Shelley Brucar is a recently retired social worker who lives in a Chicago suburb. Her “real” jobs included adolescent counseling and addiction treatment. Now she is thrilled to be able to devote her time fully to art. Clairan Ferrono spoke with her recently.
Ferrono: Have you always been an artist?
Brucar: I always loved viewing art and using my free time for various art and craft endeavors. In 1987, I tried my hand at traditional quilting, however felt restricted by following other peoples’ patterns and by available fabric.
A friend and fiber artist, Tracy McCabe Stewart, stepped in at just the right time with a copy of Quilting Arts Magazine and a lesson on dyeing fabric. With these tools and a willingness to experiment, traditional quilting seamlessly evolved into art quilting. One of my favorite pieces from this period is “Floating Leaves Revisited.”
The next step was a 5-day workshop with Ann Johnston which greatly expanded and enhanced my ideas about surface design. I found that I loved working and reworking a single piece of fabric, adding color and design, removing color, layering. When fabric became saturated with dye and would accept no more, I started using textile paints to continue the process. “Electric Sky” is an example of a piece that was dyed, painted and stitched.
Always looking for more texture, real or perceived, my painting became heavier, and I soon wanted a different platform on which to work. I read a few books on mixed media and then registered for a 5-day QSDS workshop with Jane Dunnewold. This workshop again changed the way I work, and after much experimentation, I have developed a process which utilizes textiles along with GAC 400 fabric stiffener, textile and other acrylic paints, various gel mediums and other elements.
My journey to mixed media work included sculptural sea fans made with painted cheesecloth, wire, fabric, spiky leaves fallen from a tree in my neighborhood and molding paste. The journey also included “Felted Scarves” soft sculpture, and “Birch Grove”, both made with wool roving on silk and stiffened and shaped with GAC 400.
Ferrono: So what was your training?
Brucar: I have no formal art training; I read books, take workshops, learn from other artists and have spent many years experimenting in my studio.
Ferrono: And what techniques do you use?
Brucar: I get thoroughly engaged in the surface design process. Starting with white fabric, I dye, paint, screen print, monoprint, stencil, layer, sand and scrape. Two of my favorite techniques are screen printing and snow-dyeing. Sometimes I use machine or hand stitching, silk ribbon embroidery and raw-edge applique.
Ferrono: What inspires you?
Brucar: Nature has always been my inspiration. I feel at my best when I am hiking somewhere beautiful, surrounded by the breathtaking scenery. I love to spend time in our many incredible national parks, particularly in the Southwestern US, and I especially like traveling by car and taking advantage of the many unexpected opportunities to explore whatever looks interesting along the way. My camera is almost always on hand to record images and textures that later become inspiration in the studio. When at home, even a walk around my neighborhood can provide the spiritual and grounded feelings needed to create.
I am drawn to noticing the effects of time and aging around me. (There must be a correlation with my own aging!) In nature, things like desert varnish dripping down the walls of a slot canyon or bark peeling off a tree can be inspiration for a series of work. In urban areas, peeling paint, decayed leaves or graffiti on a wall may provide inspiration.
A trip to Venice resulted in several hundred images of reflections in water which I found to be so striking and fascinating. This experience and the images prompted my Venetian Reflections series. Walking around Chicago and other cities and noticing old buildings and graffiti inspired my current “Urban Landscapes / Weathered Walls” series. Hiking slot canyons of the Southwest has given me inspiration for another current series, “Desert Varnish” which refers to the thin reddish/black coating, composed of clay minerals, oxides and manganese and/or iron, found on exposed rock surfaces.
Ferrono: How does the business aspect of art work for you?
Brucar: I enjoy exhibiting my work in various group shows, and have had solo shows as well. Every November, I show work at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Fine Art of Fiber. I was invited to join Women’s Journeys in Fiber, a Chicago-based group of artists who explore a different theme each year. Each of the 32 artists in the group creates a piece with her own unique interpretation of that theme, meeting monthly for discussion, feedback and problem-solving. WJIF exhibits travel to the Chicago Botanic Garden, Anderson Art Center in Kenosha, WI, and the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.
Ferrono: What are you working on now?
Brucar: For the past year, I have been experimenting with mixed media. I am still layering, but using more materials which now include textiles, gel medium, paint, papers and other surface design tools. I strive for transparency in the many layers so the viewer can see through to previous layers, and I find that transparent textile paints, clear gel and hand-dyed silk organza all work well to give me the transparency I strive for.
My Urban Landscapes / Weathered Walls series and my Desert Varnish series both reference the many layers in life. Cracks in the bark of a tree, chipping and peeling paint, lines in a person’s face, weathering of a brick, wood or stone wall… these things allow us to see the effects of aging, the layers of meaning in passing time. These pieces are about nature’s cycles of growth and decay and encourage the viewer to appreciate imperfect or muted beauty, beauty that can come only with age.
This quote from Billie Mobayed is on the wall in my studio: “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”