Eve Faulkes Professor Interview
by Marcos Torres Lara
Student of Design Department at Guanajuato University
in West Virginia University.
Spotlight on Professor Eve Faulkes: Title: Professor of Art Department or College URL: http://art.ccarts.wvu.edu/ Biography: Besides teaching graphic design and book arts, Professor Faulkes has exhibited her work at many universities and galleries in the U.S., as well as in Canada, China, Germany, and Italy. Her artist’s books have been purchased for collections in over 40 libraries including Oxford, Yale, Columbia University, the Newberry Library, Cleveland Institute of Art, and Rhode Island School of Design. Professor Faulkes has been a member of the WVU faculty since 1979 and teaches courses in the Division of Art.
- Where were you raised?
I was raised on a farm in West Virginia, close to nature. And as an only child for my first ten years, I spent many hours alone discovering the woods, building things from leftover parts and materials, and communing with the animals on the farm.
- Were your parents artists or designers as well?
My mother did go to art school to be a graphic designer, and she also practiced calligraphy. My father studied architecture and civil engineering, and built several houses influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, but he died very young when I was a baby and he is mostly stories to me. I always thought of him as someone I could become, however. Even though I was a girl, I never doubted that I could accomplish things in art or design. My stepfather had me help work on cars and build structures on the farm with him from age of 7. I loved working with tools, and carry a scar on my hand from nearly sawing through it. I still love to tackle any building project and have done a lot of my own remodeling or built furniture that suited my needs.
- Describe your beginnings in graphic design and art? Where did you study and what did you major in? Following my mother’s influence, I wanted to be an artist from a very early age and never varied, although I like writing as well. Design asks both skills of us. I attended West Virginia University studying graphic design where classes in sculpture, printmaking, photography and ceramics were also exciting courses and still influence my work in design. My graduate work in graphic design was at the Rhode Island School of Design, at the time the most highly respected and innovative design school in the US.
- What made you interested in designing the books about artist?
Artists books are not books about artist, but rather books by artists. They are either one-of-a-kind or small editions, often handmade in at least part of the process. For me it is a natural way to apply art processes and working with textures and materials to make an object that tells a story interactively or sequentially. I took a course at RISD that was called the concrete book, extending concepts of concrete poetry into a book form. This allowed us to question what could a page be as a metaphor? Or a spine? Or a binding? How could an artist stretch the traditional form of the book or message in order to make the subject matter more evident? In either metaphor or with humor, my books use the medium to add to the subject matter within.
What were your first projects of the artist/designers´ books and what were they like?
One of my early book experiments at RISD tried to describe Ceramics in book form by slicing a wet clay pot into thin cross sections, firing them and binding them into a book form, like an MRI scans slices of the brain to show its structure. I have always liked how cross sections give you a viewpoint you can’t see from the outside—like a geode.
- What are your favorite materials to use?
Because the computer screen is so slick and without texture, I like to get away from it and work with very tactile materials. The letterpress relief printing process allows one to press into textured paper and print clean type and images, giving you smooth against rough. I also print on feathers, leaves or cloth, anything I can fasten to the tympan on the press. You can’t do that with offset or silkscreen. The idea of getting off the computer to make vernacular work has been catching on and has now become quite popular. I also like to collect beautiful objects and textures from nature on my walks or from my kayak river trips that will either influence me or become part of my art work, like seed pods, shells, lichens, twigs, or some that are too large and I just photograph.
- What is your favorite technique to use in order to make the books? Also, we are very interested to know which techniques you use to make the books on the walls.
Every new subject suggests techniques that should be used. I like to make new things each time at least in some aspect. My books are my laboratory for trying out ideas and materials. I love metaphor and try to make a new one each time. For instance, the text of one book has come off the pages and is now on ribbons floating between the pages but bound together with them. In the books on the wall, I have mostly printed on nontraditional places or materials. Sometimes that required printing on thin vellum and gluing it to a wood surface, or printing on nylon screen so you could see through it, or wrapping the printed word onto dowels, or printing on thin red strips that flowed through tubing to suggest a transfusion.
- How did you come up with the idea to create the wall books?
My subject matter for this series was Touch. I wanted to make art in a series that investigated Touch in every way —the good and the bad. In museums and galleries, you are not supposed to touch the art. I wanted to attract attention to my subject by making art that you not only could touch, but that you had to touch in order to make the message complete. You may turn a handle, push a plunger, work rods on a puppet or pick up a thread to read what is said in order to discover the message. The assemblages are called books because there is writing in lots of places and you can discover more as you come back to it. There are lots of layers of meaning so that the experience takes a while to get through.
- Describe both your creative and work processes? Both in my design work and in my art work, I am searching for relationships among ideas to create deeper understanding. My process involves looking and listening for clues, similarities in form or parallels in ideas that can become comparisons of one thing to describe another. I think form is beautiful and can be the starting point of a piece, but meaning makes it worthy, so both must be brought together. I look for gestalt in everything, a place for the viewer to participate in discovery— getting the joke, finding the visual rhyme, pun or parallel that makes it feel like a natural fit. To get started, I collect all the artifacts I can find that belong to the message, then search for parallels in other categories of life that could make connections to those. Then it’s about working a puzzle to see how they could fit together. What to edit out and what to keep becomes the poetic process of haiku—trying to say the most with the least elements. Everything saved must be meaningful and multi-use when possible. If it is a symbol, two objects may share a boundary. If it is a word, it may carry meaning on more than one level.
- What special benefit(s) can you provide for your clients in the books?
My clients for my books are readers who get the benefits I just described—a fresh look at a subject through metaphor and also room for their own interpretation. My artists books have more mystery in them than my commercial design work. While my use of metaphor is still there in my client work, I try to be more clear and specific in those messages. The audience should not have any confusion as to the intent of the work in an identity or information piece.
- In Mexico there is a controversy as to whether or not a designer should be considered an artist. What is your opinion on the matter?
The best design is art. That work which uses aesthetics and visual ballet or poetry or power to move emotion or even to appreciate form is definitely art. Sometimes we are doing just the bread and butter client work and we use artistic elements. The opportunity to make art in every piece is not there, but we aspire to it and sometimes we really do it.
- What recommendations could you give to the design students in Mexico so that they can have a successful start in this exciting field?
Look for relevance in everything. Be a curious and thoughtful observer. Don’t be quick to judge, but look to roots of opinions. Why are things like that? As designers, we have the power to influence and change behavior, or to enlighten and help people appreciate form and art. A good designer has to understand and want to help people in order to communicate with them. Keep a notebook of your observations and collect visual material for later use—we call it a visual morgue of images. Stock art is used like that as a resource for a lot of design work, but it is never as personal as the stock of images you have created yourself that relates to people where you live. I have thousands of pictures that I have snapped as I walk around daily. You never have the chance to go back and capture the instant before you. Keep a camera and notebook handy. You are a designer 24 hours a day that way and it becomes a lifestyle that is rewarding. You appreciate your world more by participating in it, and you have more material to work with when it comes to making the design solution you need.
Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me. Both my professor and I really appreciate it.
Eve Faulkes, Instructor