Briefly describe the work you do.
Ideas drive my media choices. I have a very deep desire to interact physically with the processes of different materials. Thematically, I have explored personal narratives and memories for the past two decades. The shifting nature of how we perceive our life experiences and memories parallel my working methods and material choices. Images, surfaces, patterns, textures are created, destroyed, veiled, excavated, lost, and found…in flux then fixed.
This most recent body of work is an homage to my mother. I began collecting doilies after she died because they reminded me of her. Painting each one in the collection is my way of honoring the handiwork of the makers. My goal is to create 86 individual pieces, my mother’s age when she died from Alzheimer’s disease.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
Both my parents were Pisces, each swimming in opposite directions in the same circular pool. My father, born and raised in the South, was a career military man until he retired into farming. My mother, an artist, was a first generation Polish-American born in Pittsburgh, PA. She was a person who was very intellectually curious, constantly learning something new, and loved beauty. Our family moved quite a bit when I was growing up. Travel, cultural diversity, and an appreciation for nature were the key life experiences I gained as a kid. Both my Mom and Dad were makers, so working with my hands felt instinctive. I remember choosing to be an artist in kindergarten, why would you choose to be anything else? My mother certainly supported the idea.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice is pretty traditional, I suppose. Having a space to make work in is a wonderful luxury. Taking time to be alone, listen to music, work. It grounds me and makes me a better person to be around when I venture out.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I am an art professor at Northern Illinois University. Teaching compliments my studio practice and I really love doing it. Sometimes it is challenging to be fully committed to both. I’ve learned to balance what I can and take advantage of school breaks for studio time.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I prefer to work in jags. Once I start, I keep going until the juices run down. The cycle usually is a 4-5 day run then I’ll take a break for a day or two, repeat. This is nearly impossible to do during the academic year. I have had to adjust to having several hours here and there maybe a weekend from time to time. I start many things at a time during the Fall and Spring terms, then when winter and summer break comes, I go back to my preferred pattern. Also, I keep a journal, mostly notes and impressions, I have several sketchbooks I carry around with me. I doodle a lot especially in meetings! My doodles are mostly patterns, only occasionally will I draw figuratively even though I consider myself a figuratively based artist. Drawing is addictive, so once I start I hate to stop.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
Five years flies now that I have reached sixty. Material process and figuration has always been at the core of my practice. Overall there have been subtle changes in my work in how and what I have pursued. Still, there are times when I will throw myself a curve in style or idea, which can result in complete failure or an occasional keeper. It’s in my methods to have several different things going on simultaneously, the majority of which is either destroyed or waits for another time. A few things make it out, maybe one fifth of what I initially create.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Everything and everyone. So many of friends, family, students and artists impact my thinking about art, work and life. I don’t think I can select a singular thing or person right now. Certainly, my brothers are my touchstones, we have the best conversations, which can follow an expansive range; art, politics, music, environmentalism, social issues, wine making, food…
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
In second grade, I took to creating dance performances in the living room, using my sister for a partner. We had these really great crinoline petticoats that were perfect for twirling and whirling. One day I flung my sister too hard and she got hurt. It was a terrible feeling and I lost interest in that ambition. Also, for a very, very brief moment in college I considered Fashion and Interior Design, it took me two semesters to figure out I was really miserable in both of those pursuits.
Other interests? Travel, for all the obvious reasons, it resets my mind and opens up my thinking on things. Then there is music. I have taken up the ukulele so that I can hang out with people who like to play and sing.
Billie Giese is an artist/educator whose work explores material processes and personal narratives. She earned her MFA in Painting from the University of Kansas where she studied with the artist, Roger Shimomura. She currently lives in DeKalb, Illinois where she teaches Studio Art at Northern Illinois University.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.