Jasmine Cull was interviewed by Mark Kilfoil on July 24th, 2019. Listen to the full interview here.
MK: Today I’m here with Jasmine Cull, she is one of the artist in residence this week in the barracks. Welcome, Jasmine, to the show.
JC: Thank you.
MK: We spoke… was it last year or a couple of years ago?
JC: It was last year.
MK: Okay, so remind folks and myself, while I got a chance just a moment ago to see some of your work, what is some of the stuff that you work with? What is your medium?
JC: The main medium that I’m working with this time around is basketry, so I’m doing basket-making with a variety of materials; round reed, ash, a bit of bark, and some willow.
MK: Now when you say basketry, obviously most people think of a delightfully round basket that you’ll collect your apples with, or if you’re from New Brunswick, your potatoes. But you don’t just do those baskets, although you do; you showed me a very beautiful one you did recently.
JC: I did do some of that work and I really appreciate that kind of work, but what inspires me most is more sculptural types of basket-making. Not something you would necessarily use to put items in, but more pleased-to-look-at.
MK: Maybe I asked you this before, but do you remember when you first started to think of basketry in terms of sculptural art? Was it from the very beginning when maybe as a child you picked up a basket and said “this is a piece of art,” or was it later when you saw a piece that just struck you?
JC: I think it was more probably when I was in art school and I did a basket-making class that I started looking at different possibilities, different shapes that could be made, and it’s not necessarily a useful object; it can be beautiful and more of a sculptural kind of piece.
MK: The neat think about this material is you can make it pliable, and then it becomes stiff and holds form, which is kind of amazing. It’s made up of very small things. I’m going to describe it as the sculptural version of Pointillism, almost. When you’re making a big thing out of these very small pieces.
JC: It’s interesting that you say that, because when I was first starting out doing artwork, I was quite interested in Pointillism and those drawings.
MK: Maybe that carried over, because they have these solid, large forms, but then you look close and there’s all these little details, these beautiful, interwoven things. So what are you working on while you’re here in the barracks?
JC: Well, our theme this year for the Artists in Residence is “trees,” which I was quite excited about; to use parts of trees in my work and also use it as a subject matter. So I’m working on a large piece, probably about my height right now, that is a random-woven trunk, tree-like sculpture.
MK: You say random-woven, but to hold it together it has to stand up, right?
JC: It does, so I guess random-weaved compared to the structured weaving that I would do in my more traditional baskets. You’d make an over-two, under-one stake consistently around the basket. This is woven in and out, and more haphazard. It’s controlled, but.
MK: It’s kind of like scribbling in the lines?
JC: Yes, that’s right.
MK: What is it made of?
JC: The tree-type sculpture is made out of round-reed; it’s an imported material
MK: Where from?
JC: It’s from Asia.
MK: Is that difficult to obtain? Or have enough people been doing this now that there’s enough coming here?
JC: Well, not here in Fredericton. I have to order it from Ontario, but it’s a really nice material to work with in basket-making. I use it in classes with beginners. It’s pliable, it’s quite sturdy, and it’s just nice to work with.
MK: To make it more pliable, are you soaking it? Is that the trick?
JC: Yes, it has to be soaked, and I have a spray bottle handy, constantly spritzing my work so it stays pliable. If you try to work with it dry, it will just snap.
MK: So even just a spray bottle is enough to keep it pliable?
JC: Well I soak it first, so it’s nice and wet when I work with it, and then just to keep it so that it doesn’t dry out on me as I’m working I just continually spritz it.
MK: So are you working with a single piece at a time?
MK: And how much time does it take to put that piece into place? Is it one of those things where you’ve just got a quiver of these and you’re just pulling them out or does each one take quite a while to move?
JC: Well, there are different lengths, so the longer ones take longer. I have never timed myself to see how long it takes to put in, but I do have them ready to go, so I can just put one in after the other.
MK: This is already reaching the height of the barracks, I noticed.
JC: I saw that I was limited somewhat by the height of this space that we’re in.
MK: Are you going to have to move it outside to keep working on it?
JC: Well, I thought I might try to keep it within the confines of the barracks. But I’m not sure yet, I’m not sure how tall I’m going to go with it. I feel like as I’m working, I’m trying to come up with ideas of how the branches will end up.
MK: So do you have a model tree in mind for this?
JC: No, not specifically. Ideas are just coming to my head, and people will come by and give me ideas as well.
MK: What have some of the ideas been so far?
JC: Someone said I should have long branches, maybe have lights on them. A child came along and said maybe I should put cocoons in it, things like that.
MK: So this is only one of the tree projects?
JC: Yes, I’ve got several going on, different shapes and experimental things.
MK: So you have a more basket-like thing you were showing me there as well. So you’re working with a tree motif?
JC: Yeah, so it’s a sphere-shaped basket, and it’s also random-weaved.
MK: Is it? Because you have this tree pattern you are putting in front of it, though?
JC: I am putting a tree pattern in it, yes.
MK: Do you sketch these out beforehand or is it all kept in mind at the time?
JC: I do a little bit of sketching, but not very detailed, just kind of a general outline of what I’d like to do.
MK: Now this one seems quite along already; is that mid-stage or close to the end?
JC: It’s mid-stage. So you can see the tree forming in it, but I want it to stand out a bit more.
MK: Do you add any colour to these? Or is it the wood itself? Or do you stain them? What process sort of finalizes something like this for you?
JC: I like to keep it mostly natural; some of my pieces have colour, but I dye my material, so if I want colour, I’ll dye the material before putting it in.
MK: So the other thing I saw you were just about to get started working with was a traditional, old-fashioned spinning wheel, and then you had what I call the “punk sheep,” because you had this wool strand which was multiple colours. So what’s that intended for?
JC: So that’s fleece that I had dyed from a workshop that I did; a spinning workshop. So I decided to bring in a spinning wheel and do a little bit of spinning, so I took the fleece and dyed it. And It’s multi-coloured.
MK: Was it kind of like a tie dye-type dyeing?
JC: What we did was we put a fair amount of fleece into a pot with water, and I think I had two or three different colours of dyes put in the pot, and instead of stirring the pot and making things all even, you just leave the colour where it sits so you can have a lot of different colours in the same dye pot.
MK: So the colours don’t mingle?
JC: You don’t have too much water, so it can’t mix around too much.
MK: Do you have a thing in mind for the spun wool?
JC: No, I like just looking at the spun wool, but I’m sure I’ll maybe get it knitted into something later, or woven. I have a loom at home as well.
MK: As you do. Do you ever combine materials in your weaving practice? Would you ever use wool with some of these woven, basketry-based sculptures?
JC: I have been thinking about that, and I did try a little sample last summer when I was here, but it didn’t really inspire me that much to go in that direction. But I do always have it in the back of my head, to combine different elements.
MK: And with the loom, you’re weaving together cloth? What are the materials there?
JC: So mostly the things I weave are scarves and blankets, so I’ll use wool or silk. I don’t tend to make my own yarn to weave.
MK: Although, this time, you’re going to.
JC: I’m making some now so I can put that on the loom, yeah.
MK: Is the spinning wheel new for you then?
JC: Not totally. It’s renewed. I was working on it years ago, somewhat, and just recently did an edVentures course here at the College of Craft and Design, so that kind of renewed my interest in it to learn a little bit more.
MK: On a side note, I do wanna mention those edVenture courses. I haven’t taken one, but they’re amazing; they breadth of artistic material to try.
JC: Oh, they’re amazing. I highly recommend. I teach a beginner basketry course, just a one day workshop myself, but I have taken a variety of courses from the other instructors here and I just enjoy them thoroughly, and have done different things. I’ve done textiles and jewelry classes, and made a basket-making class, and just love all of them.
MK: I see a lot of artists and a lot of them tend to be focused in one area; they want to be the best acrylic painter or sketcher. Is it important for you to branch out in all these different areas and see if you can bring them back? What drives you to these other courses?
JC: I just enjoy doing so many different things. I find it hard to pin myself down, but I have been thinking more recently about focusing on other things; they’re calling my name.
MK: It’s hard when there’s so many interesting things out there, isn’t it?
JC: Yeah, I just like to get my hands in all different areas.
MK: Speaking of which, we talked about this pretty tall trunk that’s still forming into a tree, so who knows how tall it’s gonna be in the end? We talked about this woven basket but you also showed me where you’re looking to use actual wood material of different kinds in these sculptures you’re making. What have you been experimenting with so far?
JC: Some willow, I had some tree bark that a friend just gave me.
MK: Do your friends just approach and say “Hey, I’ve got some interesting wood for you”?
JC: Well I think I was asking someone once about any birch bark; I think they had some trees taken off the property and was looking for some birch, so she just gave me a bunch of things. And I had another friend give me a bunch of willow that was cleared from some land, and so I also have some of that to start with as well. I’ve got some willow from Ontario that I want to try working with this week too that I want to start working on today.
MK: And what did you end up working the willow into?
JC: I did a workshop in King’s Landing with willow. Some Polish basket-makers came to give a workshop, so I do have one large willow basket made. I’d like to make it more sculptural though; I took that as a workshop and really enjoyed it, but I’d like to use it in a different way.
MK: You showed me that basket, and I think you even said it was willow, but to me, willow doesn’t look like that. I don’t know why I’m thinking of it so differently. Do you find that people are surprised that the materials are something they find in their backyard sometimes?
JC: Sometimes, yeah. I’ve worked with grape vine from my yard.
MK: Did it still have grapes on it?
JC: No (laughs) Well, I did make grape jelly.
MK: So the other thing that’s kind of neat about the thing your doing, I mean sometimes you need to order it in from outside, but for a painter, they need to get paint, and paint is a manufactured product that is constructed. For a person who’s drawing, they have to get their charcoal or their pens, but you get to work with natural materials, and is that something that really appeals to you as well? Shaping nature?
JC: Definitely. It’s so nice to work with those natural materials and give them each a feel; they’re so different from each other. And just to be able to use things that are around you, like cattails that I worked with recently, things that you can just find around your yard or around town that you’re allowed to pick.
MK: Do you feel like a lot of artists should be treated as legitimate foragers and given free reign to go and pick across the city? At least in public areas?
JC: Maybe, somewhat limited (laughs)
MK: Go to a park and just start getting a few branches from trees or something?
JC: Well I did have permission to go along the trails; sometimes they clear right along the trails, so I did call and get permission to get some with my students along the trail that would be cut down anyway.
MK: Because this is your art store, right? Now, these are all natural materials; do they go through a kiln or something to get dried out to a point where you can work with them? Or do you have to treat them differently?
JC: Well, the materials that have to have those things done, I would order those, so I wouldn’t do that myself.
MK: So a kiln is not on the horizon to be added to your workshop?
JC: No, I don’t think I have room for that. (laughs) You know, with the ash it’s pounded and split apart; that’s not something that I’m really interested in doing right now.
MK: You were working with cattails, you said, last year?
JC: Yeah; I gathered those myself and laid them out to dry; I followed the practice of how to use cattails. There’s lots of information books on how to prepare your materials, so I have done some of that, but no fancy equipment needed.
MK: So while you’re working on these, are you focused on the small detail of what you’re making at the moment, or is it this large vision that drives you? Where does your mind tend to wander when you’re working on these?
JC: It depends on the project; the tree-like sculpture, for instance, I had a basic idea to do the trunk in that random-type weave and so now I have to come up with how I’m going to finish it off. But with the sphere-shaped basket, I had that in my mind, so I could just work towards that goal.
MK: Is everything you make a unique piece? Or do you make the same piece with different variations?
JC: I do some similar pieces; I like to think I do everything different, but I do use some of the same elements with different sizes.
MK: Because I wondered, that tree you had there, I’m sure you had offers on the tree already, or you will by the end of the week, people saying “Hey, I’d love to have that in my living room.” Is that the one time you’re going to build that kind of tree or do/will you build that one kind of tree multiple times?
JC: No, I haven’t before. I think if I did something, it would be something similar, but I don’t want to be building tree after tree.
MK: So do you have a place where people can find you and find out more about your art? Or is there an exhibit coming up?
JC: There is an exhibit coming up with the Fredericton Arts Alliance at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre that will be coming up in the fall, and that will be a selection of work from all the artists that worked in the casemates this summer. And I have a website; jasminecull.art.
MK: Well I hope a lot of people come by and have a whole bunch of interesting suggestions to hang in your trees and where it will go. And I hope you have a lot of fun. I’m always struggling to say the right send off to artists of one kind or another; I always know what actors want; they want to break legs. Snapped twigs?
JC: I’ll take it. (laughs)
MK: Thank you very much for joining me, Jasmine.
JC: Thanks, Mark.
Charlotte Simmons, FAA Summer Events Coordinator 2019