AIR Cycle 10 Artist Highlight: Dance Doyle
It was almost fate that brought Oakland’s Dance Doyle to the medium of tapestry weaving from ceramics in college. Originally a theatre major, she realized it was not what she was meant to do after a teacher told the class “if you can imagine yourself doing anything else in this world and enjoying it … do it.”
Since every other studio class was filled when she went to enroll, this left only textiles, which actually held a large portion of the fine arts building at San Francisco State. There were dye labs, indigo vats, looms and more. That is where Dance began to weave and learned how to set up a loom for tapestry.
“Then we got to tapestry and that is where I stayed. I was like, this is what I’m doing, I don’t know what it is about this.”
Dance’s tapestries are based on drawings, but she does not use cartoons. Instead, she uses her drawing as a guide so she can make changes and different choices as she moves through the slow weaving process. Each element is carefully chosen, down to the perfect color of hand-dyed merino wools and silks. The work acts as a journal, allowing her to get out what she needs to at that time.
The themes addressed in her work reflect this, well, reflection. They revolve around ideas of tragedy, violence, redemption, and trauma. Currently, she is working on a series about addiction, inspired by her own history. Dance has been sober for 10 years now and says that “I feel like this is paying tribute to every person who helped me, and the miracle that I’m still here and still alive and how it’s dealt with in society and the whole idea of mental health and addiction.”
“I went through a really sick period of my life, especially when I was out there and I remember when I couldn’t find any reason to get help or ask for help or get better. I always thought, “I was really good at tapestry, it would have been nice to have tried harder.” I started doing that and it was a reason to get sober in the end. In a lot of ways, I think it saved my life. It kept me busy, it was rewarding, it was fun, it was challenging and I could record my thoughts.
“I really needed to do that; it was like an old friend that I got to see every day.”
In terms of her art, Dance sees the pieces not just as fiber art, but as contemporary art. Any connection with a medium connected to women’s work and the feminine tends to come not only with a pay cut but also exhibition limitations. Her desire is to be in shows that are diverse, not just solely tapestry. Not that there’s anything wrong with those shows, of course. “I respect craft, and I respect the word craft, but I do know that when it is put with a form of women’s work there’s a pay-cut and that’s not okay. That’s like paying teachers nothing because it’s traditionally a woman’s job. As a teacher and an artist in fiber, it means a great deal to me.”
Dance previously taught at Studio One Arts Center in Oakland, California. She had a history there, it was actually where she had her first introduction to textiles. When she was in sixth grade at an arts magnet school she won the prize of a summer at the studio. There they had looms, and she made this grandmother doll with actual sheets wool for hair, glasses and even details down to lace underwear. Later when she became a teacher, she brought the doll with her, even though the stuffing had gone from her neck.
The community at TAC has been freeing, and while Dance enjoys quiet studio work, the benefit of support and feedback often outweighs the solitude. The chance to learn new techniques is built into the program, but warp-painting has become an unexpected surprise. Instead of essentially painting with thread on a warp, she is literally applying paint to the warp and then weaving over. Compared to the lengthiness of tapestry weaving, the speed of warp painting is exciting. These new ways of weaving allow Dance to still maintain her figurative work but create a large piece quickly.
“There are so many people with so much knowledge about different methods and different fiber art ideas that it’s brought me out of tapestry world.”
Dance moved to New York for this residency but isn’t about to leave so quickly after arriving. She plans to stay here for the near future, grow in the arts community here and hopefully take part in more residencies. Some exploration outside of textiles and tapestry weaving are planned for as well. Having created installations in the past, she wants to explore site-specific ones, and also collaborate with artists outside of textiles. Ceramics are still a love, and while she may look at ways to combine it with her textile work, just getting back to working in the medium is exciting. Speaking about this new phase of her life:
“I’m here and I’m hungry for it.”