San Antonio artist/educator Laurel Gibson was Spare Parts’ second virtual artist-in-residence for a #Take5forSA project. The challenge: for the entire month of February, post daily on the Spare Parts Instagram page five discarded items that would, at the end of the month, be creatively reused.
Interviewer Laura Carter delved into Gibson’s creative mind with a discussion regarding the nature of her art & the collaboration with Spare Parts.
When we first met at the Spare Parts Pop Up Shop at SoFlo Market, I asked you what you did for a living. And, you said enthusiastically, “I’m an artist!” Who or what has inspired or influenced you, creatively speaking?
Laurel: I have been making art as long as I can remember. My grandmother was a fashion illustrator for a newspaper in Illinois. My parents did not discourage me expressing myself through, sometimes very different, ways. As a young girl growing up in Arizona, I was fascinated with what I saw around me. I found I could express myself in art, in the act of being creative. I used to make designs from cactus needles, flower petals, things I found lying around. I found a broken watch & used it, with other found objects, to make a figure of a person. (This was the first thing that actually drew praise from my father.) I liked drawing & making sculptures as well. What really influences my art is life. I enjoy the process of bringing an idea or vision to life—making it a reality.
When did you first realize making art was what you wanted to do as a profession?
Laurel: At the age of about 11 or 12, I told my mother I wanted to make art a career. Her response was that I needed to practice. So, I did. I was obsessive in a way. Later, I earned an undergraduate degree in art in Arizona & a Master of Art in Ceramics from the University of Texas San Antonio. I like to challenge myself through artistic expression. Though my focus is ceramics, I work in a variety of mediums. I teach art classes at several different places, including Bihl Haus Arts. I take commissions & work on funded projects.
We are thrilled you chose to share your artistic reuse talents with Spare Parts. What was it that drew your attention to this project?
Laurel: About 50% of my art is created from reused materials. Taking found objects, leftover materials, trash even, for use in an artistic expression. For example, used coffee filters (right) or old piano rolls (left). I saw the first artist doing the #Take5forSA project & thought, “Oh, yeah, I can do this. The most challenging aspect was finding those five items for each day in February, was working it into my teaching schedule etc.” When I took a vacation to Padre Island, I picked up some interesting materials on the beach.
To someone who asks, “Just what are these #Take5forSA pieces used for?” Well, Gibson made unique refrigerator magnets. Great idea! We say it’s a plus the materials are no longer litter or in the landfill.
What might be some of your next artistic challenges?
Laurel: What really drives me is making something impossible happen. I have a commissioned project rolling around in my mind. When I work on a project, I like to remain “ignorant” of what other artists have done with similar challenges so I can get my own inspiration. I think I’d like to get back to ceramics for a bit. I’d like to do more collaboration with Spare Parts as well.
Spare Parts embarked on its first virtual artist-in-residence project this year: #Take5forSA. The challenge: for a month, post on the Spare Parts Instagram page five discarded items daily that could be creatively reused. At the end of the month, she/he/they create(s) something. The goal of #Take5forSA is to work with our creative community to educate San Antonians about the responsibility we have to take care of our environment & rethink the stuff around us before it’s tossed because there’s no such thing as throwing something away.
Kimberly Garza took the #Take5forSA challenge this September. She not only posted daily on the Spare Parts Instagram account but documented the experience on her webpage.
RVK: What is your artistic background? KG: I decided I wanted to be an artist when I was about 4 years old. Every night I sat with my grandmother to watch Mexican Novelas, around that time there was a commercial for a retrospective exhibition in Mexico City of Pablo Picasso’s work. The images in those brief moments entranced me. When my grandmother told me about him & his work, I decided I wanted to paint “Picasso’s de Picasso.” From that moment on I was obsessed; I experimented with drawing & taught myself how to paint with watercolors & a “How to paint landscapes” book I received for Christmas one year & watching Bob Ross after school. My family encouraged me & I had some great teachers along the way, & to my mothers surprise, I never grew out of it. I studied art formally at the Laredo Community College & was lucky to be around some like minded artists & professors. I transferred to UT-San Antonio but did not finish right away. About a year before I was scheduled to finish my BFA, I moved to Spain. It was not until some years later when I moved back, with my daughter (born in Spain) by my side that I returned to finish the BFA with a concentration in Painting. It was not possible for me to go away to pursue my MFA so I did some research & found a graduate program I felt I could somehow incorporate my passion in art making with research & education. After another life “pause” & almost giving up, I returned & finished my Masters in Bicultural Bilingual Studies with a concentration in Bicultural Studies. Although not traditionally an “art” program, I incorporated my painting into the research process & produced a series of paintings that went hand in hand with my more traditional thesis. Currently, I am in the process of getting a teaching certification in Art. There have been many life “pauses” & that has translated into sacrificing my passion to support myself & my daughter. For the past nine years my work experience is centered on social work which has helped expand my vision but my artistic career is not as consistent as I would like, but I have never given up, I find ways to incorporate my passion in everything I do through teaching, curating & occasionally showing my work.
RVK: Who are some of your major influences in both your daily & artistic life? KG: I have many influences, some temporary & some enduring. My grandmother is one of the strongest influences in my life, she was not an artist but she was a teacher & her stories about history & literature provide endless inspiration for the themes in my work. I miss her every day & perhaps now that she is gone I find myself remembering those conversations & expressing them visually. She taught me to be strong & to never give up on my dream. Traditional influences include, well of course Picasso, but perhaps more specifically Van Gogh, Dali, Remedios Varo & other artists from the surrealist movement, I love German expressionists & the elegance of design that resulted from the Bauhaus. European influences are inevitable given that is the bulk of most art programs, but on my own time I have always looked to my roots. Travel to Mexico was a big part of my life growing up so Mesoamerican art has always fascinated me, bringing all those visual worlds together fuels my creative process. But it all comes down to love, love is the emotion that influences my daily & artistic life and it is the fuel that keeps me creating.
RVK: Where is your favorite place to find creative inspiration? KG: I do not have a favorite place, but perhaps my favorite “space” is in my memories & daily experiences. I do the most thinking when I am driving or cooking, & although it seems I am distracted it is when I can focus the most & can plan out creative projects or resolve existing creative problems. Right now the literal place to create, sketch, paint or do anything creative is in the front room of my house where I keep a “studio” aka the dining room of the house. I love our little home but it is small so I make the best use of the space. My home is an expression of my heart & my heart is intertwined with art, it is impossible to separate these elements, the love I share with my daughter, friends & family are what inspire me, so it is a place were I find the most creative inspiration & hope to inspire every person that walks in the door to be creative!
RVK: How do you encourage your daughter to be creative? KG: Creativity has been a part of her daily life, we talk about art, artists & art movements all the time. We are so lucky to have so many wonderful cultural institutions in town, museum visits have been a normal “thing to do” in her life, as well as signing her up to participate in various art programs for children over the years. I invite other artists & writers to our home that she interacts with, & believe me she has been holding her own for years. She has watched me create, struggle & put shows together. We discuss art so often that at this point (she is 15) I do not have to do much, it is just a part of our daily life. She is a talented artist although her passion leans more towards science & logic, we feel art has a place in those subjects & she does a great job of making connections. Sometimes she will approach me when she gets stuck on creative projects, sometimes I give her ideas on how to resolve the issue verbally or by example (do this, use that, try this) & other times I say “figure it out” & that has been the best encouragement. Creative opportunities are all around her & it is crucial to her education that she learn to resolve creative problems on her own. It may sound like tough love but it makes sense to us, watching her grow up to be the creative smart young woman that she is, well that is the proof that my method of encouragement has been successful. In a nutshell, I encourage her to be creative by exposing her to art by example, museum visits, talking about art (how to make it, how to present it, how to defend it), by keeping art materials readily available & by pushing her to develop her work & to resolve the issues that arise on her own. She makes it easy for me, maybe it is because art is in her blood but whatever the reason I am lucky because she encourages me as much as I encourage her to be creative everyday.
RVK: What is the main lesson to be learned when it comes to creative reuse? KG: The main lesson we have learned…creativity doesn’t have to cost any money or produce more waste. If you have an idea, make it, with whatever you have available, sometimes the process of making something is more important than the object itself. It may be temporary or last forever, but that moment, that creative time spent whether it is alone or with people you love that is the lesson, knowing you have everything you need to be creative right around you, & once you master it, you can never unlearn creative reuse.
“Imagine a place in San Antonio where waste inspires creativity…because it isn’t waste ’til we waste it,” reiterates Mary Elizabeth Cantú, Founder and Director of Spare Parts. As an organization whose mission includes–cultural and environmental sustainability; affordability and accessibility to the arts; community, education and creativity, green-style–Spare Parts engages the public with many possibilities to reach zero waste...