Born in Savannah, Georgia, adopted Houstonian Rebecca Braziel stands out in the artistic community here due to her graceful use and sublime concepts of fibers. Her focus on delicate textures, thoughtful process, natural materials, rich repetition and acute attention to detail all collide to reveal work of great intrigue. Through her unique way of sourcing material from nature and man made items, Braziel allows for the objects to bring their own narratives to the table. The starting point of inspiration from these items richly revives them where their previous state was seen as something to discard.
With her move to Houston in 2013, Braziel has since shown work at the Galveston Art Center, Mountain View College, Hunger Gather Project, and recently won the Texas Biggest 10 award from the Katy Contemporary Art Museum Fort Bend. Currently she is weaving new stories in her studio as an artist in resident at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Graciously she took the time to answer some questions about the various chapters of her career.
Free Press Houston: Your absorption of art in your childhood was different than most. How did you begin to understand creativity?
Rebecca Braziel: My childhood lacked contact with fine art but instead was characterized by a sense of complete creative freedom and an abundance of rich visual stimulation. I built twig houses in the woods with my brothers and played dress up alongside my sisters using vintage clothing with lace, intricate beading, feathers, and velvet. My mother blurred the lines between outdoors and in by filling the house with plants, flowers, and my favorite, a massive collection of dried vines that she gracefully wrapped in lights and installed along the ceiling in her favorite room. This type of artistic experience developed my practice because instead of being shown a painting or sculpture and being told, “This is art and these are the materials used to make it,” I followed my own path of making art out of whatever material I responded to, approaching each piece with a playfulness which produced flexibility and innovation.
FPH: What was your experience in higher education like?
Braziel: Studying at Savannah College of Art and Design with a focus in Fibers was such an influential time in my life. I was a late bloomer taking my first official art class my sophomore year of high school so to fully immerse myself in art was an intoxicating experience. I was always good at drawing and photography but SCAD is where I was introduced to fibers. My fibers professors had such high standards for our work conceptually and technically and it was only with their guidance that I realized what I was capable of. Even now with every new piece I continue ask myself the simple questions they used to pose such as, “How do I want the viewer to feel when they are interacting with my art?”
FPH: What lead you to the use of materials in fabric and nature?
Braziel: It is a priority of mine to spend time in nature because I enjoy it so much. It found a way into my work in 2012 when I witnessed a large wildfire in Georgia frighteningly close to my grandmother’s house, causing the land all around her to be shockingly black and flat. I collected the tree bark out of a desperate attempt to save a piece of the land that felt like home. After storing it for two years, tiny eggs started to grow along the surface. I tend to see the world through a fibers lens, so to me, these eggs looked exactly like seed beads that are used for beaded embroideries. I began using beads to imitate and celebrate the next life cycle for this tree bark. Ever since creating this work, I continuously strive to capture the essence of nature using mixed media with an emphasis on fibers.
FPH: What would be some of the experiences that have helped shape your style and concept?
Braziel: No. 1: The birth of my first daughter at 19 taught me to cherish and protect everything that is precious and fragile. Being in the vast remains of Bastrop, Texas’s forest ravaged by wildfires introduced me to hope for regeneration. Volunteering with Joseph Heidecker at Design Miami where long lines of people waited to participate in his interactive piece taught me that people want to actively engage with art while working as an assistant to Mary Elizabeth Sargent for entire summer to create a one-time fibers installation that could not be moved or sold taught me that sometimes art can transcend the art market and exist for a purer reason.
No. 2: Being in a landscape that has been devastated by wildfires is one. Being in the vast remains of Bastrop, Texas’s forest was a bizarre mixture of sadness and calm. Sad because of the wasted life, calm because you are still in nature. Experiencing that and trying to express it within the restrictions of a 22 x 30 inch piece of paper has shaped my style. Also, the millions of instances where you don’t have control resulting in the practice of patience and acceptance. All of my materials have their natural qualities that I am working with or around. So I approach them like a dance where I make a move and then they respond. That technique takes patience and acceptance.
FPH: How has your residency at HCCC gone so far? Have any new concepts came forth from your time there so far?
Braziel: I am halfway through my residency and having this time and space to create has helped me bring ideas that I have had for years to fruition. For example, in the past, I have been very focused on creating work revolving around wildfires, nature, and regeneration. While I continue to work with that subject, I have started a separate series of work using vintage clothing and accessories, which conjure vivid past experiences heavily weighted in childhood nostalgia. I then permanently attach or separate these objects in ways that reflect family ties using embroidery, stapling, as well as other processes.
FPH: How are you approaching your projects in the coming year?
Braziel: My focus for the next year is to be more community driven with both the local art community and general public. Right now I am working on a proposal for a two-person show with another Houston-based artist. At the same time I am also talking to the HCCC Education team about how to share my collaborative pieces with the greater Houston community by visiting schools and community centers. My hope is that these projects will result in one huge installation piece that they could come together around and celebrate. In January, I am leading Hands on Houston at the Craft Center. The activity that I have planned is called, “Crowns from the Garden.” We will be sourcing materials from the garden and appreciating Houston for being lovely and green in a month that can often seem stark.
FPH: Now seeing that there is such a culture shift in our nation, how do you feel your work can possibly help a viewer connect or reconnect to some of the concepts and material you work with?
Braziel: In September I presented an interactive installation titled “Creeping Vine” which was based on the green leafy vines that grow wildly on Houston’s fences and walls blurring the lines in our landscape, unifying the city. A wire backing was installed in the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft’s AIRSPACE and every visitor to the center had an equal opportunity to contribute by adding a fabric strip or “leaf”. I view this as a democratic way of creating art that encourages people to work side by side on the creation of a project, stimulating conversation about community life as well as bringing focus to causes such as the importance of nature.
FPH: How has being a mother influenced or changed your work over the years?
Braziel: The good news is that in a lot of ways, it hasn’t. I stay inspired by working and getting out to see shows because whether you don’t have children or if you have three kids, the most important thing is to maintain what feeds you as a person. On a deeper level, I believe that I move further and further away from a self-centered state of mind with every child I have. As that happens, I am more sensitive to the things around me such as color, texture, movement, shape, and balance because I am not caught up thinking about myself. I have also become more empathetic and caring for others. This observation of details and experiences is reflected in all that I create in my studio.