I had the pleasure of photographing Danish fiber artist Grethe Wittrock‘s work in advance of her solo show Grethe Wittrock: Nordic Currents at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts September 12, 2015 – January 31, 2016.
As a photographer, people often make the mistake of thinking the only thing I appreciate and study is photography and documentary photography at that. Nothing could be further from the truth, I am most inspired by painting, nature, literature and music and appreciate art in all its forms. I’m also very interested in why people make art, how they sustain their practice, and what inspires them. I was quite taken with Grethe’s work. She recently moved to DC from Denmark for her husband’s work, and has already set up shop in the fabulous Okie Street artist studios in NE, one of the rapidly changing areas in DC.
I asked Grethe if she’d do a Q&A in advance of her show, and despite her busy schedule she agreed.
LU: Please tell us a bit about your work.
GW: Over the years, I became fascinated with the interplay of the sea, the sky, the wind, the birds, and the sails. Since Denmark is surrounded by these elements and I walk along the shores, I observed all these things. I wanted to incorporate them in my art. So I created large bird wing sculptures, created in weather beaten used sails, which I cut, painted and sculpted.
LU: Did you always know you wanted to pursue an artistic career; how did that come about?
GW: No, actually I wanted to become an archaeologist, maybe that’s where my love for stones and earth and structures in nature comes from.
I guess I could have chosen to become a ceramicist as well, but ended choosing to apply to get into the textile department at the Danish Design School in Copenhagen back in 1987.
LU: Why fiber arts? How did working with sailcloth come about?
GW: Because I could work with structures, layers, surface changes and imitate the wonders I saw in nature, for example the lime grass at the coast.
In 2008/2009 I worked for 2 years creating a large expensive gold wall hanging in a small studio next to Empire State Building. The photographer, Finn Føns, a Danish photographer living in New York, took the official photo of the gold wall hanging. When I visited his home, I saw his large photos of the Danish trainee vessel Georg Stage, with its enormous sails.
I immediately got struck by the beauty and rawness of these sails and felt it would be the right medium for me to work in for my next project. I needed a more raw and tough material after the years with extremely fine gold threads and delicate handwork.
LU: what is it you hope to achieve through your work?
GW: To succeed in combining rawness with poetry.
LU: Your pieces have a beautiful sculptural quality to them – what are your sources of inspiration? sculpture? Painting? books? music?
GW: One of my inspirations is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci ”The Annunciation” where the angel is kneeling in front of the Virgin Mary-and the interesting thing is that the wing of the angel is an anatomic correct imitation of a bird wing. I have had that painting in mind many times when sculpting the bird-wing-sculptures.
LU: How do you find yourself in Washington and how is the exhibit? Are there many spaces for artists back home?
GW: I moved to Washington in January 2015 because my husband got a job as senior advisor on climate and energy at the Danish Embassy, and it was a great chance for me to get closer to the American audience, and a big chance for me to show my work in a museum.
Yes, there are many fine exhibition spaces in Denmark, but the commercial galleries hesitate to take a chance on that area, where they consider my works belong, somewhere between art, craft and design. America is much more open for fiber art, there are a much wider audience and awareness and appreciation of the medium in the states.
Thank you Grethe! I wish you much success for your show! See more of Grethe’s work at http://www.grethewittrock.com/