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January, 2015

Featured Artist

Jamie Bertsch

I am a maker. My work is motivated by an immeasurable reverence for the process of craft and the intimacy of using my hands as a tool. I love to bring new regard to age-old techniques that are steeped in nostalgia. My practice is an ongoing, ever-evolving endeavor. Often, the work is made by unraveling cherished fabrics, personal belongings, and previous artworks. I obsessively knit, sew, fold, and mend material into continuously growing works. After pursuing a BFA in Printmaking and Graphic Design at UW-Stevens Point, I continued my studies at UW-Milwaukee, receiving my MFA in Fibers. I currently teach in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Fibers Department. Jamie will be in the studio from September to May.


A Conversation with Jamie Bertsch

by Don Niederfrank

Jamie and I met on a Saturday afternoon at the Daily Baking Co., a perfect place for such a meeting, being right above the resident artists' studios. After some small talk I began.

D: What do you think people do not know about being an artist?
J: That's a good question. I think what they might not know is that being an artist is a lifestyle rather than just a career choice. It's 24/7. I'm always either working on art or thinking about art. It's my life. The intensity is invigorating.

D: How did you get started as an artist?
J: I started out making prints as an undergraduate. I was trained as a printmaker and graphic designer. I began working mostly in two dimensions. In the printmaking studio, I found myself printing on fabrics nearly all the time. But also when I was doing graphic design I was printing on fabric...sometimes jamming up the computer print with canvas...but later figured a good way to do this. I continued to work with Fibers in grad school, really developing a relationship with it, and transitioning into installation. I still get to design, make prints, and work with fabric nearly every day, so I’m really thankful for the integration of all my practices!

D: Why fibers?
J: I love fabric. It’s a universal language. Everybody wears fiber— everyday! Some fibers hold a lineage. It has an inviting quality to it. It can be textured and wrinkled. A single thread has infinite possibilities.

D: If you were to envision your career as a trajectory, where would you say you are now?
J: I'm not comfortable being stagnant, so I don't think I've reached any sort of peak. There's always more to do, more to see, more to learn. It's circular.

I don't always focus on one thing, like hand weaving. I can't spend too much time with one process or even one scale. Sometimes I will work on something as big as I am; sometimes I'll work on a smaller wearable piece. So I look for different relationships between the parts, intertwining them as I work.

I find the “why” of something after I've done the “how.” I usually have five or six projects going on in my studio and at home, and I'll move from on to the other.

D: Did you do art as a child?
J: I did. I remember having a Strawberry Shortcake lunch box with a mixed bunch of crayons inside. But what really got me going was working on a project in fourth grade. Our teacher had us decorate the room like a jungle, and I would stay in from recess just to work on it. I made all kinds of monkeys and leaves. But what I realized was you could change a room completely. I could be in control of my space. Things didn't have to just be what they were.

D: Do you teach?
J: I do. I teach classes in the Fibers Department at UW-Milwaukee— Intro to Fibers, Screenprinting, Print, Paint & Dye of Fabric. I teach Foundations Courses too, Color Studio and 3D Concepts, for incoming art students.

D: What's hard for you as an artist?
J: Saying 'no' to requests/projects and having the time to do more of what I love to do. I like developing ideas, collaborating, trying new techniques, dreaming up new possibilities— I also like to do things for people. There's just not enough time for the requests inside and outside. Prioritizing is key, and that can be tough.

D: Are there contemporary artists that inspire you?
J: Fiber is timeless but it really came to the forefront during the Sixties. The ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in Boston has an exhibition right now “Fiber Sculpture: 1960-Present” that will also be traveling to Ohio and Iowa that I want to see. Some of the artists included are Sheila Hicks, Peter and Ritzi Jacobi, and Ernesto Neto, all work I really admire. I also come back to the work of Shinique Smith often, too. Her integration is very poetic. One of the big processes that's resurfacing from the Sixties is macrame. I love it. It's like yoga for the hands!

The conversation continued onto various subjects beyond art and ended with--

D: Thanks for taking time to do this.
J: Thanks for asking!


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