This week we interviewed Rachelle Vasquez, a Houston-based artist and art teacher, who works primarily with fibers. Rachelle graduated from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a minor in art history. Prior to becoming a resident artist at HCCC, she had a residency at DiverseWorks in 2007 and a solo show at Lawndale Art Center in 2010.
This is the last artist interview for a while, so be sure to enjoy it! This month, we’ll say goodbye to all of the current resident artists—Nathan Dube, Jessica Kreutter, Rachelle Vasquez, Melissa Walter and John Zimmerman—we wish them well in their new adventures! A new crop of residents will be starting in September.
Why crochet instead of knitting?
I learned how to knit before I learned how to crochet and did that for a few years. I became frustrated with knitting because I wasn’t able to create all of the ideas I had in my head with it, so that’s when I switched to crocheting.
What led you to try crochet?
The first thing I ever crocheted was my fox scarf. I had the idea for it, but was unable to accomplish it the way I wanted to with knitting, so I bought a book and learned how to crochet. From there, I just ran with it. When I look at a skein of yarn, the possibilities are just endless.
Have you ever done any guerrilla crocheting? How do you feel about this form of street art?
I was a member of a knit graffiti group here in Houston for two years, around 2005. At the same time, I was working on my own artwork and always kept the two entirely separate. The knit graffiti was fun and got people interested in knitting; I appreciate anything that gets people excited about knitting and crocheting.
There are many animals incorporated into your work. Do you have any specific reasons to depict any species?
I’m fascinated with all animals and particularly how animals have been used, depicted and are incorporated in history. The scarves started as a reaction to the real fox-fur scarves that women used to wear, and my large tapestries draw on historical events. I let the stories lead me to the animals that I focus on, though I’ve been known to have a preference towards squirrels.
You’ve been in the Houston art scene for years. How has your impression of HCCC evolved over time?
I honestly didn’t know a lot about HCCC before I applied for and got the residency. I had been to a few openings, but that was the extent of my knowledge. The word craft seems to have an almost negative connotation to it in the art world, and I think that it’s something that’s lost on the contemporary art scene here. It’s unfortunate because there are lots of amazing things happening here that I feel a lot of artists in Houston don’t know about.
Do you dye your own yarn?
No, I buy all of my yarn pre-dyed and mostly use acrylic or cotton.
When you are not at HCCC, what are you up to?
When I’m not at HCCC, I’m either working, as a pet sitter, or enjoying time with friends and exploring this city that I’ve always lived in, but continue to discover new aspects of everyday.
What is your favorite thing about your residency at HCCC?
My favorite thing about my residency here is that there’s this whole other part of the art scene in Houston that’s been opened up to me. I tell people every day to come visit the Craft Center and to discover all of the new and exciting things that are happening here.
Who was your biggest influence artistically?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific artist that has influenced me the most. Recently, I’ve been interested a lot in Audubon. I can appreciate that almost obsessive compulsion to document every single thing of a larger group. When looking for new subject matter, I often focus on specific groups of animals and how they’re grouped, like the animals that served in WW2 and won the Dickin Medal or state birds or state animals. I see my work as documentation of these animals.
How long does creating one of your pieces take? Is a lot of planning involved?
The scarves take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on which one it is. The large tapestries have taken me as long as nine months to make. There is a tremendous amount of planning involved. I am a very meticulous person when it comes to making my art. There is always a detailed drawing that serves as a map. Then, colors are selected, a chart is created, the drawing is color coded, and then the measurements are plotted out. And before I even start the drawing, a great deal of research is done and spreadsheets are made. In my largest piece, one row took approximately 30 minutes to make, so everything has to be planned out to minimize mistakes. Mistakes mean I have to unravel multiple rows, thus undoing hours of work. I don’t like mistakes.
Have you ever studied or shown outside Houston? Do you have a dream city in which to exhibit?
I have never studied outside of Houston, but I have shown outside of Houston, most recently in Philadelphia. I don’t have a dream city I’d like to exhibit in, but really would just love to get my work into as many places as possible.