Yvonne Mouser

Artist/Maker, San Francisco // November 2011
The interest in everyday objects comes from a desire to create meaningful pieces that bring attention to an action, have a lasting presence, and offer usefulness in daily life.

We arrived at Yvonne’s SOMA home and studio in the afternoon on one of San Francisco’s last warm days. Yvonne greeted us with delicious homemade iced-tea and then gave us a tour of her house, garden and garage/studio space. As we stood in her overflowing garden, with the sun coming down on us in streams of soft golden light, and her kitty darted about by our feet, all I could think was, “Damn, this girl has got a good life.” My guess is that Yvonne does have a “good life,” but that she works really hard to make it that way. In general, she works seven days a week and because her studio is in the garage, right downstairs from her home, she constantly moves, both literally and figuratively, between the two spaces— and quite often her inspiration is ignited by the ordinary happenings at home, so in a way, she is always at work. This blurring of distinction, this interplay between her domestic and work spheres is readily expressed in the art and objects she makes, and in how she keeps a home. Initially, it was a little confusing walking around her house— because she makes beautiful objects that often play with functionality and familiarity, it was difficult to be sure what she had made and what she hadn’t. The work in her home didn’t blatantly scream “Art!!!”— if you know what I mean. Instead, I had to examine a little more closely, look a bit longer, and then all of a sudden I saw in her brooms and stools and garden watering funnels all the poetry, the reconfiguring and reconsidering, and all the bright whimsy. When Yvonne took us down to her studio and showed us how she attaches horse hair to her distinctive angled hand brooms, I realized functionality is just a starting point for her, a place from which to launch into endless possibility. Of course, not all of Yvonne’s work is driven by utility, but everything she puts her head and hands to reveals an eagerness to experiment, a love for the process, and a desire to re-imagine.

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I’m an artist, designer, and maker.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
I design and build commissioned furniture for clients. It’s great because it gives me creative freedom and a flexible schedule. Plus, it’s amazing that I can be doing something I love, focus on craft and make a living while doing it. I also occasionally jump on finish carpentry jobs, I’ve been doing woodwork on a teak sailboat, and sometimes I work for and with other artists and designers.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
Wood is the core of my practice but I also love experimenting with new materials and often work with paper, fabric, metal, ceramics and even food.

I think of my work as starting from two major veins, which connect and diverge throughout my body of work. On one side, I create everyday objects that tell a story through their function, and on the other, I create sculptural pieces that capture moments of change.

In my sculptural work I try to tease apart the strands of time by altering mundane objects and creating cognitive portraits of moments overlooked or quickly fleeting. I am inspired by physics, biology, fiction, and memory. I have always had a natural tendency to focus on entropy and evolution. As time goes on I lose track of details: environment, objects, and memories. Simultaneously, I am taking in new information and so I am continually piecing together these changing realities. There is a physicist who talked about the way scientists use abstract mathematics to illustrate our universe. Because of the mental images we inherited through evolution it’s impossible for us to imagine or visualize five dimensions, for example, but we can think beyond that barrier with mathematics as a tool. I feel like art making isn’t so different from this. By creating a new vocabulary we can see beyond the ordinary. Art making is a tool for me to explore mysteries and complexities of an expanding universe, a way to piece together memory and reality, to imagine, and try to make sense of the unknown.

The interest in everyday objects comes from a desire to create meaningful pieces that bring attention to an action, have a lasting presence, and offer usefulness in daily life. My design work falls under this category as does the collaboration with my boyfriend, New Factory, where we work together to reinterpret familiar objects in order to engage people in new behaviors and interactions. Our goal is to rethink the traditional approaches to producing things in ways that promote the makers, and connect the customers to the source of what they buy and use.

Thought for Food is another collaboration I do with a couple of friends. We experiment with the overlap of design, art, food, and event. One of the things I find exciting about this territory is the opportunity to rethink and reinterpret the tools, objects, furniture, and overall experiences because I think the artifacts for eating can be just as meaningful as the meal. As a collective we create conceptual dinners, develop and prepare concessions for movie nights, we host food events, create the menus, furniture, and other artifacts that go along with it all. An inspiring aspect of this kind of collaboration is the simple fact that meals and food bring people together. There is a social and familial aspect that comes along with the events that is a nice change of pace from my other work. The group effort to produce and participate can be as satisfying as the food.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
Reading: Currently reading At Home by Bill Bryson.
Listening to: Radiolab, This American Life, and lots of music. I like radio programs because I’m often alone for the whole day while working so it’s nice to have voices to keep me company. Music is also really important for me, and I like to have it playing in the background while I’m working. Neon Indian, Tobacco, Caribou, and Woods have been keeping me going in the shop lately. I’ve also been listening to lots of Edith Piaf in the mornings while making breakfast, and Billie Holiday in the evenings while making dinner.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
There are so many projects that the challenge is finding a balance between the exploratory work and design work. Almost two years ago, I had a 10-week artist residency and with that time I was able to push new concepts and produce work with an intensity I wouldn’t have had otherwise. When I returned, the focus shifted back towards furniture and product and making a living— I’m more design focused right now because I’m trying to build my business. Because my design work overlaps with my artwork the distinction is hard to describe, but I feel like there are bursts of creativity that drive me back and forth between making non-functional sculpture and functional objects. The shifts might be influenced in some way by changing opportunities, but whatever the reason, it helps keep me balanced.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Most of my work involves the use of machinery so it’s important that I have a designated space to work in. I’m fortunate to have garage space below the house that my boyfriend and I have turned into a nicely equipped home studio. For the most part, the shop scale informs the size and kinds of pieces I make. With my commissioned work there are other influences and the pieces can sometimes feel oversized in comparison so I may be expanding into another space soon, but for the most part I can make it work. Tools tuck away when not in use, rolling carts and fold up tables make the space flexible and changeable, as projects require. I can pull my truck out of the garage when necessary to expand the footprint when I need to, and I can even open up the back door and push my workbench over to the sunshine on nice days. Having a studio at home makes it easy to keep a natural flow between living and working. It’s interesting to now see elements of how I live influencing the work that I’m making and vice versa. Often my daily needs inspire projects. For example, my boyfriend and I created a pulley for our living/dining room lamp to make the level at which it hangs adjustable, so we can change up what kind of lighting we have.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has lead to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
As a student my work was very conceptually driven. Afterwards, everything I wanted to make was about functionality. Slowly the two started to find their way together and now I love jumping back and forth between mediums and intentions, discovering interesting overlaps.

Some of my earlier pieces are autobiographical. Right now it isn’t a focus, but I do think each piece says a little something about the maker— the materials one uses, how precise or not the work is, all those things tell you something. When I create things, I initially imagine how they might “live” and how they might be used. So I think there is always a personal embedded narrative in each piece I create, whether it’s a context or a source of inspiration.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
There are so many projects I’m excited about! There are a few furniture pieces— shelving and tables— based on ladder structures and with lots of joinery, which I’m about to start building. Those pieces are commissioned work for a writer’s studio out in the woods, and a collection of art books. I also have some new brooms and stools in the works.

What are you most proud of?
Working for myself, and collaborating.

What do you want your work to do?
I want to make things that other people want to live with and be around.

What advice has influenced you?
Do what you love so that work is for pleasure.

How will you know when you have arrived?
I’d like to always be arriving at evolving goals.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
Most of my recent work is in private homes but I currently have a few pieces at the pop-up Museum of Art and Design in the Proxy Project in Hayes Valley.
There are also frequent events with Thought for Food. You can check the website or facebook page to find out what and when.

To see more of Yvonne’s work: