The Abstract Space Between Fabric, Shapes: Interview with Artist Linda King Ferguson

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Linda King Ferguson’s art is colorful, multi textured, and layered. It evokes feelings of joy and hope; it is both beautiful and alluring. Clearly inspired by the great masters Miro, Calder, and Ellsworth Kelly, Linda’s work is still uniquely her own and instantly recognizable.

Linda combines practices of staining, painting interior and exterior, layering, cutting away and peeling forward, hue partnerships, and hard edges. These methods and techniques are time consuming and range widely in scale.

Linda King Ferguson devises her time between Au Train, Michigan, Nashville, Tennessee, and Brooklyn, New York. She earned a BFA from Alma College and MA from Rhode Island School of Design. She then went on to receive a MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she studied with Ulrike Muller, Michelle Grabner, and Ruth Root.

Linda is currently enjoying an exhibit in at the Odetta Gallery and she recently had solo exhibitions at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Bay College in Michigan, and Michigan Technological University. Throughout the course of her decades-long career she has enjoyed dozens of exhibitions and received many grants and awards. She has served as a professor of art at at Northern Michigan University and is the Founder and Director of The Bakery, a non-profit, artist run project space in Munising, Michigan.

Linda recently discussed her art and career via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming an artist and how did you forge your unique style?

Linda King Ferguson (LKF): I came from a family of women makers. Women who sewed, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, and quilted, all of which I was taught. In school I took high school art as one of my classes. I also took private watercolor lessons from a local painter.  Growing up with an understanding of and focus on design and aesthetics directed my desire to study the Visual Arts.  When I was in undergrad Applied Arts were experiencing resurgence as they are again.  Textile silk- screen-printing, weaving, soft sculpture, and ceramics were processes and materials I explored then, along with my Fine Art classes. After school I intended to be a professional Textile Surface Designer, but while studying at Rhode Island School of Design my advisor pointed out that I think more like a painter than a Designer. At that time, I was reading Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, which had a profound impact. For all practical purposes it sealed the deal for my creative future.  Since, I’ve always had a studio and studio practice with day jobs, art non-profit work, teaching, and family.

MM: Why does multimedia appeal to you so much and how did you get into working with fabrics in particular?

LKF: My work is a series of balanced dualities or equations that propose relationships. My works juxtapose full and emptiness; gestures and geometry; added and subtracted material; open and closed space; revealed and exposed with concealed and hidden surfaces; vulnerability with strength; raw, stained, and painted surfaces; and the ambiguity of figure and ground and 2 and 3 dimensions. It’s these relationships that expose and contrast difference.

Many of my paintings are a combination of raw and painted linen, juxtaposing surface textures of rough with smooth and matt with shiny. Linen is the historical support for portraiture painting and my works are sourced from the reductively abstracted feminine body. I think of them as social beings. What is at stake with reductive abstraction is how much information is too much and how much information is not enough. The sweet spot in my process is providing the viewer with enough visual clues to be able to read the material language to derive their own emotive conclusions.

I chose to use linen (spun and woven flax) because of my affinity with its tanned hue and discernible woven texture that’s quite skin-like when painted.  It also has the strength, with a coating of clear ground or rabbit skin glue making it taught like a drum, to be cut without too much warping.  It also has a very specific scent that I quite like. Flax is a tall grass like vegetation that smells not unlike hay and it reminds me of my early childhood home living on a farm.

MM: Your technique is complicated so how did you master it?

LKF: I’ve been working on my technique, and continue to, through a lot of trial, error, and practice. I’m still struggling and experimenting with different weights of linen and different grounds or coatings to expand my repertoire of effects. Trying new materials and methods often brings wonderful chance surprises. That is something I try to remain open to because it can bring the unexpected to a daily practice, expanding the work in interesting and unexpected directions.

MM: How did you break into the art world and achieve the success you have now?

LKF: Success is a wily notion outside of the studio, but I have kept my practice moving forward by applying to Open Calls, Group Exhibitions, and sending out proposals to Non-Profit Project Spaces, Art Centers, Galleries, and Museums over and over and over again. Some opportunities have come from Artist Registries. Artist Residency’s give much needed time and space to develop or complete ideas.

I’ve found that everything I’ve done gives me an opportunity to build new relationships. Often through these new connections, collaborations and exchanges arise. One of the most satisfying exchanges is a studio visit, either with another artist or gallerist. Getting face-to-face feedback is the best.  Everyone has ideas, some are valuable and others aren’t. But to share your work with someone else in your own workspace is a gift.

The majority of my practice has been in Michigan, but I was able to introduce myself to the New York area by staying there for two months each year (one month in the Spring, another in the Fall).  For the first four years I lived (urban camped) in an artist cooperative. The last three years before Covid 19, I sublet other artist’s apartments. I believe that a part of my work is looking.  When in the city I’m pretty non-stop visiting museums and galleries, attending opening receptions, and talking to anyone who’ll listen.

MM: How does living in multiple locations influence your creativity?

LKF: Changing locations is stimulating and fuels my practice in different ways. Nashville and New York City are colorful and noisy with a multitude of faces, bodies, patterns, designed configurations, architecture, and culture. They give me the source for my work based on the social body and social interaction. Northern Michigan is the natural world of woodlands on the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. This locale provides me isolation to focus on the energy and ideas gathered while elsewhere, providing me the time and place for the conception and completion of the work beyond sketching and drawing.

MM: How did you find out about Odetta Gallery and secure a show with them?

LKF: Whenever I visit a city, I try to locate a gallery guide. They can now be found on line. Following one of those guides, I first visited Odetta Gallery in its original Bushwick location. The Odetta exhibits were thoughtful and well curated, with work that engaged me visually, so I kept going back. When I was in Brooklyn, I would try to go to the openings to talk with others, meet the artists, and speak with the Director, which was sometimes a challenge because the openings were so packed. If it was an exhibit I especially liked, I’d go back to have the gallery to myself and hopefully get a chance to talk with the Director about the work. I found this was the best way to build a relationship with a gallery; by becoming an active viewer and a part of its community. Currently, my work is in the Odetta Digital in collaboration with the SHIM Art Network (Odetta’s physical gallery is closed now due to Covid 19) hosted by Artsy, an online marketing platform.

MM: How did you decide what pieces to put in this current exhibition and have you any favorites?

LKF: The digital platform of Artsy and Instagram favors vivid color, so I based my choices on that criteria. The works in my Equivalence Series that I like the best are the diamond or lozenge shaped canvases with double overlapping spheres and a central horizontal slit. They seem, for me, to be about to speak.

MM: How did you get into teaching at the college level and how does that influence your creativity? For instance, do you ever get inspired by your students?

LKF: I was qualified to teach at Northern Michigan University because of my MA from Rhode Island School of Design. I taught for a year and realized how much I liked teaching and wanted to update myself so I went back to school and got an MFA in Painting (low-residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts) to continue teaching with current theory and much more in my toolbox. I taught as an Adjunct and I was lucky to be assigned a Physical Structures Foundation Class. It focused on three-dimensional design. I was able to teach the dynamics of two-dimensional conceptualizations and the implementation of their concept and design into three-dimensional material forms.  Fortunately, I use, in my own studio, many of the skills I was teaching.

MM: You also are at the helm of your own art organization, so how did you establish it and how tough it is to keep it running, especially during a pandemic?

LKF: Early in my career I was the director of a county wide non-profit arts organization for five years. After that, for fifteen years, I sat on the board of curators of a non-profit local Gallery.  These experiences gave me the foundation to select and curate exhibits for two summer seasons in The Bakery, a former bakery that I renovated to be a gallery and studio in Munising, Michigan, near my home. I divided the season into two shows, each pairing two area artists. A reception opened each exhibit and the gallery hours were the hours I worked in my studio, located behind the gallery. My proximity gave me the privilege of introducing the exhibits to visitors and answering any questions. Although my own practice was interrupted when visitors entered, I did enjoy the conversations. Unfortunately, Covid 19 and other circumstances ended this project and the building for sale, but The Bakery as a virtual concept may live on through digital curatorial Instagram exhibits, yet to be determined.

MM: You have won many grants, residencies, and awards so what has been the highlight of your career as an artist this far?

LKF: I wrote and received a University grant while I was teaching at Northern Michigan University and, as a component of it, I included a trip to New York City to study MoMA’s collection of Franz Erhard Walther’s drawing and diagrams from a series of fiber objects that are activated by viewers. It was such an honor to be able to sit in MoMA’s offices with his work and it was the inspirational research I hoped it would be for the class performance project I was conceiving.

MM: What exhibitions and projects are coming up next for you and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

LKF: Next, I have a solo exhibit, Spring 2021, in Nashville at Channel to Channel that I’m excited about. I’m thinking of creating an installation, engaging the whole space, giving viewers an immersive environment. It’s something I haven’t really done before, but have wanted to. The gallery ceiling is ribbed with red wooden beams. I’m thinking about how to incorporate the beam’s graphic elements beyond the ceiling, running down the wall and onto the floor, with my diamond shaped canvases floating on the wall over the lines. Soon it’ll be time to plot and draw it out. We’ll see, fingers crossed.

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To learn more about Linda and her art, visit her official website.