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On timesharing: An interview with artist/gallerist Deborah Doering

Deborah Doering talking about a show of her own work at Finestra Art Space

What's it like to be a working artist, and also to run your own gallery? I posed this and other questions to Chicago artist Deborah Adams Doering. In addition to having an impressive exhibition record, Deborah has run a highly-regarded gallery out of the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, for a few years. This is the first in a series of interviews with artists and gallery owners who reflect on what makes them tick.

Philip: Tell us a little about yourself. You're an artist who runs a gallery, yes?

Deborah: Yes, first and foremost I consider myself a visual artist. I create three-dimensional installations, based on my two-dimensional drawings, paintings and prints. In the past few years, I have used a "core language of form," which I also call "Code" as a point of departure for both 2D works and the installations. My installations evolved from having rented a 10 x 15 foot studio space in Chicago. The space has 2 large windows, thus it is called "Finestra Art Space," (Finestra is "window" in Latin), the "gallery" about which you are inquiring. I should also mention that I co-direct the gallery with my husband, Glenn.

Philip: How long have you been running the gallery?

Deborah: We first rented the gallery in 2004.

Philip: How easy is it to divide your time between making your own work and organizing shows?

Deborah: I don't find it "difficult," but I wouldn't say it is "easy" either. A lot depends on the artist who we have invited to install in the space. Some artists like a bit more input from me, but most really want to be very independent, so most of the time, after the contract is signed, the artist takes on a lot of the responsibility his or herself. Both Glenn and I spend probably 10 to 12 hours per month "managing" miscellaneous things such as PR, contracts, rent-related issues, etc.

Philip: What would you say are the most satisfying and least satisfying things about managing the gallery?

Deborah: The least satisfying is the administration. The most satisfying is making connections with other artists, other art professionals such as critics and curators, also the occasional patron. I like to see intriguing concepts manifested in art objects and installations, so having a gallery is a way to do that on a monthly basis, and that is very satisfying.

Philip: Coming back to your own work, could you tell me a little about your own development as an artist?

Deborah: Where would you like to begin? It's a long story at this point!

Philip: Where did you study?

Deborah: I began by studying architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the early 80s. I learned a lot about the Bauhaus, a school of thought that began in the 1930s in Germany. Teachers at the Bauhaus included Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Part of the philosophy of the Bauhaus was that "art" and "craft" could and should co-exist. I believe Bauhaus philosophy influenced me to pursue both art and design as a young professional, and so I initially made my living as a graphic designer, while continuing to pursue self-directed artworks.

Philip: Do you think the Bauhaus/architecture background has fed into the recent 'Codes' work at all?

Deborah: Yes, definitely. One of my central questions as I began to develop as an artist was, "Why does American Culture call this thing art, and this other thing design or craft?" I felt there was some kind of underground "code" behind this distinction, and when I finally had the opportunity to return to graduate school for my MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my goals was to understand why Americans tend to separate the two, whereas in Europe and other parts of the world, there is either no distinction, or much less of a distinction.

'Code for the Grand River', installation by Deborah Doering in Grand Rapids, MI, 2009

Philip: What's the most successful expression of your recent work to do with the 'core language of form', then?

Deborah: Certainly my most recent expression and, to date, my largest installation, is a work titled "Code for the Grand River, Grand Rapids_09." The work was installed as a two-part temporary piece from mid-Sept to mid October 2009 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In conceptualizing the work, I used "Code" as a point of departure, creating nine symbol-forms, each affiliated with a part of the Grand River's nomenclature. The nine forms were drawn on large plastic sheets, then cut out to form stencils. The stencils were then used repeatedly to paint (with an eco-sensitive paint) a "Code" that was 580 ft in length and 100 feet wide, in a public park. People were able to walk among the "Code" and interact with it in a way that I found very fulfilling and also fun!

Philip: I know, having helped out a little on it, what a visually impressive piece it was. It was part of the Grand Rapids Art Prize competition, wasn't it? How would you evaluate the whole experience, looking back on it?

Deborah: Thank you for your compliments on my work. I am still evaluating what it means for me to participate in any type of art competition at this point in my career. Certainly, I was pleased to have the opportunity to create such a large work in a public space, and I was pleased that the competition attracted almost 40,000 viewers and participants over the course of a 4-week time period. The ArtPrize competition allowed viewers to vote for their favorite works, and "Code for the Grand River, Grand Rapids_09" received enough votes to place it in the top 4% of the competition. I also was able to speak with many viewers about the ideas behind my work, and my ideas about visual art in general, so I feel I contributed to creating a greater understanding about art for the general public. I was hoping that I might have the opportunity to speak with curators and critics during the competition, in order to find more support for bringing my concepts into another type of cultural dialogue, and I was disappointed that that did not happen during the competition. But I still have hope that the work will allow me to introduce my ideas about "core language of form" and "Code" in other visual art arenas. I have some very good photos of the work, and I also have ideas on how I can build on this experience to create other public works of art.

Philip: That leads to the next question, which is: what's your next project?

Deborah: I have five proposals that I am developing now. The one that seems most likely to be realized in the next few months has the working title "Wfah" (pronounced wa-fa) and hopefully will be a part of a temporary artists collaborative called AdHoc. AdHoc is being spear-headed by artist/curator Laura Schaeffer, the same artist/curator who created the "OpShop" in Hyde Park in December 2009. "Wfah," which stands for "Waterfall Ad Hoc" and/or "Windfall Ad Hoc," has grown out of my "OpShop" participation. The installation will use synthetic YUPO paper as a base for painted/printed "Code," this time related to Water and Wind, although exactly how it will manifest, is still somewhat ad hoc to be perfectly honest! I hope to have viewer participation -- Philip, maybe you know of people who would like to come and participate?

Philip: I'll hunt around for some names. One last question: if people want to contact you, either about your own work, or shows at Finestra, how should they do it?

Deborah: It's best for people to reach me at More about "Code" can be seen and read at Finestra Art Space is, for now, affiliating itself with StudioChicago until Fall 2010, and is therefore booked for the next several months. But if an artist is interested in creating an installation either late in 2010 or in 2011, please go to, take a look at past exhibitions, and also the floor plan of the gallery. Like most gallery-installations spaces, we favor well-thought out conceptual proposals.

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