Interview with a Bead Artist: Teresa Sullivan

Posted on Mar 15, 2010 in Crafts, Interviews | 8 comments

Check out what Teresa Sullivan does with beads.

You Should Have Your Stuff Made in Indonesia beadwork

I met Teresa when I went to Portland last spring for the epic craftgasm. She gave me a ride in her Dodge Dart and she let me watch over her shoulder while she worked on a bead piece. We’ve been in touch ever since, and when she sent me a press release about a show she just did in Tucson*, I jumped at the excuse to write about her and her work.

First, here’s a video she pointed me to, so you can both hear her voice and see her beading in action:

Teresa Sullivan Bead Artist Documentary from Ian Lucero on Vimeo.

Teresa was kind enough to answer five questions, a blog interview format I’ve been experimenting with**. Note that her email signature says, “putting beads where they don’t belong since 1994.” I love her.

KW: Why beads?

TS: Because they have holes—the most important part of a bead is its hole. How much more existential can you get? It’s these holes, the “nothing” parts, that actually provide the basis for their structural stability. The best stuff comes from nothing.

Also, they are small and travel literally all around the world, carrying their stories with them, or if the story is lost, they inspire new stories. The oldest beads are estimated to be 80,000 years old. No existing book or painting is that old.

The other thing I like about beads is that it’s more challenging and wide-open for me than other media. I used to draw almost constantly when I was a kid, making my own cartoons and paper dolls, but I don’t feel I would add as much to the drawing/painting world as I would to the beading world. I’m excited as hell about ways I can link beadwork and comics (and nutty Spanish-language game shows, William Burroughs’ and Brion Gysin’s “cut-up” method, etc.).

Teresa Sullivan beading

KW: What tools do you always have within reach? What have you learned you really don’t need?

TS: This is another thing I love about beadwork. It’s simple and low-tech. I have a bunch of beading needles, scads of beads of all sizes, found objects (send me your unwanted chrome car decals please!), scissors, professional tailoring thread in a bunch of colors, a lump of beeswax, and most importlantly, a righteous stereo with a lot of vinyl records within 10 feet of me. I love that beading is very portable and social when done in public. I met a Bulgarian expat from San Diego during a 3-hour flight delay while doing beadwork in the Portland airport recently.

I work at a desk facing a window, with a desk lamp on; lots of light. It helps to focus at a distance while working on tiny objects. I also have an unlined notebook handy, although I normally don’t sketch out designs ahead of time. The notebook has more words than drawings in it.

(Short answer: music, beads, beading needles, thread).

What don’t I need? The tendency to second-guess myself; indiscriminate people-pleasing; people who tell me one thing and mean another.

KW: Do you support yourself with your art, or do you have a day job?

TS: I support myself with my art. For a few years I told everyone that I was “weaning myself off of my day job,” and I made it happen (you can too, if you want to badly enough). My parents had day jobs throughout their lives, but were thinkers and dreamers. This gave me motivation to think and dream—and manifest. I worked at a very working-class, punch-the-time-clock job for ten years (I was certified to operate a forklift, which sounds pretty rad until you realize their top speed is about 3 miles an hour, plus it’s pretty hard to pop a wheelie on one). I literally did my own version of a prayer/affirmation at every first 10-10:15am break until I got outta there.

I teach workshops and sell beads (raw materials) as well as sell artwork (contact me for any of the above). I’ll be teaching a workshop at Sitka Center for Art & Ecology next September called “Plein Air Beadwork” that gives us a chance to explore sculptural forms inspired by the world around us.

KW: Who are your influences? (Musicians always get asked that, and I think artists should get asked it more, too.)

TS: That’s okay, I’m a musician too (I played bass guitar and sang in a band called Living Eyes for 11 years).

Musical influences: Don’t get me started… okay, too late! Here’s a tiny slice: MC5, Stooges, NY Dolls, Dictators, Lord Sutch, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Funkadelic, Black Sabbath, Radio Birdman, FYX, Ramones, X-Ray Spex, the Vibrators, the Bags, the Who, the Small Faces, the Cockney Rejects, ah, hell, it’ll take too long…

Art influences: Robert Williams (just had a radio interview that was put onto YouTube), Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, S. Clay Wilson,Zap Comix, hundreds of unnamed Yoruba sculptural beadwork artists, Gary Grimshaw, Joyce Scott, Emsh (the compressed nickname of a great science fiction pulp artist), Powers (a stratospheric and prolific sci-fi book cover artist), hundreds of unnamed pulp fiction book cover artists.

I picked up a lot of inspiration for the theme of the “Station Identification” exhibit from Garth Clark’s lecture, “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement: An Autopsy in Two Parts” given through the Museum of Contemporary Craft in the fall of 2008. Here’s a link to the podcasts of Garth Clark’s talk: part 1, part 2 (both mp3). This helped me, immensely, to solidify some ideas and observations I’d made about the seriousness of some ACC show-type makers and their sqeamishness/lack of humor about kitschy elements of the field. Provocative title for a talk, no?

Literary: William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick (he wrote some “mainstream”/non-sci-fi novels that have been reprinted and are at least as mind-blowing as his science fiction ones), Zap comix, City Lights Books, more.

Also, fearless people who persevere in their particular form of being, which to some appears to be madness.

Vehicular influences: 1970 Rebel station wagon, 1974 GMG truck, 1972 Datsun, 1973 Chrysler Newport (that’s Living Eyes in the front seat), 1981 Chevy wagon, 1974 Chevy truck (current), 1968 Dodge Dart (current), homemade Tibetan Yak-driven Cart (timeless)

KW: You’ve recently started playing a lot more online. Are you enjoying yourself? Have you found inspiration? A sense of community? Just a bunch of overwhelming blather?

TS: It’s funny, I tend to think I learn techie stuff out of necessity, but I know it’s just a new/other way to reach out to people. I know that the art, writing and music of the above cited people really helped me persevere and keep creating during difficult times in the past, so if some of these old f#ckers like Mike Davis and Dennis Thompson of the MC5 and Deniz Tek of Radio Birdman (and me?!?) that are still alive have blogs (an easily-accessible voice), all the better! The privacy issues are creepy, but privacy has always been an issue historically. And of course, there’s plenty of blather, but that’s a pre-existing condition, and no one’s forcing us to spend any time on the boring stuff. I’ve found reinforcement on the internet – and in traveling to teach workshops – of things that inspire me, which in itself is inspiring, and that might constitute community. Believe me, there have been times (I’ll tell you when, but that may make me seem old) when I thought I was just one of a handful of people who had these preferences (perversions?!). It’s my job not to bore myself or others, and be real to myself. I began a blog, thanks to Sister Diane, called Rock ‘n Roll Bead Patrol, that I revivified just this evening; you’re the first to know. I swear I won’t bore you to death on it (soon).

KW: Anything you want to add?

TS: Lots! C#rist on a crutch, I didn’t even get into the background material on the [Tucson] exhibit! To make a long story slightly shorter, I’m poking fun at the notions of hierarchy in the art and craft worlds. Each corner of the exhibition has a color and idea theme. There are also some fun items displayed on pedestals that accentuate the themes. I’ve attached a picture of one of the neckpieces that is now in the warm, arid atmosphere of Mesa, Arizona. Did I mention that there’s a killer fabric-by-the-pound store near the Mesa Arts Center that the preparator took me to during installation? Did I mention that I’m now a member of the PHUCS (Phoenix United Crafters), thanks to the legendary Alicia Velasquez, nee Alice Bag? …

Thanks, Teresa!

You can find Teresa at her blog and on Twitter and you can learn more about her work at her website.


*My apologies to Teresa for not having my act together to get this post up before the show closed!

**Is five the right number? What do you think?

  • http://jellidonut.blogspot.com/ Susan

    Cool! I love that piece with the red hand. Any idea what it is?

  • http://www.teresasullivanstudio.com/ Teresa Sullivan

    Hi Susan! The red hand piece turned into “Miami Rice”, which is on http://www.teresasullivanstudio.com/wear.html (scroll down to it). Also, I gave Kim the wrong url for the blog. The correct one is: http://www.teresasullivan.blogspot.com. Thank you! Teresa

  • BethCreatz

    This is a freaking awesome interview!

    Well done Kim!
    Kim and Teresa, you both rock!

  • http://www.kimwerker.com Kim Werker

    Thanks for the correction, Teresa! I updated the links to the correct URL.

  • http://www.michellemach.com/blog/ Michelle Mach

    Nice interview! I interviewed Teresa awhile ago–a year or two–and found her work fascinating. Enjoyed seeing the new pieces!

  • evisionvasai
  • http://www.700r4transmission.org 700R4 Transmission

    Great! Thank for information, I’m looking for it for a long time,

  • Kate McKinnon

    Fabulous interview. I don’t know how I failed to comprehend that Teresa had a show in Tucson that I could have seen. Rats.