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Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper, modified paper, 2011



Artist: Libby Hague, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interview 44: Libby exhibited in the 2012 World of Threads Festival exhibition De rerum natura (On The Nature of Things) at Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre in Oakville, Ontario.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Libby Hague is a Toronto-based visual artist who works primarily in print installation. Her recent exhibitions include Sympathetic Connections at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2011; We were young and still believed in heaven, Galerie Circulaire, Montreal, Quebec, 2010; tiens-mois tres fort, La Centrale, Montreal, Quebec,  2010; being natural, Durham Art Gallery, Durham, Ontario,  2010; and One step at a time, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, 2009.

An advocate of the pleasures and benefits of travel she has done installations in two international conferences this year, the International Paper Art Exhibition and Symposium, Chung Shan National Gallery, Taiwan and My one and only life so far, as part of Miner for a heart, curated by Yael Brotman for Impact 7, Melbourne, Australia. The last work also opened in NY recently as part of the IPCNY's autumn exhibition and it will travel to Austin , Texas in January, 2012. Next year she will do a residency in Ireland in June with Yael Brotman.

She is featured in the British book, Installations & Experimental Printmaking by Alexia Tala and won the 2009 Open Studio National Printmaking Award. She is represented in many public collections including the Donovan Collection at the University of Toronto. Libby's Website


Artist Libby Hague, photo: Judith Lermer Crawley


Tell us about your work?

I do print-based installations with paper. Thematically they deal with disaster and hope, with the idea of the precariousness of everything of consequence in the world. It seems to me that paper is the perfect medium to express this because it is both beautiful and fragile. It's also a pleasure to work with.


Being Natural, woodcut on Okawara paper,wire, detail, Durham Art Gallery, 2010


From where do you get your inspiration?

All sorts of places. I'm interested in many different things and have stopped worrying about how distracting this can be and follow as many different enthusiasms as I have time for. I find inspiration in other artists, the morning newspaper, books, dance, opera, puppets, craft, nature, toys, my own tools and materials, museums, other people's clever ideas. I'm also inspired by the incomplete potential of my own work because its logic directs me to the next step.


Being Natural, woodcut on Okawara paper, wire, detail, Durham Art Gallery, 2010, Photo credit Michael Tweed


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

I like to work in print and paper because of the pleasure I have in handling these materials and the way the media transform my idea. I remember this pleasure even as a child, sitting at the kitchen table cutting out pictures from catalogues and gluing them onto cardboard. Paper is very warm and human and it's highly adaptable, like us. It has a fragility and often a surprising strength that works on a metaphoric and a material level.


One Step at a time, detail, Art Gallery of Mississauga, woodcut on Okawara paper, ribbon, 2009, photo credit Peter Legris

One Step at a time, detail, Art Gallery of Mississauga, woodcut on Okawara paper, ribbon, 2009, photo credit Peter Legris


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

My own preferred medium is paper combined with print. Currently I like applying the material approaches generally associated with textiles to paper. This shifts the vocabulary just enough, for example, pleating, weaving, fraying, fringing, sewing etc. aren't commonly done in paper but this makes it interesting when it does occur.


One Step at a time, detail, Art Gallery of Mississauga,woodcut on Okawara paper, ribbon, 2009, photo credit Peter Legris


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

I paint, make collages, construct sculpture from modified paper and plaster, do video. It helps me stay curious by turning to a different problem. Often the inspiration moves laterally through these things and a solution in one area can migrate somewhere else. Sometimes I wonder why I even try to think things through because the solutions that happen by chance are so good.

Practically, it is good to break from hard physical work and do something that lets me sit down for a while and vice versa. There are different satisfactions and solutions that come from working on a computer as opposed to making things with your hands, so why choose? Although if I had to, I would always choose to make things by hand.


Safety net, Loop Gallery, Toronto, paper, plaster, pipe cleaners, 2010, photo credit, Michael Tweed


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

I love lists because they give me the brief illusion of being organized. So this is a good opportunity to make an incomplete list of artists that make my "heart beat faster".

Vermeer for his perfection and his melting edges;
for his drama, his colour, and for staying shocking;
for all the tumult, for being an installation artist 400 years before the rest of us and because he can make marble look soft;
Rembrandt for his humanity and unfathomable technical accomplishment;
Klimt for his dazzling, flattened landscapes and his decorative excess;
Van Gogh
for his energy and tenderness and integrating vision;
for his compassionate painting of the effects of time and gravity on flesh; Greek 5th C BC bronzes for being splendid;
Fan K'uan
for his sublimely quiet, monumental landscapes;
for his pacing, logic and clarity;Titian for getting looser as he got older;
de Kooning because of his great colour sense and dazzling brushwork;
Finally, the three great Quebec artists, Pellan, Riopelle and Borduas. Perhaps it's because I grew up in Quebec that they speak to me in a special way that evokes the landscape where I lived. Pellan is also about joy and invention. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have one across from your bed so that it would be the first and last thing you see every day.

These are just a few of my favourites. I love looking at art, and going to museums and galleries is one of my greatest pleasures.


Safety net, Loop Gallery, Toronto, paper, plaster, pipe cleaners, 2010, photo credit, Michael Tweed

Safety net, Loop Gallery, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper,wire, 2010, photo credit, Michael Tweed


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

I've just come back from Australia and I'm excited about the aboriginal work I saw there because it has such an original beauty. It reads as a particularly compelling abstraction because it comes from a very specific source that shapes their aesthetic decisions in unexpected ways.

Earlier this summer I went to Wells, British Columbia, and worked as a mentor with Harold Klunder. I hadn't seen him for years and was reminded how much I had learned from watching him work at Open Studio in the early 80's, because he brought great concentration to every mark he made. It's one reason he is a great artist. In Wells he brought a similar concentration to looking at books, as if each image was the last thing he was going to see in the world.

This is another opportunity for a list, this time of contemporary influences:

Gerhard Richter for his thrilling huge abstract paintings and his smaller, tender figurative works. I am reassured by his constant self- reinvention;
William Kentridge for his powerful themes combined with a new animation language and his incorporation of puppets and opera;
Nancy Spero for scale, rhythm and the adaptability of her approach to print;
Kiki Smith for recreating approaches to traditional print on her own terms;
Jeannie Thib for her graphic intelligence and the way her work integrates over time;
Julie Voyce for her exuberant originality;
Nicholas Hlobo for his strange slightly repulsive materials and challenging scale (he would be interesting to pair with David Altmedj);
Guy Ben Nair for his complicated humour;
Katharina Grosse for taking painting to a glorious scale with unlikely materials;
El Anatsui for the adaptability of his wall pieces and the way they articulate;
David Altmedj for his strange, compelling and poetic materials and thinking;
Luanne Martineau for the combination of disgust, elegance, gravity and the unexpected in felt.


Safety net, Loop Gallery, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper,wire, 2010, photo credit, Michael Tweed

Early state, Taipei Peacock, International Paper Art Exhibition and Symposium, Chung Shan National Gallery, Taiwan, woodcut on Okawara paper, wire,2011

tiens-moi très fort, La Centrale, installation detail, woodcut on Okawara paper, wire, 2010


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

I wish I could see the Nick Cave exhibit at Mary Boone. I like his wild collaging of found textiles. It has good energy and humour. The same could be said for Toronto artists, Janet Morton and Allyson Mitchell, who work on an ambitious, even outrageous scale. Yael Brotman, Doug Guildford, Penelope Stewart, Rochelle Rubinstein and Karen Trask are more elegant and lyrical artists who have started with print and moved out from there into more sculptural work. I always want to see more of their work. Also my late friend Lily Yung was always innovative and did highly textured, intelligent die-cut work with felt.


Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper, wire, 2011

Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, outside window, woodcut on Okawara paper, 2011

Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, outside window, woodcut on Okawara paper, 2011


Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I like to have semi-organized confusion. If I lose something and am forced to start cleaning up, I usually find ideas I had forgotten about, which is also useful. So nothing seems to get lost without a purpose.


Libby Hague's studio in Toronto.

Libby Hague's studio in Toronto.

Libby Hague's studio in Toronto.


Can you talk a bit about the commercial viability of fibre art?

The type of work I usually do - largely 3-D paper and print constructions and installation - is hard to sell. It's not child or pet friendly and it also isn't cleaning staff friendly. It has been suggested I radically shift my materials but this isn't an easy or obvious possibility for me. I heard another fibre artist say that the perception of conservation problems has prevented sales of her work. Perhaps the best way to deal with this would be to work with architects to create special built-in spaces or to hope for institutional purchases where the work can be carefully exhibited and taken care of by conservators. Meanwhile, I can use a lack of sales to my advantage because I have a huge inventory of printed components. Since I usually use a modular approach to build complexity from simple elements, this accumulation means the installations get denser.


Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper, modified paper, 2011

Sympathetic connections, AGO, Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper, modified paper, 2011




Do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than non-fibre artists?

There is some interest in exhibiting my work but selling it isn't discussed, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I'm grateful for the existence of the artist-run centres in Canada because they allow me and others to show non-commercial work, pay artist fees and generally have talented people working in them.


Artist Libby Hague.


Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

 Installation makes a lot of physical demands because usually there is a lot of concentrated work in a week or less. It's as if someone asked you to get down and do a thousand push-ups. When I can't do the push-ups (figuratively speaking) or supervise someone else who can, my work won't exist. So right now I want opportunities to install in spaces with good exposure, that is, where the press and the public come. The more people are interested in my installations, the more likely I am to get offers from institutions where teams of people can help me make things. It basically allows me to become more ambitious. Meanwhile, as plan B, I go to the gym.


Hold me Tight, installation art Toronto, woodcut on Okawara paper,wire,2011


What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

A lot of ideas come to artists from their materials and so to reorganize attention around a material is an interesting shift of focus. Not enough attention is paid to the many, many really good artists here in Canada, so I'm in favour of anything that helps us.


My one and only life so far, as part of "Miner for a heart", curated by Yael Brotman, Impact 7, Melbourne, Australia, woodcut on Okawara paper, wire, 2011 and also in IPCNY, NYC 2011



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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.