Joy, Vulnerability & Critique in the Bucolic Textile: Interview with Diane Hoffman
August 10, 2018
What inspires you?
A lot of my aesthetic inspiration comes from my childhood home in Miami. In my designs, I remove vibrant, romantic things from their original context and transplant them to classic, sterile environments. This juxtaposition makes me uncomfortable. But that’s a good thing! I also am inspired by carnival chalk ware figurines that I once hated. When you start to love things you despised, that love becomes deeper. Here is a list of some of my most favorite inspirations:
What was your background in fiber arts prior to starting your own business?
My comfort with fiber arts definitely stems from my mother being a textile artist. Fiber arts first emerged in my practice when I began using resist techniques such as Shibori and Katazome. I fell in love with indirect methods of creating an image, which lead to a new interest in textiles and screen printing. Textiles have been a parallel practice to my painting studio for many years. As a painter, my styles have varied from figurative to abstract. Even though I create paintings, I am inspired by textile artists.
I love how people are disarmed by textiles: so intimate as they are to be touched and worn. I am interested in capturing a relief surface that isn’t quite 2D or 3D. I think all fiber art has this quality that it presents very different views if you look at it close-up or far away. I love how textiles figured in history of digital technology. I love learning to use machines and using all my senses to create something.
How do you design your patterns?
My designs and patterns are usually a mash-up between something vintage like a handkerchief and a contemporary snapshot. I source various patterns from my collection of textiles and scan or recreate them with Photoshop. I develop a surface design by combining digital photographs. Even though I have screen printing facilities, I use the print-on-demand website Spoonflower to digitally print one-of-a-kind and micro batch designs. Spoonflower allows me to utilize a broader palette in custom work and allows me to have a more personal experience with the customer.
Currently, I am thinking about pattern scale especially concerning the body. It’s one thing to design a pattern and a second to see it in proportion to the body. I am interested in creating a design that is perceived as an abstract pattern from a distance, but up close it emerges as a figure.
What is the significance of color in your work?
I love color. It is the first thing that attracts me to something unusual. It doesn’t matter if it’s an ugly color or a sophisticated one. I’m especially conscious of color when using the tufting gun. For me, the worst example of rug color is one that covers a cat scratching post. Tufting can be so luxurious when you use the right colors and textures.
Your Etsy and Instagram feature a wide array of products, from bandanas to scarves to bathing suits. How do you decide which products to make?
I started with scarves because they are essentially the same as paintings: textile and ink to canvas and paint. Eventually people started asking me to make something specific. For example, a long-time client asked me to make underwear with her dog on it. I was intrigued by the specific and interesting challenge. It took me about two months to figure out to design, source and construct it. She loved it.
I recently created the angry cat bathing suit for performance artist Ayana Evans for her New York debut at Medium Tings. I prefer collaboration to the standard retail market. I’m not too fond of that side of business, in which people are primarily concerned with bargains.
Your business, “Diane Hoffman Textiles” has a “pet portraiture component” in which you create designs using photos of your customers’ pets. What is your favorite part about this process?
I love toile and animals prints. I think customization with specific and beloved animals is my way of updating the idea of the bucolic or exotic landscape into something contemporary and perhaps critical. I think a lot about John Berger’s observation that most figuration points to wealth consolidation. A landscape painting is property that is owned. An exotic animal skin is another region exploited and dominated for pleasure.
I want my designs to be joyful, vulnerable and funny; but also a commentary. I hope they can be a kind of relief to the political rhetoric that uses animal references as a form of degradation. Before the 2016 election, I created the ninety-nine rescue cat scarf as a method of processing my feelings at the time. It can be so hard to find humor in things, and I felt like that was something I needed in my life.
There is a very modern component to my animal-focused textiles. I crowdsource other people’s pet photos in my designs. It’s hard to get photos of cats, so their owners have better luck getting the images I want! In a similar vein, I’m currently working on a “belly up” project, in which I’m making a mock bearskin rug, but imitating a dog laying on its back.
P.S. I love dogs and cats and all animals so much. After spending 9 months grooming dogs, I have to say the tufting and grooming have a lot in common.
Why were you interested in buying your own tufting gun? Has it changed your practice at all?
I have experimented with rugs before and tufting has always been in the back of my mind. A few years ago, I was looking for a tufting gun but they were too expensive of an investment. This spring, I saw Tim Eads’ video on Instagram and I was intrigued. I bought a gun a few weeks later. I love tufting because its results are directly visible. Every experience with the tufting gun is an exciting and informative one. I am in the process of bringing the tufting and painting worlds together. It is a rich territory for exploration.
In the fall, I will be teaching “Transparent Media” in the Illustration department of Lesley University in Cambridge, and a Winter Session “Monumental Drawing” course at Brown University in Providence. I plan to do a tufting demonstration at both universities as it would lend itself to both curriculums.
How do you maintain your creative practice in conjunction with running your own business?
The urge to make art and make money is often on opposite tracks. I want to make exquisite, fragile and complicated things. Often it takes an extraordinary amount of time to design, source, create, produce and sell any product. Our consumer culture is bargain oriented and assumes everything mass produced and is made by a machine. My challenge is to find the right customer. The joy of creating can be consumed by craft and business. It is essential to remember the spark that makes you passionate about creating and use it to drive you forward.