Today, we are pleased to introduce another artist from BOX 13 Art Space on our Artist Advisory Board, 2015-2016: Dennis Nance, artist, costume maker, and arts administrator at Lawndale Art Center.
Have you ever doubted that art can be fun and funky? If so, you have to check out Dennis Nance’s 2016 Calendar, Cast of Characters right now! I assure you, it will crack you up and make you want to meet the artist in person. In the calendar, each month features different costumes created by the artist that rejoice at the change of the seasons; You will find that his hand-crafted costumes range from simple and fun forms like lobsters, turkeys, and gingerbread men, to wacky and whimsical creations like cacti, squid, and piñatas.
One of the earliest Intern Reading Group assignments at DiverseWorks was to read “Everything You Need to Know (and Do) as You Pursue Your Art Career” (a chapter in Art/Work by Bhandari, Darcy, and Melber 2009) which discusses solutions for artists who have to balance an art career and full-time job. Having had a chance to volunteer at Lawndale Art Center under Dennis’ supervision, I became very curious about how Dennis, a full-time arts administrator and artist, has coped with this issue and wished to know whether there were frustrations pursuing both career paths simultaneously.
What is it like serving an arts administration position while pursuing your art career at the same time?
It appears that Dennis doesn’t necessarily see himself singularly as an artist. The two things – arts administrator and artist roles – often blend together, and there’s no disparity. He sometimes envies the artists in the Lawndale studio program because he wishes he were in his own studio working, but when it comes to getting engaged with the artists there, it becomes a similar experience of art production.
Dennis’ work involves moments of problem solving and the exchange he receives with artists at his administration career allows him to incorporate ideas and solutions derived from their work.
How did you take interests in costume-making? Was it something you’ve practiced back in school?
Dennis’ Bachelor’s degree has an emphasis on art, though it was focused on painting and photography. However, he has always been involved in working with needle and cloth. As a high school student, he took pleasure in sewing, and after college, he fell in love with beautiful, exquisite textiles in Japan when he taught English there. As a matter of the fact, his current practice started when he received a birthday present from his mom, a sewing machine.
“It was one of those extra problem-solving things, too. I didn’t know how to use [a sewing machine], but I could make something out of it… it was like how can I make tote bag … at a craft level. “
Hearing the word ‘craft’ from him, I knew that it was time to ask the question I had in mind for a while. It is hard not to mention how his work lacks a “pure” character of art. It does not fall into the ethos of traditional visual art or even the definition of art that is commonly accepted in the contemporary era. His costumes do have a function and they are practical in the sense that he actually wears them and walks around the town. They have been featured in art exhibits like CAMH’S Texas Design Now that was on view from August 22 to Nov 29, 2015.
Because there is “functionality” in your work – specifically, it’s wearable – do people consider it more craft than art? How do you feel about it?
Unexpectedly, Dennis doesn’t mind if people see his work as craft or as art because he doesn’t categorize it either way. He believes that he started making costumes/wearable things as a fun, personal activity for himself and for friends. It slowly became more goal-oriented as he continued his project, but he doesn’t see a clear distinction between craft and art because craft lends itself to art and art lends itself to craft.
He started making a few costumes per year, and then he cranked out 6-8 costumes before the calendar launch. Dennis shared that the experience of making costumes is a whole different story when you have an unlimited amount of time to create and tweak things versus having limited time that concludes with a deadline. Dennis has spent time selling his shirts at various pop-up markets, but he hasn’t considered private commissions since he enjoys creating for his own use.
I have tended to search for hidden agendas and twisted, sneaky contexts in artworks and would hold back merely saying, “I like that because it’s amusing on the eyes.” In turn, I lost the pleasure of looking and my eyes were always ready to analyze or categorize works in certain orders. Meeting with Dennis reminded me of the fun of simply looking at art and taught me that everything always starts from a personal level, just like how he began to make costumes.
Dennis is very excited to participate and serve DiverseWorks. Although his presence on the board is relatively new and he needs some time to find the right role within, with the organization’s support, we are excited to see where this new-born costume/craft project is headed and what impacts it will have in store for the contemporary art world.
- Interested in Dennis’s artistic practice and a constant Instagram user?
Follow his account, @dennisdennisdennisdennisdennis! One of his costumes went viral and broadcast on TV!
- His creations have become an integral part of his wardrobe.
See if you can spot him in his characteristic patterns around the burgeoning Houston art scene. You can find him thriving in his habitat as an arts administrator at Lawndale Art Center, working in his studio at Bermac Arts or helping out around DiverseWorks at its new location at the MATCH.
Interview by Doris Xu and Joomi Lee, DiverseWorks’ Interns