Born in North Carolina, Leigh Suggs is currently living in Richmond, VA where she is an MFA candidate at Virginia Commonwealth University. Leigh is a second year graduate student in the fibers area of the Craft and Material Studies department.
MG- It seems as though your work both begins and ends with resorting back to your memory. Specifically looking at pieces “Staring at the Sun” and “Early in the Morning”, you mention that often the colors you choose don’t give the eye much rest, forcing you to close your eyes again. Is that something that you recognize in your work?
LS- First off, I don’t really think about memory. I think memory’s such a hot topic for artists right now, but I think all of us work off of memory right? You’re making everything off of memory, unless you’re duplicating it or totally replicating it, with the thing right there in front you. I don’t think of memory per say, but of course it’s a component, because I have to recreate or recall something. A lot of it comes from what I was doing before I got to school, which was recreating my childhood visions. I don’t have them anymore, so that of course is trying to work off of a memory. I wanted to leave some of that behind, and think about what I’m seeing now, and think about the things I’m interested in that are happening right now. I guess there’s space and distance in the idea of memory in the sense of looking back on something that happened a long time ago versus something that, ‘oh yesterday morning I saw this thing, I’m going to try to recreate it’. So all of them were these very bright vivid things that were happening, so using neon, or those really bright colors, seemed to be appropriate because I wanted to try to recreate that same intensity. When you stare at some serious neon color for too long, it burns your rods and cones, so you have to close your eyes again. It was the perfect medium to be using in that instance.
MG- So it’s important for the colors used, being so intense that you have to look away, but then you still see it when you close your eyes?
LS- The green blob - Early In the Morning - I made two of them, when you do stare at them long enough, yea you have to close your eyes, but the actual piece is now burned in your eye, rather than the old object. There’s still, again, this distance from what was actually seen versus what I’m creating. But there is that layer of trying to make it happen again.
MG- You mentioned these visions that you’ve had were from your childhood, and in a sense you’re trying to get a hold of them again for your current work. So in order to relive those visions, is it something that’s embedded in your memory and you can easily access it, or do you have to, kind of close your eyes and really try to recapture those visions?
LS- I mean yea, I don’t have to close my eyes to get a hold of it. They are embedded in a way that allows me to not have to close my eyes to recall it.
MG- I think the way I read your artist statement, I kind of interpreted that as an exercise, or a preliminary act to your process of working on a piece.
LS- I think I don’t even have to do it, because it’s just there.
MG- Paper seems to appear frequently as one of the main materials in your work. Do you think paper is something that you use as an alternative to push the boundaries of some of the processes you use, such as weaving; or is it more specific to your practice?
LS- My mother is a fiber artist, and she was a professor at Appalachian State University. Everyday after school, that is where I went. Either after her classes, or whatever she had going on, she’d weave things for me to play with while she finished work. I had to occupy myself for two hours, and I remember making paper, very early on- but it was like a simple way of making paper. My undergrad was in mixed media, so all of my fiber background was from my mother specifically, or things that I chose to learn on my own. But paper is a fiber, specifically handmade paper. I mean, you’re tearing up fibers and recreating them into something else. I feel like I’ve always ridden this line between painting, drawing, fiber, non fiber- I ride the line on lots of different things. I use paper as my tool, as my medium and as my ground. Not every piece will always have all three of those things, but I think that it’s something that I am certainly very aware of, and want to keep pushing. Paper is such a versatile material; it can be woven, painted on, it can be chopped up and totally transformed, and it can be sculpture. It’s a manipulable material - it has endless possibilities.
MG- I’ve seen you use, not only paper, but aluminum materials and hole reinforcers as a medium. Do you use whatever material best replicates the visions you have, or is there some visual altering that takes place?
LS- I feel like I could make a lot of these things in other mediums, I could use paint, use metal to a certain degree, but using metal is something that is so foreign to me. It would take another set of effort and skills to go do all of that than what is directly familiar to me; these visions and these materials (paper) equally work together. There are issues of longevity- a lot of this stuff just cant be hung in a public space for too long. Paper will collect dust, will eventually degrade - but all art typically degrades over a certain period of time. I have all of those concerns, and when it warrants it, I’ve used other materials- but for myself, and what I do, paper is always my go to. Now that I’m working with these reflective surfaces, everybody is like ‘oh you should use metal’, but these hard rigid materials, for me could be great for a public art setting, but that’s not what I’m making work for right now. If a material change is needed, I would explore it, but for now-
MG- You’ll stay in the realm of paper?
LS- Yea, it’s an immediate comfort for me, which these visions are as well, so I wouldn’t question it, though I’m aware other materials do warrant these in certain situations.
LS- So this was a piece I did for candidacy, and it was across from that bright red, Staring at the Sun, Eyes Closed piece, so they bounced back from each other. I’m still really interested in this reflective surface as a way of open eye vision. You have to walk up to it, you then all of a sudden see yourself in it, you’re very aware of self, and you’re very aware of other objects in the room as well. In this piece specifically you can see yourself but it’s not really you; you can see all the colors, and its refracted in a weird way. I think I’m going into a larger conversation now about visual distortion- and I don’t mean distortion in a negative way, but are we really seeing what we see? So all these closed eye visions I’ve had over time, how do I share them with someone else? They’re my visions, and I know that you probably have your own, and they’re probably completely different than mine, but is this a way to at least start to have the conversation on whether we’re really seeing what we’re supposed to be seeing. There’s a split second before your brain starts to take over what you’re seeing, so you see these objects and your brain automatically puts information to it that you’re not aware of. You imply lots things on an object before your eyes are allowed to just let something be. So as far as my thesis and my research, that’s where I head into this larger conversation on whether we can trust what we see to be what it really is.
See more of Leigh's work at LeighSuggs.com