Working full-time in her Chapala studio, Deborah Kruger is inspired to create art that addresses the worldwide problem of habitat destruction and the ensuing domino effect on birds, especially species extinction.
Until a few years ago, her art was created from fabric, wax and thread. Yet, she didn’t feel that the theme of endangered birds was integrated enough into her work, so she took a year off to develop new techniques.
Kruger, who goes by the name “Cobra,” considers herself fortunate to be able to live the artist’s life. Six Mexican women assist her in her studio, including her personal assistant, Sandra Hernandez, who studied graphic design at the University of Guadalajara. They help produce components of Kruger’s pieces that appear to look like feathers but are fabricated from plastic grocery bags and screen-printing.
For Kruger, using plastic bags refers to consumerism and other forces contributing to the destruction of bird habitat and bird extinction.
“There are two threads running through my work,” she says. “First, it is a metaphor for all of the ways that habitat is being destroyed through war, pollution and climate change. Secondly, extinction is facing many species, and will inevitably affect humans.”
To enhance her theme, Kruger has been incorporating text into her silk-screened feathers. She’s using an excerpt from Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” which just had its 50th anniversary release. She’s also using endangered languages, such as shorthand and Yiddish.
“There are 7,000 languages worldwide,” she says, “and in 100 years, 3,000 of them will be endangered or extinct. Shorthand and Yiddish have special relevance to me because all the women of my mother’s generation either spoke Yiddish, or used shorthand if they worked in pink-collar, secretarial pools. As this generation passes, neither of these languages will survive.”
Another significant aspect of Kruger’s artistic life is running 360 Xochi Quetzal, a free international artist residency program based in Chapala. She receives over 200 applications from artists worldwide, including writers, musicians and a wide spectrum of artists.
In describing the program Kruger explains, “Every winter, selected artists win a free month-long residency with a private live/work space. This year, we added a guest chef from New York City and the residents will enjoy five gourmet meals a week. Our goal is to provide the residents with the time and space to focus deeply on their work.”
A few years after moving to Chapala from San Juan Cosala in 2011, Kruger put out her first call for residency applications. Much to her surprise, she was deluged with applications from around the world.
“For my initial program, I had to chose between two applicants and ended up choosing an artist from Columbus, Missouri. She had just finished her graduate program in fiber art. We’ve since become good friends.”
Kruger considers herself highly principled in how she juries an applicant’s work. To qualify, applicants need to answer a detailed online questionnaire.
“My idea of successful art is the integration of content and form,” she says. “The artist needs to ‘marry’ the idea of their work to the work itself. I transitioned from fabric to plastic because I felt my pieces weren’t speaking directly to my theme of endangered birds. Since I critiqued so many applications with poor integration, I realized I had to walk my talk.”
New York-born Kruger has been working with textiles for 40 years. “I was trained as a textile designer at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. My love of fabric and textile design has influenced my fiber artwork.”
Over 30 years ago, at a key moment in her creative life, Kruger attended the Millay Artist Colony in upstate New York. “It was a seminal experience for me, an all-expenses-paid program to delve into self-directed work. Since then, the idea to run a residency program took root in my mind.”
Besides being an artist, Kruger was the CEO of a medical billing company in Western Massachusetts. “I was a single mom at the time. Fortunately, my business was successful and I was able to sell it a few years ago to my biggest competitor, which has allowed me to become a full-time artist.”
Kruger moved to Mexico in 2010. She realized that this country’s light, climate and affordability made it an ideal place to make art.
“In the United States I could never afford a studio, full-time assistant and six additional studio technicians.”
She recently expanded her studio to accommodate larger-scale work. “I have exhibited my work widely, and my hope is to have a bigger international presence in the next five to ten years.”
Kruger will be the featured artist at the third annual, month-long Festival Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo “Sincrónico” in August 2018. More information will be available on the Chapala Cultural Center’s website and on Kruger’s website, deborahkruger.com.
For information about the Artist Residency Program: 360xochiquetzal.com.