Jeffrey Gibson, The Wild Magazine
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Artist of the Week: Jeffrey Gibson

Who: Jeffrey Gibson
What: Artist
Where you were born: Colorado Spring, CO
Where you live now: Germantown, NY

Jeffrey Gibson, The Wild Magazine

What was your first experience with art?

So many and hard to remember the first. An early memory was when I was about 15 and saw a Matisse cut out piece for the first time and realized that the painted shapes were taller than my body. I felt nauseous and cried.

What are you currently working on?

I’m experimenting with some monochromatic paintings on deer hide. I have wanted to make these for about 7 years now and never could figure out what a monochromatic painting would look like coming from me. I’m very excited about these.

Also some wool blanket collages and a major video project with The Denver Art Museum, collaborating with Denver local powwow dancers and drummers and some objects from the Museum’s collections. There are also more figures and punching bags in progress in the studio.

What do you think there is too much of, and too little of?

Way way too much unnecessary irony and way too little sincerity.

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What materials do you work with?

I work with a number of repurposed items (ironing boards, iron kettles, punching bags), deer hide, wool blankets, acrylic paint, glass beads, tin and copper.

What is the concept behind the beaded punching bags?

The punching bags began when I was in my 30’s and working out my own dramas, feeling fed up and confronting my own challenges. I worked with a physical trainer who had me work with a punching bag. I was hooked on the whole psychological aspect of projecting your obstacles onto the bag and working it out physically. This happened at the same time when I began to truly respect and understand the choices of more traditional Native American people.

I looked to the outfits of dancers at powwows and realized that they are expressions of their own identity as dancers, individuals and representations of their families and cultures – without any irony. I thought this was so powerful.

The first bags were based on specific people who I have known personally. Now I think of the bags as characters that are each unique but are also part of the same collective, much like any subcultural group. They complete each other when they are seen together. Their individuality adds strength to collective.

Where do you find your inspiration/influences?

My influences and inspiration come from many different sources. I truly love art and taking part in larger conversations about visual culture. I look at what people have made in the past and think about why they made the choices they did, and then look at contemporary culture and consider what I want to make.

I am a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee. This is something that I am proud of but it means that I also have had to negotiate what being Native American means to other people all of my life. My work is heavily influenced by the aesthetic histories of many different tribes and specific artists, how that work has been collected and exhibited, and many of my material and format decisions are drawn directly from these histories.

I allow myself to absorb influences and allow those influences to shift my own perspective on things. This sounds very broad but it is really the best way to explain it. When I make a new work, I don’t question it too much because I know it is a summation of the influences that have entered my life by choice or not. It is often a couple of years later that I can look at an artwork that I have made and better understand what it is really about and how my choices related to what I was thinking about at the time. Of course I do make choices about my environment and am aware that those choices somewhat curate my influences. I pay attentions to some political conversations, to queer culture, to music culture, to fashion, to education, to people older and wiser than myself, and to people younger than myself (I love my students).

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What are you obsessed with right now?

Lyrics from songs I listened to in the 80’s and 90’s. Most of my titles come from song titles and currently I am obsessing over the lyrics to Time (Clock of the Heart) by Culture Club. They are amazing.

If you could be another person/place or thing for a day, what/who would it be?

I would love to be Prince for a day—I can’t even imagine.

How would you describe your work in 9 words?

Beautiful, Unafraid, Open, Transformative, Positive, Demanding, Logical, Fierce, Generous

What is your WILD Wish?

For people to realize how powerful their actions are – things just take time.

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text by: Kate Messinger










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