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Gabrielle Teschner | Interview

We welcome Gabrielle Teschner to Tappan today, and we are so excited to share this beautiful series of intricately constructed pieces. Gabrielle Teschner lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her BFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2003 and her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2007. Teschner’s work is included in the permanent collection of the De Young Museum in San Francisco and has shown throughout the Bay Area at Haines Gallery, John Berggruen Gallery, Goodnight Projects and Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. Teschner works with muslin fabric, paint, and stitching to reconstruct forms that are analogous to our built environments. Employing architectural components into her carefully crafted works, Teschner questions and explores the edifice of accumulated knowledge, incorporating architectural icons that become themes for an examination of structural authority in both building construction and rigid ideologies.

Our interview with her below:

Tell us about this body of work launching on Tappan?

These pieces are made of cotton muslin and many depict stones. A lot of them are traveling works, and have crossed as many borders as I have in the past few years. I carried them everywhere. I was thinking about essential building blocks--elements of architecture that a whole structure would depend on. A keystone, or a column. Something that supports weight. We rely on the fact that these foundations exist in order to dwell. Some of them I made after I spent time in Berlin, and I was thinking about the remnants of the wall underfoot. Those stones had been significant dividers, but were scaled down to paving stones.


 When do you make your best work?

Before a good meal.


Regarding your method of making, is it a case of the material or method dictating the idea of the other way around?

I start with an idea, but it works the other way too. Fabric talks about flexibility, portability, and information-loss in a way that more rigid sculptural materials don't. I sew this work. So much of the composition ends up behind the work, folded into the seams. With wood, it gets sanded off, it ends up on the floor, you never think about it again.


Artist whose career you covet?

If I'm going to break a commandment and a noble truth, can I go big? Picasso. I wanted to be him when I was five. I thought I could pick up where he left off.


Last gallery show you went to?

Of Many Minds at Euqinom in SF, 3 artists making epic photo work


What are you most proud of?

My reflexes.


What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

Tending a prolific orchard.

If you could travel anywhere to create for a while, where would you go?

I just traveled to Siracusa Ortigia in Sicily and I would go back there. It's a bright island with washed, white stone an hour from a dark city built of black lava stone. The columns of an old Greek Temple were used to build the newer cathedral that stands there today, which was built on top of an even older foundation, and you can see all the layers, all the stages of degradation in the stone, from the outside. I would like to take some more time thinking about that.


What are your other hobbies?

Spending time on the water, running stairs, looking up the uses of plants, going to the movies, talking with people who don't speak English


If you could have a drink with one artist, who would it be?

Richard Serra


What influences you?

Architects. Hindu Time. The history of math. Couture. Koans.


What motivates you?

My big family on the East Coast, and the morning


What’s your studio philosophy?  

Build more questions.

How many hours do you try and work in the studio per week?

I try and create part of something every day. That could take me five minutes, or 5 hours, and not always in a studio. I spent half this year without one. There's a great picture of Rothko sitting back and staring at one of his pieces. I think that's one of the best uses of studio time. You're the first person to see this thing, ever.


Silence or sound while creating? If sound, what?

I'm in Key West at the moment, and I was told a tropical storm comes through tomorrow. I would love to be working in a good thunderstorm with the window open. That's the right amount of drama. That or hip-hop, or Lionel Hampton.


Tools or mediums you’re dying to experiment with?



What’s next?

I'm taking advantage of being in a tropical climate. Thinking about the function of color in the heat. And curves. The plants on the shore have shapes made to withstand the wind.


What’s the first thing you do when you begin formulating an idea for a piece?

Go for a walk. I do my best thinking when I'm moving or watching things move. I've been making a lot of small paper works on ferry-rides and flights. The scene is changing out of the window, and there's nothing to get done but this.


What work took you the longest to complete?

The Path, it was 14 feet wide and 8 feet tall. It took about 5 weeks but I used every hour I had. I couldn't wait to see what it would become. I used my full armspan, my full height, to put it together.


Best gift you’ve ever received?

A painting of a scarlet-sailed shipwreck by Ryan Pierce.


Describe your work in 3 words.

In the beginning.


What's one thing you still have from your childhood?

A fat little bronze Buddha that my Dad got in India. It's an inch tall and it's far heavier than it should be, like a piece of black matter. It used to sit in my windowsill.


Do you have a favorite quote, or a phrase you think about often?

"Five colors blind the eye, from the Tao te Ching." It points to how the finite divisions we create between things make it harder for us to sense the infinite.


Have the cities you’ve lived in influenced your practice? If so, tell us a bit about that, and what elements in particular steered you in certain directions. 

I grew up in the woods overlooking a slow, marshy river that led out to the Chesapeake Bay. A very occasional boat would come through. It was quiet but full of forest sounds, and constantly transformed by the seasons. My parents had, and still build on, an enormous, sprawling, wild garden that touches the edges of the woods on all sides. Almost all of the color disappears in the winter, and it goes black and white. The pace of that piece of land is responsible for the way I focus.

I've lived in California for 11 years now. It always represented something bigger, more vast. The plants are more sculptural. When I first came here I thought it looked like a Dr. Seuss book. I thought, okay, he didn't make all of it up. I really appreciated how the West Coast has so much undeveloped coastline. When I zoom out, I think of the West as a monumental cliffside. The East coast is more granular by comparison, broken down into smaller pieces.

And I travel a lot. I go somewhat prepared with a perception that will help me enjoy the place, but then I let it get dismantled. It's the contrast between those that reveals.


What country do you wish to visit?



What makes you nervous?



What makes you laugh no matter what?

Slapstick kills me. And that scene in the Big Lebowski when Walter throws the ashes over a cliff and they fly into The Dude's face. There's something about halted motion...


What's the bravest thing you've ever done? 

It was a long time ago, but climbing the Inca Trail ill. There is almost no air there. I climbed every single stair individually. I told myself, just one more step, 10,000 times. I made it to Macchu Picchu, but it defeated me. I still enjoy brief encounters with landscapes that are like that--unwelcoming to humans. It gives me hope that we won't be able to take over everything.


Someone whose work has inspired your own practice and what you’re creating these days?

Ed Ruscha. He trusts phrases and symbols to exist in isolation. Also, the space in a lot of his work has substance, like it's dusty or humid. I appreciate his sense of humor. I shook his hand once, it was very encouraging.


What’s one habit you wish you could break?

Taking the stickers off of fruit and putting them just anywhere.