By Danielle Poupart
Victoria DeBlassie, born in 1987, is a young contemporary artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico. DeBlassie graduated summa cum laude with a BFA in Studio Art, Sculpture and Ceramics in 2009 and completed her MFA in Fine Arts in 2011 from the California College of the Arts. DeBlassies previous work focuses on the idea of using discarded materials to create large-scale sculptures and installations. In recent years DeBlassies focus has been on orange peels and the idea of creating a new type of leather using traditional Italian tanning and felting techniques to improve the flexibility and strength of the orange peel. DeBlassie received a Fulbright Study and Research Grant Scholar for Italy for the 2012-2013 academic year and recently received a Fulbright Travel Grant Award to Berlin. For more information on Victoria DeBlassie please visit her website.
Victoria DeBlassie in collaboration with students from her intermediate ceramic class, McKenzie Genin and Kristen Watt, will light up the room at Palazzi’s Fashion Loves You (FLY) institute with their exhibition, F(LIGHT) opening on Monday April 8th 3.00pm-5.30pm. The exhibition continues until April 18th.
This interview was conducted over email April 2013.
VD: I have been working with ceramics for 10 years. I started working with the material in High school, shortly after I had decided to seriously dedicated myself to becoming an artist. At that time I also became interested in working with discarded materials, such as fruit peels.
VD: At the moment, I am luckily living the dream! I had the great fortune of receiving a Fulbright grant to live in Italy for a year (maybe longer). As I previously briefly mentioned in the last question, for the past 10 years I have been applying various crafts to fruit peels, mainly the orange peel, to created new materials. I am here in Italy on a Fulbright grant to apply leather tanning techniques to the orange peels textiles that I create. Along with Italy’s vegetable tanning techniques — a skill coincidentally developed during the height of the orange’s cultural value in Italy—I am drawn to the fact that there is no other part of the world in which the orange has such an exceptional history. While reading Orange by John McPhee I discovered this fruit’s role during the 14th century Italian Renaissance. This extraordinary period of artistic growth originated in Florence due to the patronage of the Medici, a wealthy banking family. Oranges—rare and expensive objects—were only grown for ornamentation at this time and were reflected in the Florentine architecture and art that the Medici’s supported. Revealing change and development over succeeding centuries, oranges decreased in value cross-culturally as they became ubiquitous. The transformation of the orange from exotic to mundane also metaphorically serves to talk about the craft content within my work. Crafts and oranges in Italy, where both had previously dominated the culture, have declined in importance over time. The first became outdated by faster mechanical modes of production. The second turned into a commonly cultivated commodity. I am interested in the challenge presented to the struggling Italian craftspeople who continue to make products in a traditional manner in the face of competing mechanized industry and inexpensive foreign products. Although industry produced convenience, it has also polluted the environment and compromised the cultural significance of craft. My belief is that crafts will regain cultural relevance out of an increased awareness of ecological necessity. By examining Italy’s dwindling craft-based economy and by creating a new material based on my own processes synthesized with time-honored Italian crafts, I will attempt to rebirth both the orange’s symbolic worth and the value of craft as a way to rethink ecological concerns. I aim to understand craft’s connection to sustainability. I went on a bit of a scholarly rant, but this is my research here in Italy.
About Berlin… I was one of the few Italian Fulbright grantees selected to go to the Annual Berlin Fulbright Seminar for all European Fulbright grantees. I not only presented my work there, but I also was also involved in a juried show Borders with my fellow European Fulbrighters at the Staycation Museum.
VD: Past experiences always influence my work. Of course, how could it not. My past experiences have made me the person that I am today and made me develop into the artist I am.
I do draw inspiration from other artist, such as Louise Bourgeois. Her work inspires me because I love how she makes large scale metal sculptures that are complimented by smaller stitched textile works. I also the work admire the patience and truth to materials found in the work of Wolgang Laib.
DP: Do you often work with students? To what extent do they influence your art?
VD: I have taught before but I have never had the opportunity to collaborate with my students until I met F_AIR! F_AIR has provided the rare opportunity for me to work with my students on the special project F(LIGHT), where as stated in question 1, we will be experimenting with light and ceramics. My students never cease to inspire me! I am fortune to have two of the most dedicated students who are simultaneously spontaneous and fun. I think I can learn from them how to be more spontaneous and fun.
VD: After my residency in Florence, I plan on extending my Fulbright for another year and further developing my artistic research with the orange peel. My goal is to hopefully take part in other artists residencies throughout Italy.
VD: In 10 years, I see myself being a full time artist and potentially teaching at the university level. And of course, I will be in the permanent collection of several art museum and I will have participated in the Venice Biennale several times!