at Blue Star Contemporary Art in San Antonio, titled Quadripoise, a few months ago that has fed into a large installation I am constructing for an exhibition in January 2012 called CONTACT at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston.  The exhibition will include several new works that are inspired by physical repercussions on the body resulting from sports as well as the natural process of aging.  I am excited about the intersection.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Last year I had a piece in a very public area of a municipal building.  As I was de-installing it, a woman that worked in a nearby office told me that she hated the work.  It was offensive to her as it wore a neck brace and was constructed from a set of crutches.  She herself had suffered a neck injury that year and she felt that the work mocked her.  We sat for over an hour discussing the work and I explained to her my desire to evolve empathy and not mockery.  It was the most real and raw reaction I have ever been fortunate enough to receive about the work.  I was so grateful to hear her opinion and although not my intended reaction, grateful to know the work had impact.  I think about our discussion every time I am in the studio.

What artists are you interested in right now? I love Margaret Meehan.  Her work is so riveting and visceral….she is brave and I am glad.  I have a constant love affair with the work of Sarah Lucas and find myself referring to her along with Matthew Barney and Louise Bourgeois, my staples.  These days I am thinking a lot about the work of outsider artist Judith Scott as well.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? This may be a three-way tie…. Each intrigued me in different ways.  Charles LeDray: workworkworkworkwork at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston,  Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston,  Lynette Yiadom-Boakye:  Any Number of Preoccupations at the Studio Museum Harlem.

If you hadn’t become an artist, what do you think you’d be doing? When I was young, I spent many hours cutting up fabric of all sorts to fashion a wardrobe for myself and any one in the neighborhood that would allow me to adorn them with hairpieces, hats, and make-shift punk rock attire.  The greatest gift was my mother’s wedding dress, prime for reconstruction.  I find that my studio practice does satisfy my desire to build in this manner, but if I were not making sculpture, I would be making clothing lines.  I guess this is still being an artist, huh?