Yvette Dede's work is about what makes us who we are 

A New Identity

click to enlarge Dede often uses found objects — like Mr. Potato Head — in her art

Courtesy of The Gibbes Museum of Art

Dede often uses found objects — like Mr. Potato Head — in her art

In the work of Gibbes Museum artist in residence Yvette Dede, the familiar often takes on new dimensions. A series of drawings depicts a hand bound in string; initially, it looks as if someone has created a cat's cradle, until you look more closely and notice the tension of the string on skin; these hands aren't relaxed, they're bound.

In her series of Mr. Potato Head portraits, a familiar figure from childhood becomes warped and distorted, twisting into impossible shapes but still retaining that nostalgic form we all remember. And in her Egg Meditations series, the central oval shape of an egg becomes a template for a seemingly infinite amount of variations, from abstract to inverted and from innocent to sexual.

The paintings and sculptures that Dede creates are often centered around the concept of identity, and how it can shift dramatically depending on perspective. But her work is also about the world around her, often literally.

"Oftentimes, I pull from things that are available to me," she says. "I would draw little objects on torn pieces of paper before the kids got up, and then I developed it into a process. Mr. Potato Head was another one of those objects. Initially I was just interested in him as a form; he was interesting to draw on a formal level. Then I started trying to develop him more conceptually, and I realized I could capture a personality if I looked at him a certain way. By moving him around in a space, I could evoke different attitudes and situations with him."

But it's not just a matter of convenience that Dede is speaking of here; she's using the objects around her to create because they are a facet of her identity, just like the objects around all of us often indicate who we are.

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"There are myriad small things that I collect in the studio," she says. "And the things around you speak about what you're interested in, which speaks about your identity. The hands are that way as well. By having them bound I could create a tension between inner and outer impulses, without it having to be an actual identity so it could be more universal."

The New Orleans-born Dede, whose drawings and sculptures have been shown nationally, found her inspiration to become an artist naturally, through her mother.

"My mom wasn't a professional artist, but she would always work on art at home," she says. "She would order these different art textbooks, and I would look through her books and take in the images. Each book had a different focus, and I was really fascinated by that. So I feel like I always had an interest and an ability, and I pursued it. I've worked in all sorts of media, including stained glass, glass blowing, and learning how to make armatures, but drawing and sculpting were what really stuck with me."

Dede says that there's no particular way that she creates a sculpture or drawing; sometimes the materials themselves are the inspiration, sometimes it's the process, and sometimes there's an idea in her head she's trying to make real. But the key for her is not to get too caught up in one particular approach.

"I find that if I get too much in the weeds when I'm thinking about a process, I need to get back to an idea," she says. "There's a push and pull both ways."

In fact, that push and pull is presenting itself in a project she's working on right now. "I'm working on some doll castings," she says, "and the forms of the dolls suggest an identity. But what kind of concept am I trying to project? And to figure that out, I think I just have to create a lot and see what resonates, and that often takes you to another place. The next step might be creating my own forms that are less defined, more nuanced, but I have to go through with what I've started before I can begin to move on and investigate."

Dede says that her Gibbes residency, which began in August and was created in partnership with the College Of Charleston, has provided her with a great deal of inspiration, and just the right amount of pressure.

"I brought work that was ongoing so that I knew I had something to start with," she says. "And now I'm at the point where I'm finishing those up. So I go upstairs to the exhibits as much as I can. I just wander and take in the past collections with a free mind. There are some things in the Pan-American exhibit that surprised me that I want to explore in my own work. And that would never have happened if I hadn't had the residency. I'm lucky to have this opportunity, because it's a long enough time to get involved in the work, but short enough where you feel a little bit of pressure to be focused and get something done."

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