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Crowning Glory, 33" x 7" x 7" Japanese paper, Abaca, Wood, Rope


If You Prick Me: 31"x 7"x7", Sisal, glue, wood:


Mommy Dearest: 29"x 7"x7", Hydrostone, cheese cloth, glue


Artist: Melanie Chikofsky, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Interview 36

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Melanie Chikofsky has had a varied career as an artist/educator. She began in ceramics, moved onto a specialized art program in secondary school, followed by Sheridan College School of Design, all contributing to a wide-ranging passion for art that also informed her zeal for teaching. After graduation, Chikofsky found herself designing high fashion hats that were seen in the pages of Harper's Bazaar, on the runways of Tokyo, and the Inner Circle at Ascot. She also produced jewellery and accessories for the body and the home.

In her mid thirties Melanie had an accident and four subsequent surgeries. During this difficult decade, she taught art to elementary school students in the Toronto inner city, where a lack of funding sparked an inventive and resourceful approach to both her teaching and her art. The vicissitudes of life have continued to shape Chikofsky as an artist. Since 2000, she has been the Managing Director and Lead Instructor at the Al Green Sculpture Studio School. This has propelled the acquisition of new technical skills that have had a profound impact on her current art practice.

Chikofsky has been exhibiting since 1983. In 2008, she won the "Best in Show Award" for "Threadbare" at an Ontario Society of Artists exhibition "Surfaces" Melanie's Website


Artist Melanie Chikofsky


Tell us about your work?

The three main components that drive my art practice are: primarily the expression of the idea, the second is the physical act of creation, and the third is the material explorations. These three elements are inseparable in my process as they coalesce, and are essential to most everything I do. The subjects of my creations/ manipulations (which often explore the concepts of distortion, repetition, and the human condition) have to engage me on an emotional as well intellectual level enabling me to pursue it for several years, as is my custom. Each new theme creates the opportunity for me to really delve into my topic as well as to hone some new skill sets and explore new materials. My tendency is to work in themes, not only in subject but also often in scale, imposing my own artistic parameters, and then exploring the options that those limitations make possible. Discovering a material's individual characteristics, and how they can support my concepts will always have a strong appeal for me.


Tres Dommage: 29" x 36" x 7", Nepalese Oil Paper, Wood,


From where do you get your inspiration?

My eyes are always open and I am actively engaged in the world around me. As well as the visual arts, I find inspiration in books, movies, dance, and theatre perhaps even a beautiful meal. I am also inspired by found objects; I like the idea of using perhaps a rusted piece of metal that I have picked up on the street, as a jumping off point. I actively pursue the creations of others, past and present, making my work informed by innumerable sources, it is comparable to having a dialogue with a most diverse group, not exclusively related to art.



Beginning to End: 29" x7"x7", Hydrostone rope, glue, acrylic paint, wood.



Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

I consider myself a mixed media artist that employs fibre as one of my many varied mediums. I studied at Sheridan School of Design, and although I did not major in the Textile Studio, I picked up some skills in my first year that have stayed with me. I also studied Japanese and Western paper making techniques at Harbourfront back in the early eighties when I was designing and making hats, and fell in love with the medium.


Signed, Sealed, Delivered: 29"x7"x7",Hydrostone, shipping paper, stamps, string.


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

Paper is my favourite fibre medium and particularly Japanese paper for its strength, beauty and variety. It is so malleable. I love that I can build it up three dimensionally. It is lightweight, and it can be translucent enabling me to play with that aspect as well. A variety of ropes, threads, and wires run a close second. I have a penchant for the symbolic language of the simple stitch and binding that is evident in much of the work I have done, from my African inspired jewellery produced in the early eighties to my most recent body of work.


Crowning Glory: 33"x7"x7," Japanese Paper, abaca, wood, rope.


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

As the director and lead instructor of a sculpture studio in Toronto, my hands are constantly in a variety of materials from soft mediums like wax and clay to gypsum based materials and cementatious ones as well. Most recently, a puppeteer introduced me to reeds, which I am anxious to play with. I recently explored encaustic wax employing photo-transfers in my latest body of work, I grappled and reveled in it, trying to push it to new limits, and once again into the three dimensional realm. I am always exploring new materials, not only for my own keen interest, but also in my role as the lead instructor I feel it is important to keep abreast of any new material that may enhance the sculptural experience for my studio members.


If You Prick Me: 31"x 7"x7", Sisal, glue, wood:

Mommy Dearest: 29"x 7"x7", Hydrostone, cheese cloth, glue


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

I believe my earliest historic and most significant influence was African art and masks in particular. Their abstracted forms and their wondrous use of materials left an indelible impression on me and forged my course as a mixed media artist. Concurrent with that discovery were the films of Federico Fellini, Italian Film Director (1920-1993) I remember seeing 81/2 when I was only about ten years of age and being completely blown away by his phantasmagorical imagery, shot in black and white, which lent a surreal quality that continues to have a strong appeal for me to this day.

The natural progression was to the Dada/Surrealist movements (1912-1947) with their disregard for traditional art practices, their employment of non-traditional materials, and the distorted, sometimes dystopian realities.

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) French painter, sculptor who coined the phrase Art Brut, influenced me with his use of bold colours, his faintly figurative sculptural forms and his collage work e.g.: Cheveux de Sylvain, made from butterfly wings.

And, notably Piero Fornasetti Italian Designer extraordinaire (1913-1988). The scope of this man's vision was quite simply remarkable; I cannot say enough about his influence on me and especially on my last theme. His imagination was boundless, when asked what materials he used most often; he replied " Everything. I use everything: glass, metal, marble, everything I can get my hands on."

This is my mantra.


Melanie working at the Al Green Sculpture Studio School, Toronto.

Melanie's studio in Toronto.


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

I was first introduced to Magdalena Abakanowicz: Polish (1930-) in college; here is a woman who started with weaving on a monumental scale and progressed to sculpture in a variety of materials. I almost had a dream come true when I was accepted into a Master Class with her that was unfortunately cancelled just days before it was set to commence due to the SARS out break.

Christo: American/Bulgarian (1935-) & Jeanne Claude: French (1935-2009) They created works on a scale that awed me, their use of fabric, wrapping buildings, bridges etc. that muted original details while creating new ones, excited me with a new way of seeing the world around me.

Annette Messager: French (1943-) I find to be a very exciting artist, she is an enormous influence, whose works resonates through her use of fragmented images, her use of language, employment of photography and fibre among other materials to express her views on such themes as the role of women, and, normalcy, issues that concern me.

Anselm Kiefer: German (1945-) this artist oeuvre is quite simply amazing, but it was not until I saw an exhibition of his work in Montreal that I experienced the full impact of his work. The scale of some of the works were viscerally staggering, however it was the use of such materials as lead, natural fibres, old dresses mixed with weird emulsions and oil paints, all coming together to create work of such potency and depth. I could go on and on, however these are my most current and relevant influences.



Iron Maiden: (back), 29"x11"x7", Japanese paper, wax, nails, pins, brass wire, steel, watch parts, wood.


Iron Maiden: (side view), 29"x11"x7", Japanese paper, wax, nails, pins, brass wire, steel, watch parts, wood.



What other fibre artists are you interested in?

Do-Ho Suh: Korean, residing in New York (1962-). He employees the use of fibre in many of his pieces e.g. Seoul home, Reflection, and his Paratrooper series, I find his work engaging on many levels, besides being deeply personal, he speaks to universal concerns.

William Kentridge: South African (1955-) his work interests me not only for the vast scope of his vision but also for his deeply evocative imagery.



Threadbare: 29"x7"x7", Abaca, silk thread, acrylic rods, enamel paint, wood, thread spools


Self-Portrait with Circles and String, 24"x13"x2.75" Paper collaged on wood panel, acrylic paint, nails, string



Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I work out of two studios, one is in my home and is quite small, literally the size of a drafting table with supplies shelved in closed proximity, this is where I do my thinking, planning and more detailed "cleaner" work. However during the execution of my last exhibition "Out of My Head" it soon expanded to encompass my entire apartment. The second is the sculpture studio I manage and teach at, this is where I can do larger, "messier" work and where I have access to machines and power tools, and an extra pair of hands, if I require them. Sometimes the work travels back and forth depending on what stage it is at. There is no doubt that I think and work much better in the isolation and quiet environment of my home, where there is nothing to distract me, I also have a good library of art books and reference material to inspire there as well. As I work in themes that I develop over a long period, usually an idea floats about in my head for a while before I do anything concrete about it. When I finally settle into my theme, I usually do a number of experiments before I can start, as I am usually exploring some new material. I enjoy a playful approach to my work. Happy accidents abound that guide me, as I allow the unexpected to take me on a journey, which is the most exciting and magical part of the process, for when I get to its destination, it is all over.



Strung Out: 36"x16"x4" Paper collaged on wood panel, pencil, nails, string


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

It is apparent from my list of contemporary influences alone that fibre is very much alive and playing an important role in many current art/craft/design practices worldwide today. Artists are no longer restrained but outmoded ideas about what art or craft should be. I struggled in college trying to do fine art in a craft environment; the prevailing attitude then poised this great divide between the two, a concept I never understood. I find the use of fibre to be a very exciting textural and tactile element to the realm of fine art.


Topographical Explorations #4: 15"x12"x2.75", Card stock, butterfly pins, acrylic paint, nails, string, wood & metal frame



Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

I just completed a large exhibition and am at present in between projects. Ideas are swimming about in my head, and I have yet to settle into a new major project. However, if whatever I do follows a similar course, it will be a single themed and mixed media.


Gossamer Wings: 11.5"x11.5"x3" Card stock, butterfly pins, thread, nails, Japanese paper, metal & wood frame



How did you find out about the World of Threads Festival?

I discovered it on-line but to date have yet to submit to the exhibitions, as I was unsure of how my work would be perceived, however when the web site was created I immediately subscribed.


What's Love Got To Do With It #46: 7"x7", Japanese paper, appropriated image, leather, thread.


What interests you about the World of Threads Festival?

The web site allows me access to new artists and ideas that I may not otherwise have been aware of. I have enjoyed reading the interviews with the artist and about their practices, which I find most enlightening.


What's Love Got To Do With It #48: 7"x7", Japanese paper, appropriated image, burlap.


Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your work that we have not covered?

I am most fortunate to have a number of artist friends that continue to inspire and share their discoveries with me, notably Doug Guildford, who a number of years ago now, reintroduced me to Japanese papers through the Japanese Paper Place and also some of his discards. Thankfully I could now employ this medium without the rather daunting task involved in producing them myself.


What's Love Got To Do With It #51: 7"x7", Japanese paper, appropriated image, gold leaf.



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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.


What's Love Got To Do With It #4: 7"x 7", MDF, acrylic paint, copper wire