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Fiona Duthie is a Canadian fiber artist with a unique style. You’ll recognize her work especially because she creates 3D surfaces with different layers of strictly handmade felt. Also, each of her creations represents a story -- either one she has lived or one she has heard. So, each of Fiona Duthie’s works is a metaphor for something else.
Personally, I find something primeval in Fiona Duthie work, whether it’s a dress or an installation. Not much because of the shapes, which are elegant and very detailed, but rather because of the message: Humankind has come a long way but there is still something which connects us to the beginning of Everything. All you need to do is look for it.
And during the exhibition, she also taught a workshop for our clients. What I will always remember about her is her big smile and her enthusiasm for being in our beautiful city to share this experience with us.
And now, the interview.
You are a famous felt artist. Tell us briefly about your story.
Feltmaking is my passion. Generating excitement around this medium brings me the greatest pleasure. When talking about my work or when teaching, either in person or online, the sparking of new ideas and creative directions within others is the single most important thing I can accomplish. The illuminating and opening up of creative doors. I see feltmaking primarily as a vehicle for relating a story to the viewer. I begin a project thinking about the theme and what ideas I want that piece to convey. From there decide on the shape and form of the piece and then the surface design elements I will use, always as a metaphor to tell the parts of the story. The viewer may not always be aware of this narrative, but it is important to me to embed my ideas in the feltwork.
When did your passion for felt become a job?
I have been self employed as a craftsperson since I was 18. I started designing and selling my own line of clothing in an artisans market. From there started showing my work in galleries and boutiques and at large arts and craft fairs. I came across feltmaking in 1996 and this changed my textile world forever! I saw that I could make my own fabrics and textile designs for my clothing and other product lines, starting from the raw materials. Every stage of the process appealed to me with it’s great potential for individual expression. I have always supported myself through my craft, and through the many years of production work. I developed many techniques to make the felt making process as efficient as possible while also creating the highest quality of felt. In 2008, I turned my focus to the art of my craft. I stepped away from production work and used the medium to express myself artistically. This was the very best thing to do at that time and place. I had mastered the practical and design skills in feltmaking, and could now employ those while exploring artistic work. I work almost every day in the studio, and everyday I am grateful to have this opportunity to do what I love!
Where did the inspiration for the works from the Sea States exhibition come from?
I live on a small island on the Pacific coast of Canada. There are many sailors in our community and one day I heard several of them talking about the state of the sea. As soon as I imagined the sea in a state of being, alive and changing, my mind leapt to our own psychological and physical states and how closely our descriptions of those can mirror the Sea States. That escalation of energy we feel from calm to turbulence, both negative and positive. I love finding ways to build in more dimension in my felt work, and this theme provides a perfect canvas for that exploration.
Many of your works are connected to nature and the sensations it gives. What made you decide to take this direction?
I have always lived in very beautiful natural environments. Strong and powerful and strengthening and empowering whether that environment is mountainous, forested, on the lake or ocean. The geology of a place has a great impact on us, like the terroir of a good wine. My nourishment comes from time spent out in the elements. My work usually does not directly reflect nature, but is informed by it, and in the case of the outdoor installations, responds to it by changing with the light or wind patterns. I will often use locally harvested fresh plants as dyes in my pieces, which imparts a connection to that geography and time of year in the feltwork.
You love to explore the different techniques and shapes of felt. What is your next project going to be?
I love the sculptural potential in feltmaking, and don’t feel tied to a particular form as the narrative will determine the shapes and techniques I use. I always want to be stretching the possibilities in what we can do with felt . By merging new and unique materials with wool, or taking felt into unusual spaces as outdoor public artworks. I love working with felt and light, and the passive and ever changing lighting of the felt by the sun is captivating. I am currently participating in an artist residency in the Shetland Islands in Scotland. My work here will be focused on creating a series of outdoor felt installations. These will vary in size. Some being created to have a relationship with the ancient stone architecture and some for interacting with the environment and landscape. Responding to the site and the changing light and wind conditions. Working with wool felt, outdoors, allows me to promote curiosity, encourage dialogue, and inform a broad audience on the potential of this medium, and on the theme of the project. This whole area of exploration in felt is very exciting to me. I’m enjoying having this residency time to focus more on this direction in felt.
If you had to choose only one work out all of those you have made, which are you most attached to?
The last works I have made hold the most meaning for me. Because I experiment and stretch with every new project. The most recent one will encapsulate the furthest point in my creative journey so far, both in voice and technique. The Sea States pieces feel very special to me. They are a celebration of passion and vitality. Clebration of our ability to whether our personal storms and come through the other side transformed and stronger for the experience. The very bold sumi-e ink work gives me so much pleasure in the process, while making a strong, graphic statement. The surfaces of the Sea States pieces are designed to shift and change with the wearer. Inviting them to move dramatically and with intention, participating in the turbulence created by the Sea State. A dance with the elements- our own internal ones and those in nature. Encouraging this interaction of people, their bodies and felt work is a direction I want to continue to explore both in costume and in the outdoor installations. Having the opportunity to meet and work with the team at DHG was a pure pleasure. A perfect culmination to the period of intense work that went into creating the Sea States pieces.
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