As a mother and artist, there's no doubt that my greatest works of art, the magical moving 3D beings whose personalities evolve and grow each day, are my children. I see having them and being an artist completely intertwined. In fact, motherhood enabled me to embrace myself as an artist --until then I had painted in silence and didn't show my work. Finding oneself through motherhood made me reflect upon my own mother and I made an entire exhibition around the subject.
This weekend, to celebrate mother's day, I found a kindred spirit in artist Alexis Weidig. In her role as mother and artist, Alexis Weidig encourages us to capture and extrapolate on family ties and traditions as the family record-keeper. Using household and found objects, she memorializes her past, while simultaneously offering her daughter, the next generation, and viewers a rich history to explore and a fantastical space in which to play.
Kimberly Brooks: What inspires these sculptures and how do they connect to your ideas of motherhood in this recent body of work?
Alexis Weidig: A number of things in my life conspired to make my most recent body of work. My childhood visits to my Albanian Orthodox grandmother's house in Philadelphia would be a starting point. The stories of many women in my family have also been an inspiration for the work. I have heard these stories all my life. Lastly, I would say becoming a mother changed my life and my work.
KB: It's Mother's day-- tell us a story about these women.
AW: Sure but where to start? I will tell you a story about my aunt and grandmother. Let me first say that my grandmother was not allowed to be educated beyond the 3rd or 4th grade level. Her marriage was arranged. She came to the USA during World War II. All of which are amazing to me. There are so many stories my grandmother has shared with me- most are very tragic. Some are about religious visitation, or miracles, some are about ancient stuff about the Balkan area and its conflicts. Some stories are around folk remedies or recipes and some about love.
My grandfather was here first working as a busboy at Horn and Harder Restaurant in Philadelphia. He was maybe 15 or 16 years old. He worked his way up in the restaurant then went back to Albania to get a wife. After many years of hard work and learning the restaurant business, my grandfather had his own restaurant, a classic American diner. While working, he had a horrible accident. He had gone into the basement and fell down the stairs. He shattered his ankle and was hospitalized. (This injury caused him a lot of pain his whole life.) My grandmother was beside herself. She panicked and didn't know what was going to happen. She was crying.
Then, a dear family member, my Teta ("Aunt") Olgi, said to her- What is the matter with you? Are you crippled? Do you have legs, hands and feet? Help your husband! So my grandmother taught herself how to keep the books for the restaurant and saved the day. Then as soon as my grandfather was able to get back to work she went back to her former role. The thought of her working (or her daughters working for that matter) was inconceivable to both her and my grandfather. However, my grandmother said this was a very stupid decision. She wishes she had stayed involved. She always encouraged me to study, work and have something for myself. This story was one of a few stories about Teta Olgi that inspired the sculpture 'Olgi'.
KB: How have these stories woven themselves into your work?
AW: I think my current work and work from the past few years are informed by my mother's side of my family. I have been naming my art after these women. I am inspired by their stories; their struggles and sacrifices as women, wives and mothers. I make the work in gratitude for all that these women have given. They made my daughter's bright future possible. For example "Xhuliana's prayer" imagery came to me very simply. After thinking of stories of her life, I imagined Xhuliana sitting at her kitchen table late at night praying for protection for herself and her children. The miraculous virgin appears to her covered in evil eyes. Then I thought about how the visions of the virgin appear in art history and in popular culture. In addition to the more personal influence- I am very informed and inspired by art history. Most of my favorite artists are women like Annette Messanger, Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Eva Hesse and many others.
KB: Tell us a little bit about your process. How do you assemble these sculptures and how do you prepare?
KB: Tell us about a piece of artwork that inspires you.
AW: There are so many artists I love. Eva Hesse, Kiki Smith, Annette Messanger, Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero, Ann Hamilton are just to name a few.
Alexis Weidig received her BFA from the University of Southern California, and her MFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work has been shown widely, both nationally and internationally, and is a part of major private and public collections, such as The Broad Collection and CITI Bank Art Group. Weidig's accomplishments as a visual artist, in tandem with her unique cultural perspective, give her work a powerful resonance, ensuing in a suspension of preconceived notions in both art and culture. Her work inspires a thirst for knowledge and discovery, while inviting the viewers to bask in a harmony of rich colors, full textures and pleasing shapes. Weidig's solo show "Small Things/Te Voglat" was featured at Overtones Gallery in the fall of 2007. Alexis Weidig: http://www.overtonesgallery.com/Artists/names/Alexis_Weidig/works.html
First Person Artist is a weekly column by artist Kimberly Brooks in which she provides commentary on the creative process and showcases artists' work from around the world. Come back every Saturday for more Kimberly Brooks. You can view more interviews and essays at www.firstpersonartist.com.
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