American textile artist, Betty Busby, has captured underwater scenes in a unique and remarkable way on visually stunning quilts exquisitely crafted by hand, bringing fresh contemporary concepts to a centuries old traditional art form. In addition to brilliant, colorful reef scenes, Busby has delved into the microscopic world taking inspiration from the super macro perspective informed by molecular biology of ecosystems above and below the waves. X-RAY MAG’s Gunild Symes asked the artist to share her insights into art and ecology and how her work speaks to the magic of the underwater world.
"The more the public can be educated about the wonders of the world that they might not necessarily see every day, the more they will be willing to protect it."
— Betty Busby
X-RAY MAG: Tell us about yourself and your work, where you are from and how you’ve gotten to where you are today.
BB: My father was in the US Navy. I was born in Japan, and we lived in Hawaii, Washington and Philadelphia. The ocean was a huge part of my childhood, from the wild breakers in Hawaii to summers at the Jersey shore and the rocky beaches of California.
I moved to the high desert of California in 1994, and although this is a wonderful place to live, I miss the ocean. Creating my own fantasy water scenes helps to keep it close by in spirit. The macro series comes from my life long fascination with molecular biology, with a physician sister, it’s a frequent topic of discussion.
I’m constantly exploring new materials and techniques to use them. I purchase batiks from Bali, dupioni from India, and silk from China that I paint and acid dye.
Various non-woven spun polyester materials are also used in nearly every piece, as well as an extensive array of mixed media. I feel that using a large variety of products helps to reflect the incredible diversity found among living things.
My creative process begins with an idea of what I want the piece to be about. I construct the elements and work in many stages, adding, subtracting, and evaluating along the way.
X-RAY MAG: Tell us about your training and education and how it relates to your artwork. Who, if any, has been an inspiration to you artistically speaking, and why or how have they inspired you or mentored you?
BB: I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design on the east coast of the States. Jun Kaneko, my senior year professor, was a huge influence on my career. Although our work is very different, it was an amazing example of what you can accomplish by putting art first in your life.
After graduation, I founded and operated a custom ceramic tile manufacturing company in southern California. I ran it for nearly 20 years before selling it to retire to the mountains. That experience has been central to my work in fiber—the necessity of being able to figure out technical solutions was an every day part of life in the plant.
X-RAY MAG: Are you a scuba diver or a snorkeler? If so, what is your favorite place to dive and what do you like to see underwater?
BB: Snorkeling in Hawaii has been an incredible experience for me. I’m a huge cephalopod fan, I love to see octopi and cuttlefish in their native habitats.
X-RAY MAG: Tell us about your relationship to the underwater world, the sea and the reef. What inspires you about the ocean and the underwater realm?
BB: Maybe because I’m a Pisces, I have always been drawn to water. It represents another world to me of fantastic dimension, color, and variety.
X-RAY MAG: What are your thoughts on the role of art in conservation and environmental awareness?
BB: The more the public can be educated about the wonders of the world that they might not necessarily see every day, the more they will be willing to protect it.
X-RAY MAG: Why art?
BB: I feel art is a vital part of what it means to be a human being. From the earliest days in the evolution of humans, bone carvings and cave paintings have been found.
X-RAY MAG: What do you want to say with your art?
BB: Every piece, to me, is about communication. I want to express an idea, or convey a feeling.
X-RAY MAG: What future projects do you have planned?
BB: New materials are on order! They will be experimented with and used in new and unique ways.
X-RAY MAG: Where can readers find you online and in exhibitions?
BB: My website is bbusbyarts.com. It has updates on shows and events, and a nearly complete catalog of my fiber works. My store on Etsy.com is bbusbyarts: www.etsy.com/shop/bbusbyarts. Items that are for sale are available, depending on exhibition schedules. I am represented by Gallery 101 Main in Collinsville, Connecticut (USA): Gallery101main.com. I have a very busy exhibition schedule in the States and internationally.
X-RAY MAG: Do you teach art? If so, what is your approach?
BB: I have extensive experience with children and adults. Helping each student to find their own voice while teaching them about the fundamentals is my aim. Particularly with children and beginners, it is a joy to see the breakthroughs experienced by those who never realized their own potential.
X-RAY MAG: Anything else you would like our readers to know?
BB: I enjoy keeping fish, the wet pets join my dogs and chickens in our small desert oasis. ■
For more information or to purchase artwork directly from the artist, visit: bbusbyarts.com