Art Basel Miami Beach: Jeffrey Gibson describes how dreams, dance, music influence his work

Jeffrey Gibson answers questions by Anne Ellegood, tof the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, during an Art Basel Miami Beach event on Wednesday. (Art Basel Miami Beach)

Jeffrey A. Gibson said his dreams were an inspiration for some time. Two “figures” visited him regularly and took him on “journeys” and he started to explore his spirituality.

The New York-based artist said the dreams allowed him “to cross some of the lines of material use” and “material combinations” and improved his “relationship” with objects and “how they come together.”

He shared the story during an Art Basel Miami Beach event on Wednesday afternoon at the convention center. There was a slide show with pictures of works by the 49-year-old painter and sculptor since 2012.

“The only thing you can be totally honest about is your own story,” he said while describing how he searched for his identity as a well-traveled artist of Mississippi Choctaw descent.

Gibson was born in Colorado and moved a lot as a kid since his father was a civil engineer for the U.S. government. He lived in Korea and Germany. While in Washington, D.C., he stepped into gay nightclubs in the 90s after the community was hit by the AIDS epidemic.

“Music has always been a big part of my life ... I was just going there and listening to music and dancing with my friends,” he said. “When I started listening to those lyrics, you hear anger.”

Gibson had trouble staying at the University of Maryland. The artist found his way to the Art Institute of Chicago and later to the Royal College of Art for a master’s degree in fine arts. Curators have described him as an artist who advocated for queer and Indigenous empowerment.

Gibson said there was a time in his career when he felt angry about the way “inequity issues” were impacting him. He said he found inspiration in the “microeconomy” that surrounds the Native American pow wow vendors who catered to ceremonial dancers.

“Then you bring in queer and trans pow wows and that adds a whole new split,” he said about how some members of his family who are Christian don’t attend pow wows.

Gibson was intrigued by handwoven fabrics and mesmerized by Native American women’s traditional jingle dress dancing. He found therapeutic benefits in weaving and beadwork and he began to explore wearable garment-based work.

“What’s interesting about say a beaded panel, maybe there is, you know, 3,000 beads in that. Your body actually has to envision to get this needle through this hole, you have to loop it around.

“You need it to sit well with the next bead, and if you don’t, you take it out and you do it again,” he said. “There is something about training your mind to do that ... the complexity of what it means is just a cumulative thing.”

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About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.