The fiber artworks of Crystal Gregory are like delicate rainbow webs of mycelia, bringing any wall or space to life. Now an assistant professor of fiber arts at the University of Kentucky, Gregory received a BFA at the UO in 2008 and a MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013, the same year she was awarded the The Leonore Annenberg Fellowship for the Performing and Visual Arts, sending her to Amsterdam as a guest artist at the Rietveld School of Art & Design. Of her work, which has been exhibited in museums and galleries nationwide, Gregory says she explores the intersection of textiles and architecture. Here, the College of Design catches up with the alumna and artist about her fiber arts journey, from the UO and the study abroad program in Florence, to her current projects—her largest site-specific installations to date.
Why did you choose to pursue a BFA at the University of Oregon?
I wasn’t ready for college directly after high school. I moved around, working different jobs, meeting different people, and taking community college classes at a handful of different schools. I was first introduced to weaving while living in Big Sur, California, by an artist who I was friendly with. I quickly found a weaving class nearby at Monterey Peninsula College and fell deeply in love. There was something about the textures, the materials, and process that kept me mesmerized. After that class I sought out every opportunity I could including a weeklong workshop at Tierra Wool in Los Ojos, New Mexico, among the Rio Grande weavers. These four years between high school and attending UO were really important and useful for me in understanding what I wanted to study. I looked for universities that had fiber programs and found the University of Oregon to have a great one.
Why sculpture and fiber arts as a focus?
I fell in love with the discipline for many reasons. The first being that I see textiles as a connective tissue between all of us. Textiles are a necessity of life, materials that we are in physical contact with every day. For this reason, each culture has their own unique patterns, colors, and uses of a fabric. I think from the beginning I realized textiles are a wonderful way to study people and that felt incredibly expansive. Adding to that, utilizing fiber within a fine art context I can create sculpture that allows me to engage with ideas and questions in a physical form.
Your artist bio states that your work investigates the intersections between textile and architecture. What does this mean? What have you found in your investigations thus far?
If the nature of architecture is fixed and permanent then the opposite would be a textile, collapsible and movable. Further consideration would show more common links than differences. Both mediums define space, create shelter, and allow privacy; a textile, however, has the advantage of flexibility. It is a semi two-dimensional plane that has the ability to fold, drape, move, and change to its surroundings.
My work uses cloth construction as a fundamental center, a place to start from and move back to. With weaving, I see myself as a builder; drawing clear connections between the lines of thread laid perpendicularly through a warp and the construction of architectural spaces.
Formally, my work takes shape through a pallet of building materials either paired with or mimicking textiles. I found a tension between materials like concrete and the structural patterns of cloth. By pairing these seemingly opposite worlds together I invert material stereotypes, using the “delicate” material to exhibit strength or exposing the “structural” materials’ instabilities. These gestures allow for a reinterpretation of material identities leaving the viewer to confront their understanding of these everyday utilities.
How did your experience studying art at the UO shape you and your career?
I feel so fortunate to have been at the UO during the program changing hands between [Associate Professor Emeritus of Art] Barbara Pickett to [former Assistant Professor] Josh Faught. Barbara Pickett has such a wealth of technical knowledge. She studies textile construction around the world and has an incredible passion. In my second year I was able to study abroad with her at Fondazione Lisio in Florence, Italy. There we dove deeply into manual jacquard weaving on silk looms. This experience gave me a sharp analytical eye needed in designing fabrics.
In my final year, Josh Faught took over the fiber department. Josh is an incredible deep thinker and maker; he introduced me to the contemporary field of fiber with all of its wonderful discourse surrounding feminist, queer, and marginalized histories. His influence changed the course of my art practice and really my life. After graduating I moved to New York to be in the center of the art world, which I don’t think I would have done without having first worked with Josh.
It is so wonderful to reflect back on how these faculty really shaped who I am as an artist and what I have done so far. I currently hold a professorship within the School of Art and Visual Studies at the University of Kentucky. I am so grateful for the values and mentorship of these two faculty members and hope to give my students what they gave to me: rigor and criticality, as well as support.
What are you working on now?
Currently I am working on two site-specific proposals. One in San Antonio, Texas, and the other in Brooklyn. Both, if selected, will be my largest installations to date. With these proposals I am pushing my material engagement using metal woven into the weft of the textile. The metal gives a weight and juxtaposition; matte next to reflective, soft next to hard, and warm next to cool.
What advice would you give to students about to embark on a similar path?
Stay true to your passion and interests. Things will shift and change and grow in ways you would never have expected. I think it is valuable to keep reimagining your dreams and goals along the way.