OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dyan Green

Bailing Hook, muslin and ball pins
6" x 8" x 5"

DYAN GREEN's sculptures are augmented found objects from the early 20th century. They include rusted farming tools—a bailing hook, a muzzle, a harness—and domestic tools—an antique sewing machine, a milk basket and ice hooks. Her signature white, ball-headed pins simultaneously evoke the human decorative impulse and the organic growth of mold, dust and cobwebs that signal the passage of time. Dyan holds a BFA from Kansas State University, a MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a M.Ed. from Texas State University.  In 2013, she had two solo exhibitions in San Antonio, Texas: Colonies at the Clamp Light Gallery and Rust and White at Equinox Gallery. Dyan teaches 3D Arts and Art History at Saint Mary's Hall in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a BFA in Ceramics, but your current work involves modifying found objects with muslin and ball-headed pins. Does your background in Ceramics influence this work or is this a break from the past?

Dyan Green: The aesthetic vernacular of ceramics and the craft world in general are still very much a part of my work. The internal dialogue that I turn to when creating is often the voice of a ceramicist. Ultimately, I am an object maker. My work is still about the relationship between our hands and the tactile nature of material.  

Early in graduate school at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, I realized I needed to explore materials other than clay. I was so entrenched in the ceramics world that it felt like a betrayal at first. But, in leaving ceramics, I realized something really important about being an artist: you have to follow the work and not force it to follow you. I followed my work through all kinds of craziness (laugh), but really all that experimentation was important to my creative growth.

Clay will always be my home base. When I get lost, when I’m seeking direction, I work with clay for a while. These ceramic pieces rarely turn into show pieces, but they always guide me to something. Before I did my most recent body of work, I made a few thousand clay beads. Just rolling clay balls and poking a hole through them. I liked to make them and run my hand through piles of them. Then I started playing with ball pins.


What was the first work you made with the white, ball-headed pin as a staple material?

DG: I did a series of works on pillowed canvases that used ball pins and loads of other smaller items. Most of the works in that series were explosive in color, but I did a couple just in white, including Drift (2011). I fell in love with the white ones. I liked the quietness of them. So I committed to just working with white pins for a while.

OPP: I want to hear more about the “craziness” you mentioned. Can you give me an example?

DG: Well, I did a lot of experiential art in graduate school. I had a show that took place in a swamp and involved a man in a tiger suit and a canoe—that was pretty crazy! I did installations with swings and also invited people to apply make-up to reproductions of Botticelli’s Venus. These kinds of works were intermingled with more labor-intensive works including a piece where I glued several thousands of sheets of paper together and another where I chewed scores of gumdrops and spit them out into medicine bottles. Surprisingly, more people comment that the work I do now is "crazy. They imagine that the physical act of pushing pins for hours must be so tedious and maddening. However, I find a kind of peace in the process of doing it.

Found object, muslin and ball pins

OPP: Could you speak generally about your interest in artifacts? Are you a collector beyond your art practice? If so, what else do you collect?

DG: Well, I grew up around artifacts. As an only child, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ farm in Kansas. It’s been in the family for many generations. I would go exploring in the barns, the old carriage house, the woods and the creek beds. My grandmother made me wear a whistle in case I fell and broke something while gallivanting around on my own.

The farm was like an archeological site in some ways. I still recall seeing that place with a child’s eyes. I pretended the junk-packed barns were museums of ancient treasures. I saw the giant pieces of antique farming equipment protruding from the creek bed as dinosaur bones. 

I never was much of a collector of things, more of a collector of experiences. It is my grandmother who is the collector and really all of the items in my work are hers. She thoroughly inspected my excavations before giving me permission to use them in my art. When I first picked them out, I wasn’t sure how I’d use them, I just knew I liked them for all of the history they held and for their disintegrating beauty. 

Antique Sewing Machine, muslin and ball pins

OPP: The found objects you work with are clearly of a bygone era. But these objects aren't just old. They represent various forms of labor that no longer exist in the same form: the farmer, the milkman, the housewife who sews all textiles for the family, the ice delivery man. How does your meticulous, artistic labor relate to these occupations that have all been rendered unnecessary by electricity and mechanization?

DG: There is something innately somber in the work. For me, each piece is not just an old object. It is something a family member of mine used. So, there is a personal history there, as well as a collective one. For example, the horse muzzle in Muzzle was made from wire by my great, great grandfather. In other objects I used, I could feel where the handles were worn from work. I could see where the buckles have pierced through the leather a thousand times. I am drawn to this evidence of labor and the work of hands. 

My process with the pins is derived from women’s handicraft, but I wanted to invent my own handicraft. I was looking for some way of making that would be all my own.The pins were a natural solution. They are not only tools of labor but a measurement of the labor itself. 

It became clear as I was making, that these weren’t simply sculptures. They are collaborations with the past. Each piece is an intimate dialogue spoken through the language of objects. My work is quite literally built on the work of others. I labor on their labor. I exist because they existed. We are, because they were.

Milk Basket
Antique milk basket, muslin and ball pins
12" x 16" x 9"

OPP: When you talk about rolling all those beads, I think of rosaries and meditation. One thing that gets overlooked about handicraft in general—because the final product is often a decorative object—is the ritual of it. I see handicraft as a practice that engages aesthetics and labor, but is ultimately spiritual in nature. Thoughts?

DG: I always liked Harold Rosenberg’s essay “The American Action Painters.” He described a canvas as an “arena in which to act.” I ask myself these questions a lot: What is my act? What is its purpose? Clearly what has emerged from my action is a sort of ritual. I think this idea of ritual through repetition has been a mainstay in my work for a long time now. Focusing all my energy into the placement of a pin somehow relieves the chaos of everything else. Sometimes my pieces are work. Sometimes they are meditations. Sometimes they are like voodoo dolls absorbing negativity. It’s also important to mention that I think quite a bit about “flow” when working. I want my pieces to have a fluid, oozing quality which does tie into a spiritual metaphor for me. This underlying spiritual essence is also the main reason I prefer to stick to white. I love color, but it seems I keep coming back to white for its simplistic power.

To view more of Dyan's work, please visit dyangreen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, opens on July 25, 2014 at Design Cloud in Chicago.