Ebb+Flow Artist Feature: Deidre Robb

Ebb+Flow Artist Feature: Deidre Robb

Regional Arts WA

This story has been submitted by Sarah-Jayne Eeles, who was engaged by the Regional Arts Network to create a series of stories that celebrates the artists involved in the Ebb+Flow residency.

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From art student, to librarian, to fulltime artist. It’s a classic story.

Deidre has been following the work of the North Midlands project since its inception and when details of the Ebb+Flow residencies were announced, she encouraged several other artists to apply, knowing how amazing an opportunity and experience it would be. However, she was surprised when her own application as an artist from the Peel region was accepted and she became the seventh artist in residence for the program.

Peel-based textile artist Deidre Robb.

As the classic story goes, like for so many artists and creatives, Deidre began her creative life following her passion by studying Fashion and Textiles in her 20s, but life happens, as it does, and she moved onto other things, including raising a family and working in the library and arts sectors as a rewarding and more financially stable career choice. However, she never stopped creating, and continued to grow her practice through the contemporary craft scene and making functional objects.

 “I’m a textile artist, so around 99% of what I use is textiles with a few other bits. I love mending and creating with found objects and second-hand materials. It’s a big part of my practice and I love going to op shops looking for materials, and it can spill into my regular life. I recently remodelled some fabulous fabric from an op shop into clothing for myself.”

One of Deidre’s textile creations.

Like many of us, COVID has been a time of reflection for Deidre, and a catalyst for change. She had earned some success with her art in a few exhibitions and was wondering if this was the time to make a change and devote more time and energy to her creative career. After discussions with her family, Deidre decided to resign from her arts officer role at the end of 2020 and focus on making and building her arts practice. For Deidre, building networks and making connections is just as important as creating new artworks, with those connections an important part of growing new opportunities, not just for individual artists, but towns, and communities too.

“I think reaching out and connecting with others is important. It’s how opportunities come to you, and supporting other artists is a big part of it too. I was already connected with some arts groups and organisations through my previous work as an arts officer, but there are so many wonderful people out there and interesting conversations to be had.  

I’ve joined the committee of WAFTA (the Western Australian Fibre and Textile Association) with a view to building connections and opportunities for the association’s regional members. And I love what North Midlands have been doing for their region. The Ebb+Flow residencies raise the profile of everyone involved, the artists, the place, the organisation, and they are showing people what’s possible. It’s putting the place on the map, people ask me ‘what’s in Carnamah?’, and there is so much going on there. It’s an exciting place to be.”

The residency was an exciting challenge for Deidre, but one she’d worked hard for, and was looking forward to embracing. She would be working in collaboration with local school children and some of the community’s traditional crafters to tell the story of the region in a unique way. The timing of Deidre’s residency was also an important part of the process and the November stay worked into the farming calendar perfectly.

“I really wanted to go at harvest time. It’s an important time for the community and the colours in the landscape are totally different from when I’d visited the region previously. It’s a full-on time. Everyone is busy and you see so much of the community at work. I had some ideas for the collaboration, but that’s the challenge for all artists, how to include the community to make it a co-created piece. I’m a slow maker. Slow in thought and slow in stitch, so it took a while to think of the best way to enable lots of people to participate, including non-textile people. I can also get a bit nervous working with traditional crafters, such as quilters. I knew I’d be working with highly skilled craftspeople and it can be intimidating. But they were very receptive to my use of textile craft techniques in my artworks, to hearing about the ideas behind the artworks I exhibited in The Bank Gallery, and keen to find out about how they could participate in the creation of my community artwork.”

Carnamah locals Marcell and James from the Scribes of North Midlands contribute to Deidre’s final exhibition piece.

“The Ebb+Flow piece I’m finishing for the exhibition is based on the community quilt concept, but it is constructed in a non-traditional format. Community quilts are a familiar concept: lots of people make an individual block (or patch), and then the blocks are all pieced together. I wanted to create a version that expresses the idea that there are many sides to a community, so the finished ‘quilt’ will be able to be arranged in different configurations to tell many different stories. The older school students drew pictures onto rust-printed fabrics of what ‘Ebb’ might look like in their community. These blocks contrast strongly with the bright, joyful images of the favourite aspects of life in these communities as drawn by younger children. Local quilters, patch-workers, embroiderers and crafters also worked on blocks, and other people contributed content in other ways such as a poem on the theme of Ebb and Flow. As usual I’ve underestimated the time it would take to put together, but I’m really pleased with the materials I collected from the community.”

An additional bonus to the residency for Deidre was the coinciding of another program, a joint project with North Midlands Project and Art on the Move, which meant there was another visiting artist she could brainstorm with and use as a sounding board for new ideas and concepts.

“Martien Van Zuilen was in Carnamah the same time I was. She is a felt artist and a real powerhouse. It was a big bonus having her there at the same time and I enjoyed her company enormously, and loved observing her residency and the development of her exhibition. We had some interesting and thought-provoking conversations including one on how we each measure our own success. I really enjoyed seeing the responses of the school children, especially the ones who clearly hadn’t ever seen or handled the sort of textiles I was showing them.

I promote the idea that you don’t necessarily need expensive materials to create art, and I could tell that that resonated with some of the children. During the residency I overheard a customer in an op shop talking about her child’s inspiring experience with ‘a textile artist’ who visited their school, and how the child was excited and wanted to learn more about fabrics and textile art because of it. I couldn’t resist enquiring and discovered that it was me who’d been there. That was a special feeling and definitely felt like a ‘success’ moment!”

“The residency was an incredible experience for me and the community was amazing. I was superbly supported by the North Midlands Project team and made to feel very welcome by everyone I met.”

Deidre plans to finish her collaborative piece early this year and is looking forward to the next creative challenges 2022 will bring.

You can connect with and find out more about Deidre and her work on Instagram deidrerobbmakesthings

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