Skip to main content

Six of the Best: Debra Disman

It's Not Black and White”, (interior/open), Book board, mulberry paper, used typewriter ribbon, canvas, hemp cord, 2021

Part 42 of an interview series in which artists reply to the same six questions. Debra Disman makes sculptural objects from a combination of materials that can be read as fiber art, yet also imply book forms. Her work is  a mesmerising combination of materials, textures, and forms that are combined with exceptional skill. You can see more of her work here. Other interviews on this blog are available here.

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Debra Disman: At the present time, I am working primarily in what you might call fiber: cloth/fabric/textiles/, including canvas, jute, lace and ribbon; and thread/string/cord, along with book board, paper, such as watercolor and mulberry papers; acrylic paint and adhesives. I interweave other materials such as used typewriter ribbon, varnish and plaster gauze into the works---whatever is needed to bring the emotional message home materially. I really have a passion for cloth, and string too, and putting them together. Cloth is truly as close to human as I think a non-sentient material can be with incredible expressive potential, it is what we are wrapped in often, at our inception and end, it can conform to the human or other bodies, yet has a life of its own. I also love the seeming independence of string, thread and cord, the way they fall and become entangled and entwined, without our intervention, just like human beings and other forms of life!

PH: What piece are you currently working on?

DD: I am working to complete a series of works that comprise my Santa Monica Artist Fellowship project: an investigation and response to the work of and concurrencies between the groundbreaking oeuvre of the artists Charlotte Salomon and Eva Hesse, which I will be showing in June. I have committed to a series of five works, in addition to research and learning new ways to present my work.

“Excavation of the Interior”, (interior detail),  Wood, mulberry paper, canvas, muslin, linen thread, hemp cord, 2021

PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

DD: One surprise, which is also a challenge, is how long it is taking to translate my ideas into visual form, and how much concentration it is taking. Luckily, this has been a year-long endeavor. I am stitching text into several of the works, and it is always fascinating to see, as one sews, when exactly the stitching transforms into something beyond the purely the visual, at the moment when all those little lines connect and become readable words that can communicate on another level.

PH: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

DD: I am passionate about dance/movement/bodywork; literature/writing/reading; and I love emotive, thought-provoking, intelligent works on the large and small screen. I guess you could say I love story. I live with an actor, so we spend time engaging with this! I also very much need what I call stillpoint:  quiet time just to be, get focused, and both rest and awaken the mind. Harder and harder to claim, as the world becomes ever more digital and connected, and it is harder and harder to “get away” and not feel like you just can’t stop.

“Forest Through The Trees”, (exterior/interior), Book board, used typewriter ribbon, ribbon, acrylic paint, wood, hemp cord, canvas, 2021

PH: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making?

DD: I drew all the time as a child on shirt, cardboard, or whatever. I don’t remember when it started! I also remember making things out of grasses and things I found lying around.

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

DD: I think I have a visceral need to work with my hands, to express myself through making, and just to make as an almost instinctual  act. That being said, it is still important the work gets out there and seen, so I must have a strong need to reach out to and communicate with the world through my work, which tends to the conceptual. I am able to spend long hours alone just working away in my studio, and also love repetitive work that becomes a meditative flow. I think flow is what I seek, and when I can find it when working, all feels right with the world, even when it is not! I have heard that the writer Samuel Beckett found hard repetitive manual labor a “consolation”, and I relate to that!
If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe to my Artist Newsletter via the link in the right-hand column? Thanks, and keep creating.

Popular posts from this blog

Restoring my Printing Press

I've just finished restoring and assembling my large etching press -- a six week process involving lots of rust removal, scrubbing with steel wool, and repainting. Here is a photo of the same kind of press from the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative: And here is a short YouTube video of me testing the press, making sure the motor still works after nearly seven years of lying in storage:

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times: Image copyright and Mary Ellen Croteau Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage . I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct. Incised lino block, from Etched lino block, from Steve Edwards A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these d