Yes, I am really particular about composing the painting so that the birds are situated within their specific habitat. I do a lot walking in parks and wilderness areas, and make close observations of the bird life in the surrounding bush. It’s important to me that the habitat is presented in a botanically correct manner, along with the bird and/or insect life I’ve observed in real life.
I make watercolours on paper of the plants and birds that I’m interested in capturing so that I can work out how to paint them on clay. I take a lot of photos of plants and refer to these as well as my sketch book when painting the vessels. I also look at resources such as e-bird which lists species in particular habitats and provides really great photos for identification purposes. I also have a good pair of binoculars and a good reference library of bird identification books.
As a kid my parents loved visiting antique shops, and in addition, I grew up in rural Australia. We had old sheds filled with tin and aluminium objects and I was always drawn to the large, utilitarian basins and bowls designed for faithful service to people or their livestock rather than fine China. I loved those old washing tubs, oversized water jugs, mixing bowls and buckets and feel they are reference to my history as a white non-indigenous Australian. They also loosely reference women’s labour and were an easier entry point for me as a female artist.
I didn’t immediately go to art school at the end of year 12. Instead, I studied Fine Arts at Melbourne Uni and did a double major in art history. By the time I commenced studying ceramics at the end of my initial BA, I was completely versed in just about every art movement from the Renaissance to Modernism. When you know this much about art history, it can be very difficult to know how to locate your own practice. Starting with ceramics was actually an easy choice for me. It’s what I had really wanted to do when I finished school and it felt less overwhelming. I was very much drawn to making useful, somewhat humble utilitarian objects.
The key though, given my art history studies, was an interest in narrative, and I always wanted my ceramic objects to act as a canvas, or a device for story-telling and painting. This meant flipping ideas of scale, and giving the object a presence or stature that meant it could not be ignored, or put away in a cupboard. I was also aware that most of the art history I studied described paintings made largely by men. Ceramics, however, speaks of the feminine. We tend to associate vessels, domestic objects and crockery with the home, and by implication, with women. This felt like a better fit for me, and an entry point to a broader perspective.
I have always made watercolour painting of plants that I’m interested in depicting as studies to support my ceramic practice. I don’t see myself as a natural painter and need to practice until I feel comfortable enough to commit brushstrokes to clay. Ceramic paints behave differently however – they tend to bleed and burn out at different temperatures, so there’s always an element of chance and unpredictability. I am never sure how the works will emerge from the glazing process, which to be honest, can be totally frustrating at times, and also surprising. I spend all our family holidays painting water colours, this is a really important part of my research and preparation, but they are like my reference library, and not intended to be exhibited.
My work has been about plants and the animals who cohabit with particular species, for the last 20 years. Growing up in rural Victoria, in an old goldfields house, I was first interested in painting the plants early settlers or colonists brought with them to Australia, plants deemed at that time, necessary for survival in what was considered a harsh environment. I quickly became more interested in the weeds that accompanied those species, particularly noting in times of drought that the weeds were thriving and changing the Australian environment as they spread. As a white person, I didn’t feel that I had permission or authority to paint native species as I was too aware of my colonial past. A trip, however, to a well-established Banksia woodland along the East Victorian jolted me awake, and I started to get heart palpitations encountering Banksia Serrata for the very first time. The irony of this personal discovery wasn’t lost on me – it was after-all, the first Banksia ‘discovered’ and identified by Joseph Banks, the London Botanist who was part of the Endeavour in 1788.
At this time, I was about to turn 50 and I knew I had to obtain permission from the traditional owners of the land before I could start painting their plants. I travelled and stayed with a very remote Yolnu community in the Northern Territory as asked the women there for permission to get out my paints. They gave me five different names for their banksia, which looked a lot like Banksia Serrata but was slightly different in habit and leaf spread. The community picked armfuls of plants for me to paint during my time with them and I return from that trip unable to depict anything other than Australian species. So, I spend as much time as I can in the natural world. I walk, camp and observe particular trees of interest to me, and the birds and insects that live within the confines of a particular species. If feel it is extremely important for me as an artist to paint the Australian environment and highlight its beauty and value at a time when it seems increasingly under threat from land clearing, drought and fire. I’ve also seen at firsthand how traditional Aboriginal cultural burning practices are much gentler and effective as an on-going management technique, and able to bring a better balance to a healthy ecosystem.
Basically, the natural world.
As an artist I believe it’s really important to take yourself away from your usual environment from time to time and observe new areas. It’s something I’ve missed greatly during the pandemic, and I’ve had number of trips cancelled due to Covid-19.
I completed two artists in residencies in Hill End because at that time, I was interested in early colonial species, and I knew that Hill End had existing gardens of plants and trees dating back to early settler contact. I painted the trees that were commonly found in everyone’s gardens – figs, pears, almonds and other fruit trees.
I was there in two different seasons as I wanted to see how the trees reacted at different times of year and made a couple of series of work in response to that environment, all depicting introduced species. After this, I became much more interested in the weeds that arrived along with the intentionally planted species particularly as I was beginning to notice the effects of prolonged drought. Weeds such as rosehips (below cassoulet) and blackberries thrived when everything else was struggling to survive. This seemed like a good illustration of how colonisation had unanticipated, unacknowledged and often harmful effects on the natural landscape.
After working through the weed series, I started spending regular family holidays in National Park areas on Victoria’s east coast. Encountering the old growth banksia woodlands for the first time was immensely affecting and I knew I had to start painting and depicting Australia’s unique flora and fauna. I felt it was important to seek permission prior to doing this however, from our First Nation People and spent time with a remote community near Elcho Island in the NT, learning traditional weaving techniques but also painting local plants while there. The ladies provided me with traditional names for plants, often in 4 or 5 different dialects and would pick bunches of new plants for me to paint each time we went collecting materials for weaving. I’ve maintained connection with this community alongside a group of Melbourne based supporters and we have hosted the weavers on trips to Melbourne, and organised exhibitions of their remarkable work.
In addition, I have regular contact with a remote ceramics community near Alice Springs, the Hermannsburg Potters and have worked with them to explore our shared interest in depicting the unique Country we are all proud to live on and care for.
More recently, I’ve completed a residency in Bundanon, Arthur Boyd’s property on the Shoalhaven River to specifically paint and observe the local environment.
This area has an abundant plant and bird life and has been the site for traditional cultural burning practices, overseen by Uncle Victor Steffensen (Firesticks Alliance) to preserve, protect and nourish the natural landscape which is still recovering from years of grazing and a lack of Indigenous care.
Interestingly, in the 2020 bushfires, Bundanon was preserved as fire free and acted as a haven for animals to seek refuge thank to the cultural burning practices undertaken by Uncle Victor over the last few years, while the area around it was ablaze. I was interested in the biodiversity the area has to offer and was lucky enough to witness Uncle Victor practicing a Cultural Burn along with some, local young indigenous lads from nearby Nowra.
I like to think of the tops of my work as a kind of framing device that contains the painting, which is why they will always have a decorative and repetitive pattern. There’s also a nod to the process of ceramics here and the tactile nature of clay, so I like the tops to be slightly freeform and organic.
Each piece is usually named by referencing either location or the plans depicted.
This work was curated by Katherine in response to the Know My Name exhibition in Canberra at the National Gallery of Australia. Katherine selected 40 female artists she knew who are working today, across a number of mediums. This work was very personal for Katherine as she had made a number of paintings that included lists of the painters her female artist friends nominated as influential. The same names kept repeating and Katherine then started painting lists of female Australian artists into her canvases. I was extremely honoured to take part and agree with Katherine’s observations that female artists have been a tad underrepresented in major institutions. I welcome the efforts these institutions are making to redress this balance.
by Deborah Blakeley
I had a very basic view of textiles and embroidery before art school. My auntie would visit on Monday evening and knit our Christmas jumpers, and I had a little bit of experience with cross-stitch from school. My introduction to embroidery was a happy accident and, in fact, happened on a visit to the open day of the Embroidery degree at Manchester Metropolitan University (which sadly no longer exists as its original entity). The course opened my mind to the broad sense of the word ‘embroidery’. What attracted me to this place was the chance to learn one of the world’s oldest crafts whilst exploiting the contemporary possibilities of this medium at the same time; without a doubt, this period of my life is one that I regard with great fondness. The diversity and exploration of the medium are liberating. Under excellent tutelage, we were encouraged to use anything and everything as materials in our work. As a result, there was always a sense of everything being well made and always well thought out, whether design or fine art.
For me, the intersection of art and craft was the most exciting and provided constant inspiration. I like embroideries somewhat conflicting status of being fine art and craft, depending on where and how it is presented. Ultimately though, its association with the domestic or women’s work has held back embroidery and textile art, and this is due to the patriarchy and the art world hierarchy. This perception has somewhat shifted over the last fifteen years, for example, recent exhibitions of artists such a Jessica Rankin at White Cube, Sophie Taeuber-Arp at Tate Modern. The difference, of course, is the route in which these artists take. Artists studying fine art and working with textiles are more excepted within the fine art world than artists who study textiles.
My practice is deeply rooted in process and hand embroidery., multiples of dots, lines, and crosses, all meticulously stitched, record time and map space. My work is about labour, refinement and investing time in very ordinary materials. I explore subtle differences that emerge through the insistent, repeated, ritualistic, and habitual making and giving material form to abstract ideas, making the intangible tangible. Time is a theme that I have explored extensively within my practice.
Grid, 2019, 10 x10x10cm, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
I am greatly inspired by the thinking of Carlo Rovelli, in his book ‘The Order of Time’ – he points out that there are not just two times, Times are legion: a different one for every point in space; there is not a single time; there is a vast multitude of them.’
This statement tells us that our perception is unique and relative to each of us. Our time does not extend throughout the universe. It is like a bubble around us, and it is an expanded presence.
‘Units of Time’ became a way for me to try and make sense of this; each stitch is like a comma or a full stop, signifier time, a pause, an interval, a mantra.
Grid Collective, detail, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
Rooted in this tradition of hand stitch, each of these objects becomes a very individual expression of my time. They demonstrate my need to engage with and connect to the world through touch.
Creating objects also helped me subdivide extended periods and represented moments of my time, translating the intangible into something tangible, tactile, something you move around and draw within space. They record and persevere fleeting moments, found patterns, the objects become markers of time, an embodiment of this deep focus and patience.
These works extend from me, the past condensed into physical form and infinitely rearrangeable. "A moment in time."
I feel the pandemic has heightened our awareness of time. There have been moments when time has crept forward slowly and other moments that have sped by. Emotion and stress affect our sense of time, which has been supercharged over the past year. The first lockdown acted as one big brake on a global scale; that sense of everyone experiencing the exact moment is powerful. In a world obsessed with speed, these moments happen rarely. There are few times in our lives when ordinary time has paused, the 9/11 attacks being an example of this; Covid is the next. In Jay Griffiths book Pip Pip, she uses the model of Princess Diana's death 'All radio stations and TV channels, all newspapers and all conversations were for once in sync'. She goes on to say, 'The ordinary time of usual life met the extraordinary time of myth. Mythic time interrupts the succession of ordinary time and the mythic moment is where the profane present meets a sacred eternity.'
Units of time, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
The very act of slowing down forces us to take notice; we see more. The artist Georgia O'keefe wrote, "It takes time to see". We enable this by slowing down, which is why I enjoy the slowness of hand embroidery. Through the action of the hand, I attempt to find order, quietness, a rhythm, a very human rhythm that allows you me slow down.
This slowness allows for a more excellent perception of that moment, and it teaches patience, focus.
I'm an anxious person and, at times, too sensitive. I'm hopeful for the future, but I sometimes find it hard to disconnect from the constant news cycle. Creating art is my way of coping and processing all this trauma.
Units of time, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery, detail
Two Cubes, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
The exploration of the cube – it’s geometry, intrinsic nature, and perception as both a complex and playful shape – has been greatly inspiring to me. Each cube is individual but is also part of a greater whole, it’s repetitive but varied with my obsessive mark making.
But cube also is a reference to the grid. The Grid format gives the impression of uniformity but also of infinity, an idea discussed in Rosalind Krauss’ Essay ‘Grids’ she also goes on to say, ‘by virtue of the grid, the given work of art is presented as a mere fragment, a tiny piece arbitrarily cropped from an infinitely large fabric’ and the grid to order reality’
This grid and cube offer more rational way to organise the chaos of nature. I also wanted to work to reflect architecture, the way in fact our lives are built and housed in this construct of time.
Three Cubes, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
For many years I worked at home, it was not financially viable to have a studio. I live in London, where space is at a premium, so it's challenging unless you have a lot of money and a big house. But I did think it was essential to create some separation; having a studio outside of the home also sets a boundary between home and work life, and as an artist, it's hard to switch off. I also felt restricted by the space at home. The practicality of space limited the scale and ambition of my ideas.
Variations of a Stitch, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
An essential part of setting up a studio outside of the home was the chance to be part of a community. I have a studio at Cockpit Arts in Holborn, Central London. Cockpit Arts is home to over 140 independent creative businesses. We have public showcases and business incubation services, and they provide makers and materials-based artists with the tools to succeed. Being an artist can be lonely and very insular; therefore, it's vital to have conversations and support fellow artists who understand what you might be going through.
My practice informs my teaching, and teaching informs my practice. Therefore, I always include and share my work through classes. I think this is my point of difference and one the main reason people attend my workshops.
Teaching online has meant that there were no restrictions on location, and the accessibly of embroidery allows me to connect to people worldwide. It’s a universal language. People of all abilities and ages attend my workshop. The only difficulty has been attracting men.
Light Abstraction, Tokyo Bay, 50x50cm, Detail
The 62 Group is an artist-led organisation. We aim to incorporate and challenge the boundaries of textile practice through an ambitious and innovative annual programe of exhibitions. Since its establishment in 1962, some of the most highly regarded British textile artists have been members of the 62 Group. As a result, the 62 Group has an established international reputation for professionalism, quality of work and strength of purpose. Member’s work is subject to appraisal by a panel of their fellow members before it is accepted in any 62 Group exhibitions. In this way, we aim to maintain standards and rigour and keep the group evolving.
I have been a member since 2015, and I’m currently the exhibitions officer. My job is to work with the committee to plan an annual exhibitions programe—our next exhibition, ‘Connected Cloth’ part of the British Textile Biennial.
I’ve just finished a new body of work for the British Textile Biennial. The theme of this year’s events focuses on the global context of textiles, textile production, and the relationships it creates historically and now.
I have created two works for this exhibition, ‘Coal seams’ and ‘A Portrait of Coal.’
Using the intensive labour-process of hand embroidery, ‘Coals Seams’ maps and bring to the surface the underground and hidden landscapes of this elemental material formed over three hundred million years ago. It examines my family connection to material, place, class and race; and how, like the seams that shape a garment, Coal continues to shape our lives.
A series of coal portraits highlights the aesthetic, cultural and climate impact of coal. Coal was more than just a material, but a symbol of power, class, and time. The unlocking of this geological time gave us the power to go fast. In Britain, it is a symbol of the past. Ultimately though, Coal is a symbol of the present, the future, and the climate emergency.
Drawing as an act is occurs in everything that I create. Drawing as a dialogue, a focus that goes beyond the flat surface and into the space around. The objects and structures compose and draw in space, with each architectural setting creating a new relationship. Things must and do exist in dialogue with a scale around it, with the infinity of it all. The only difference is perception and experience; creating is the same.
Phase 1, 100 x10cm, Wool and Cotton, hand embroidery
The concept was born after my studio was flooded by heavy rain. When clearing it out, I found several pulpy cardboard boxes of broken china in a soggy corner. They had been kept, along with other broken and useless belongings, as an ever-growing collection for a potential project - a consequence of my hatred of throwing things away. How did these previously loved broken objects end up in this box? The unintentional act of breaking china is violent and generally rather alarming. Chucking out your grandmother’s tea pot or a wedding present immediately post-breakage is sometimes just too emotional. I have subsequently found out that I am not alone when it comes to keeping broken china. Much of the material used in this installation has been gifted to me by kind and thoughtful friends. No plate or cup was intentionally broken for this artwork.
This sculptural series evolved from a play on words and a speculation into what was the last meal served upon the plates and china? There is also a word play between ‘bust’ - the heads and ‘bust’ - the china, as well as the physical and emotional meaning of being ‘broken’.
No. The concept came to me and by the time I had made three busts I felt able to make a proposal to a gallery with the intention of finishing the piece. I made a proposal to HIX Gallery in Shoreditch, London (underneath and associated with a restaurant called the Tramshed) in September 2018 and showed it at Easter 2019.
*Wabi-sabi: In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"
*Kintsugi (金継ぎ, "golden joinery"), also known as Kintsukuroi (金繕い, "golden repair") is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it is similar to that of wabi-sabi: it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object,
In making this piece I have been inspired by the technique of Kintsugi but I have adapted it for my own purpose. Whilst not actually mending something , I am constructing with broken china. The joins therefore have to be larger and stronger in order to make a robust sculpture. I smoothed and sanded the joins before applying about 4 layers of gold leaf on them. This was possibly the most time consuming and fiddly aspect of the build.
The busts are hollow. I made an armature with a wooden upright and base and then wrapped tightly scrumpled newspaper around the upright binding it with string and tape until I had a basic head and shoulder form. Each bust is slightly different in shape and size. It was a case of “hoping for the best” in terms of construction. I couldn’t map out the pieces before gluing together. It was more of a piece by piece process, a 3D jigsaw. Starting at the front and working up and around to the sides. Then the back and working up until the pieces met in the middle. I then peeled away front and back from the armature and joined them together. The busts have wooden bases.
They are hollow but they contain quite a lot of my DNA.
Yes! It has grown bigger than me. It is almost like I have turned from the maker to the custodian of the piece. I am being advised kind and concerned people, who feel a sense of responsibility, telling me what I have to do with it in the future. “It must travel” “It needs to be bought for the Nation” “It should do a Cathedral tour” The latter words of advice are currently my wish too but I don’t know where it will go from here.
I have used it in a few essays and interviews! But maybe it is not on my website. It is deffo a word I use!
Here is an excerpt from one of my brief essays on the materials I use.
‘I am preoccupied with objects that have seemingly ceased to function, rendered obsolete for whatever their original intended purpose by their age or physical state; I like to see the potential where others may not. Interested in the history of an object, I question functionality and attachment. I play with associative words and meanings to help inform my end work.’
I studied fine art (painting) at Art School (Camberwell-London) and have always been a painter and observer. Whilst my preoccupation with other materials has led me to more conceptual and sculptural pieces, drawing and observation have never been far away.
Once the busts of The Last Supper had been made, I wanted to concentrate on meaning of the cracks/ joins that inform the piece. I made a portrait of each bust on A2 handmade paper , taking away the broken china element and portraying the busts as 3D skeletal systems.
Also , whilst invigilating at the Cathedral, during quiet spells, I have been drawing studies of ‘The Last Supper’ in its ecclesiastical setting. More as a note taking and observational exercise but maybe with a view of painting a series of the Last Supper in its future settings too. A collection of “Altared images”
There was a very brief spell between finishing the piece and taking it to London for the Exhibition at HIX Gallery. I had an impromptu studio opening where local friends and family could come along for a preview. A Reverend friend in her late 80’s became very passionate about the piece and subsequently bombarded me with emails with contacts in the church. She gave me the contacts for St Mary’s Cathedral and after my London Show had finished, I contacted them. They were very open to the idea, and we had a meeting to discuss it further. I took Jesus along in the passenger seat of my car for the meeting… I thought he may help! (to show the scale and the finish!)
Exhibiting at St Mary’s during the Edinburgh Festival has been amazing. The Cathedral opens its doors for concerts, organ recitals and choral evensongs of world class quality. The building feels alive and vital and welcoming.
The response during my 10 days in residence in St Mary’s Cathedral has been extraordinary. Raising philosophical discussions, biblical references, recitals of French poetry, (Jacques Prévert “La Cén”) issues to do with mental health. Their observations and responses have often informed me about aspects of the work or references that I had not yet been aware of.
Comments to me like ‘You can see that it has been made with love” “You can see the respect for the materials” “It is God’s work” as if I were not actually a part of it. All unbelievably positive and affirming. A few of the visitors have been wept. Lots of physical responses to the piece like goosebumps and then associative memories when someone spots a piece of familiar china. I have had visitors coming back to view the Last supper multiple times. They have come as strangers but leave as friends.
The Vice Provost, Rev Marion Chatterley has written a sermon about the piece for her Sunday service as has the Dean of the Diocese of Edinburgh. It has been humbling and slightly surreal!!
In 2016 I had an exhibition at the Fine Art Society Edinburgh called “Another Man’s Treasure”.
A friend, neighbour and patron came to the show and whilst liking the pieces -he has several of my works on his walls- he wasn’t going to buy from the show but made a proposal instead.
He had a huge stack of sandstone on the bank of the river by his house. Stone that had formed a Victorian railway bridge spanning the river. The bridge had been demolished to make way for a modern one, and the sandstone slabs had been discarded-rendered obsolete.
Could I use these huge stones to make a woodland memorial garden next to the parish church? It was a job beyond my capacity really, but I undertook to design this public space. My first problem was the term “Memorial Garden” . I had envisaged a place that felt like an archaeological discovery, a place you came across in the woods, a sanctuary . I researched the landscape and discovered there had been a few Roman roads and settlements in the vicinity. The old bridge carried passengers from Dumfries to Glasgow. So with my Patron’s consent I referred to it as the “Journey Garden” and inscribed quotes, which had to be discovered, on the stones “Look where you have been, view where you are at , seek where you want to be” and made a labyrinth on the centre stone. The garden is used for ceremonies, blessings, gatherings and performances as well as a place to sit quietly and reflect.
My husband Ben was in the food business for 18 years. He sold beef, lamb and mutton from our farm in SW Scotland and collected game from around the region to sell to the restaurant trade. At one point the price of game was unbearably low and I felt that there seemed to be an injustice to the life of these beautiful birds. I intercepted and plucked the pheasants before they went to be processed for the food market. With these feathers I made art works. Nature is so very geometrical by design and I gravitated towards making Mandalas .
Peasant Feathers, 100cm x 100cm
This extended to bird skulls (another by product of the food industry.) These , like much of my assemblage and sculptural work , are a a kind of memento mori.
Grouse Skull Mandala, By products of the food industry
My husband is no longer in the food industry, so I had to look elsewhere for inspiration.
Tin Tup, Made from a demolished corrugated iron farm shed
You commented “ …everyday objects which have no intrinsic value except for the richness of their history and the hands through which they have passed.” Discuss.
I am drawn to paint the kind of subject matter which would have been utilised in everyday life through the ages. Some items were simply discarded after use, for example bottles, ointment pots and clay pipes. Others were purely utilitarian, such as tools, kitchen and eating utensils, spectacles, night lights etc. And then there were the valued items - lockets, books, the keepsake box with its contents. All of these things speak of a lifetime hand to mouth struggle for most people that we can barely imagine in the 21st Century. In a way, I am paying homage to the resilience of the human spirit and appreciation for our forebears.
Hole in One
Can you discuss how you choose a combination of objects to paint?
Once I have settled on a theme - a meal spread or musical setting as a complex example, or a single main feature such as a particularly interesting pot, decanter, vase or simply a piece of fruit, I then begin to look for complementary items to balance the setting.
Colston Bassett Stilton
Over the years, from my travels I have collected a vast array of subject matter large and (mostly) small. Although time consuming, it can be very enjoyable to try out various combinations to get the balance ‘just right’. Although the overall theme is paramount, oftentimes it is something totally unexpected or unconnected that makes it work. I try not to overthink the setting, what I am seeking is the overall ‘feel’ and the balance. This is where texture, hue, tone and lighting become crucial.
What is one of your favourite paintings from The Golden Age, that always gives you inspiration?
My Favourite artist from that era would have to be Vermeer. Favourite painting? A bit like choosing my favourite music, it will depend on my mood (anything from Joe Bonamassa to Purcell), although I never tire of Jan Lievens ‘Still life with Books’ (Vanitas Stilleven).
Jan Lievens ‘Still life with Books’ (Vanitas Stilleven).
Discuss the importance of ‘Chiaroscuro’ meaning light and Dark in art, in your own art.
I think that is one of the reasons why I am so inspired by so many of the great Dutch and Flemish artists from the Golden Age who excelled in this style. Another favourite, Joseph Wright of Derby was also a superb proponent. His work “The Orrery” has a magical quality. It is the juxtaposition of the strong contrasts that for me brings a painting to life and has the capacity to bring an almost 3D quality to arrest the eye upon the simplest of subjects on canvas.
Joseph Wright of Derby
How do you keep up with the demand as you are represented in both Australia and the UK?
Until Covid hit, I was travelling twice a year to the UK to provide my galleries there with fresh work, and habitually worked 60-80 hour weeks. I have since eased my output considerably and find I am enjoying the change of pace immensely. It has given me the luxury of thoroughly enjoying each new piece I now choose to create.
The Grand Goblet
Are you ever asked to paint a still life with a piece of pieces from the purchasers collection?
Quite often. It is always a pleasure to incorporate subjects that have special meaning to the buyer.
Do your paintings hold meanings through the objects you use as in the paintings of The Golden Age?
I sometimes do include objects that have a particular meaning to me or as a request from a buyer. More often than not though, the reference is hinted at in the title of the piece. I often create a play on words or pay homage to a favourite book, author or piece of music.
Can you discuss two paintings, one where the objects are prominently fruit and another manmade objects?
“Rising to the occasion”.
A simple composition featuring figs, cherries and glass. The textures, colours and play of reflected light complemented the setting well. The exquisite perfection of the stemmed bowl contrasting with the wonderfully imperfect organic presence of the figs I found particularly satisfying.
“Old Tin Pots”.
Another simple creation which took some considerable time to arrange, both subject setting and choice of surrounding colour and tone to best achieve what I was seeking to represent. A perfect example of the most mundane of throwaway items featured to appreciate and study in a new light.
How do you use light in your studio set up, natural or electric light?
Virtually all my painting subjects are set up in a shadow box with the light source entering from the left (window) side. Although I prefer to work with natural light from the window, because I work often early morning or late evening, I also use white (natural) electric light from the same direction. Experiencing the vagaries of a consistent light source, I am in awe of those Masters from earlier generations who had nothing more than natural or candle light.
The Grand Tome
You continue to provide pieces for the Woodgate Art in Spring – tell us about this connection?
My little community of Woodgate is the ideal environment for what I do. The demographic consists of a considerable number of retirees and many of them in their retirement have discovered a serious talent for arts and various other crafts. About ten years ago it was decided to hold an annual exhibition to show off the fruits of our endeavours. It has since grown to become an important component on the Woodgate calendar, and many visitors from around Australia co-ordinate their visits to coincide with this event. I highly recommend it.
Pot with Mixed Onions
Comment on two commissions Lest We Forget and A Life of Medicine.
Where the commission came from and why?
The objects used and why?
“Lest We Forget” was, a commission requested for a significant birthday for a nephew of mine.
He is a serious student of the art of war, particularly the Australian involvement in the First World War. All the pieces included in the set-up of the painting are from his personal collection. A very intense, thought provoking but rewarding commission.
Lest We Forget
“A Life in Medicine” was a straight forward request from the family of a general practitioner upon his retirement. Many of the items included in the painting were provided by the family.
A Life in Medicine
“Chateau Talbot 1949” I love the combination of bread and wine in a painting. For me it evokes a feeling of bonhomie and appreciation for the simple pleasures of life. The vintage denoted on the label is purely a personal aside. Hopefully, it was a good year for the wine. It certainly was for my existence…so far.
“The 2019 Collection” I never tire of painting old books. So much wisdom, foolishness, humour, pain and every facet of the human condition encapsulated within those pages.
The 2019 Collection
Each year I love to attend Lifeline Book fest, a huge charity event in Brisbane where many tens of thousands of donated books are offered for sale to raise funds. I always gravitate to the section where the oldest books are. I’m looking primarily for books that would present well in my work - well worn, missing spines, falling apart, the tattier the better. The titles are strictly secondary. The 2019 event produced a particularly fruitful bounty. I then exercised a little artistic licence and inserted some of my favourite authors and titles to a few of the pieces featured in this work.
Another Story Must Begin
Your wife gave you a set of watercolour paints. How has her support and encouragement influenced your work since then?
My wife Eleanor is without doubt my best support and most honest critic of my work. Sometimes, when I have been working many hours on a piece and struggling to complete it, I am aware that I have become too close in the minutiae of it to see just what is lacking to bring it to life. I then ask Eleanor what she thinks of the new ‘completed’ work - hoping she will just love it so I can move on. Invariably she will pause, then observe a very basic aspect of the painting that I had missed but becomes obvious once pointed out. In my exasperation I rarely appreciate the extra work at the time, but I know she is right and her open, uncomplicated view is a tremendous asset for me - a genuine muse.
What extra have you been doing during the pandemic?
Recently I have launched a limited, edition reproductions (which are available on my website). and new works are added to this collection regularly.
Muscadines Around a Bowl
Deborah Blakeley, Melbourne, Australia
Interview by Deborah Blakeley, September, 2021
After 2 years of concentrated encaustic wax development, I felt I was ready to introduce my new cohesive body of work. I approached Spruill Gallery Director Jennifer Price. Her enthusiasm for the work I presented gave me the confidence to push myself and fill the gallery (1,300 sq Ft). Mounting a solo show allowed me to visualize the unifying theme of my work.
Spruill Gallery Interior: Peopled. Questionable Origins Exhibition 2020, Atlanta GA
Working as a liaison between artists, gallery and collector prepared me to present myself for a career in the visual arts.
In 1990 our family relocated to the New York City suburbs and I took on the job of Executive Director of a very small arts center. Three classes! By the time we relocated once again (1996) The center had grown to 80 classes and 3 exhibition pop-up spaces - one in a large shopping mall. The innovative pop-up shopping mall gallery was staffed by the contributing artists. Placing the gallery in a shopping mall made it accessible and comfortable to viewers of all ages who had never been inside a formal gallery setting. The gallery’s story was covered in the NYT! We relocated the gallery within the mall to un-leased space every 3 months and called it “Art Moves”. I learned a great deal about mounting an exhibition and the huge amount of work that goes into the task of a successful gallery. I so appreciate the complexity and hard work of galleries that now promote my work.
Through my experience creating and managing the CCCA’s 3 galleries I acquired the knowledge of what I believe galleries look for from an artist.
I stumbled into working with clay (1988-90) at a local college. It was the only class that fit into my schedule and the medium I had not tried while completing my BA in Art and Art Education at Indiana University.
I fell in love with everything about clay. Of course, I also relished time spent with adults who felt the same passion for art making. On a lark, I took some of my fired vessels to a fine craft gallery. They bought every sample I brought and ordered T-shirts similar to the one I was wearing.
Early work Image. Untitled Vessel Ceramic 13”H X 5.5” W. Wheel Thrown with hand colored clay embellishments.
I returned to clay in 2004, after several more arts related jobs and relocations setting up a studio in my Atlanta Georgia home. I auditioned several clay bodies before choosing porcelain – actually, it was more like porcelain chose me. I fell hard for the qualities exclusive to porcelain : creamy smoothness, bright white body and luster when fired. My training in clay is mostly self-directed. Research and a huge amount of experimentation= failures. I pushed and pleaded with the porcelain to break rules. I incorporated wheel throwing, hand-building, sprig molds, adapted new techniques and made my own tools. Because of the temperamental qualities of porcelain clay, I had to babysit the work constantly. Porcelain is known for its wayward cracking, slumping, shrinking and collapsing. Visiting my family long distances away became problematic. I became fearful of dire construction faults that might transpire in my absence from the studio. I came to the conclusion something had to change.
After 12 years of working in clay I went cold turkey from making any art for one year. I did not go into my studio but to grab a new sketchbook and pencils. I drew a lot. Visited museums, galleries and visited artist studios seeking a new medium.
Splash Bowl Series 2014-2016. Porcelain. Vary in size 6-11”H x 6-11” W. Wheel thrown and altered with low fired glaze
FIVE OBJECTIVES FOR MY NEW MEDIUM
Jasper Ware Teapot 2016. Porcelain. Wheel thrown, stacked, altered with sprig embellishments and low fired glaze
In 2016 I transitioned to a paper mâché like material utilizing recycled materials. It felt a bit like clay with benefits. When my first successful forms were completed, I sought to address their surface. All attempts I felt were failures until I came across an exquisite encaustic wax painting at the Broad Museum (LA, CA). I was blown away by possibilities: Smoky, opaque, translucent, transparent, rough, smooth, shiny, matte, transformative and its ability to conceal or reveal!! And OH!! That awesome honey fragrance. I took a one-week class with encaustic wax sculpture Miles Conrad in Tucson AZ and I was in a state of artful bliss.
As I mentioned previously, I enjoy researching. I pride myself in making work that becomes unique in my hands. Experimentation is supreme and BIG FUN. Have I mentioned that my husband’s career is in the sciences? My days are filled with hands on creative “what ifs”. Evenings are conversations of safe possibilities combining materials. My studio shelves are like many artists, a pallet of cast offs to be repurposed. All kinds of string, threads, natural materials from dried organic vegetation to cast off clothing whose nubby fibers intrigue me and industrial construction materials. I so enjoy a jaunt through a hardware store!
My use of rattan reed was a happy cross pollination. I came across a box of reed stashed away for use as teapot handles. It had all the inherent good qualities for wax absorption and the bonus to transform shape. I used it first on my sculpture “Nesting Instinct”. Then I just went to town seeing what might happen next.
Nesting Instinct 2017. 14”H X 14” W X 14” D. Encaustic wax, Recycled paper, Adhesive, Rattan reed and paint.
My next “Aha” moment was viewing an exhibition at R.A.M. In Toronto Canada. I viewed an exhibition hall filled with ship models. Many had their hull bracing exposed to reveal the construction technique. There were more than historic salesman models on view. This collection displayed vessels of all sizes constructed by French POWs of the 1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars. The prisoners used whatever they could lay their hands on to build with. Bleached bones from their meager meals, threads from their clothing, pebbles and wood from their cell walls- talk about being creative with materials! These were my people!
Turning Point 2017. 44”H X 16” W X 14” D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Fabric, Cotton string, Adhesive and Wood stain.
Miles taught me the safety guidelines for working with encaustic wax. Ventilation being foremost, no flammable work surfaces, proper safety attire: eyewear, gloves, long sleeves. I learned what materials can be safely combined with the wax for absorbency and stability.
Ecaustic wax has been used since the 5th century B.C. By Greek artisans. That being said there are rules to abide by such as routinely heat setting and allowing the work to cure. Yes, the wax will melt if exposed to extreme heat (200F or 93C) but one has bigger things to worry about if your art is exposed to an environment whose temperatures exceed that.
Set Free 2017. 26”H X 15” W X 13” D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Fabric, Cotton string, Adhesive and Wood stain.
Shadows are cast by the animated gestural forms tethered to the wall. These shadows soften the hard lines and enlarge and deepen the work while expanding the power of the object. I have created the object, but the object has liberated itself and gone beyond. My hope is that the when approaching the viewer will be drawn in by the relaxed floating form; then intrigued by the ever-changing views of the work – seeing both through and around simultaneously.
Smoke 2017. 62”H X 48” W X 19” D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Cotton string, Adhesive and Wood stain.
None at present. Hurrah. Other than someone inadvertently sitting on my work. My sculptures are very strong because of my unique construction process - they are not woven- more like spun.
Um. It is a trick of sorts. Thank you, Rumpelstiltskin. My work that is enrobed in black encaustic wax also has a fine mica dust mixed into the molten wax. My iron and copper patinas are created with a layered combination of specialty paints and encaustic wax.
Pretty amusing to see me lifting a HUGE sculpture one handed from out of my car transporting it into a gallery. I get lots of stares and often someone rushing in to assist me. Love it.
Oh, and may I also add that my father’s occupation was testing metallurgical samples-by x-ray. In many ways my sculptures can be seen as exposed metal skeletal hulls.
Experimentation never stops with me. Yes, I use that word a lot too. Recently I added dressmaker’s pattern tissue to my forms. Another material that sat on my studio shelf awaiting transformation. I appreciate the tawny color, texture of the paper with its printed instruction guides of dots, lines, and arrows. I started with adhering the paper flat, similar to its use on an Akari Lamp Shade. I have since pushed onward to a form of Guerilla Knit Bombing, Folding and now Brooming - my own term of bunching and tying- my current focus. The paper has so many potential applications. Some serious while others playful. Very exciting.
Swoosh 2018. 35”H X 37” W X 23” D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Fabric, Cotton string, Adhesive, Dress maker’s tissue and Specialty paints.
Sketching a piece is a very important meditative phase. I see my work as architectural and gestural. Through drawing I first define the shape I am attempting to achieve. Then I devise the most efficient way to construct the form. Some of my work is like building a ship in a bottle. I seem to be building the inside and the outside simultaneously. The next phase is to visualize the finished size. It is here when I select and prepare the appropriate gauge reed for strength and then soak my materials 24-48 hours.
Fertile 2019. 51”H X 32” W x20D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Cotton string, Adhesive and Dress maker’s tissue.
Referring to my sketch I wrestle the reed to conform to the desired shape with clamps, I then tie off each junction with cotton string. When fully formed I glue each intersection then trim the form. From this stage the work might be left bare, or painted then enrobed in encaustic wax or the reverse. I carefully heat set the wax in stages.
May I also add deceptively Effortless?
My own favorite sculptures are the ones that appear “effortless” or natural and organic- not forced. In reality those are the most complex forms to attain and their resolution the most rewarding. A little game I have is to question myself...
A Float 2017. 32”H X 21” W X 15” D. Encaustic wax, Rattan reed, Fabric, Cotton string, adhesive and Dress maker’s tissue
“What are my limits in complexity and design while still appearing natural and organic?”
“How can I entice the viewer to remain scanning the form so that both the sculpture and the experience is fluid with continued small visual revelations?”
“How does my choice of materials and texture effect the nature of the form?”
I have come to see there are distinct qualities connecting my sculptures that emerge from my hands and psyche, no matter what the medium.
'Seasonal Landscape' Autumn
We are lucky, in South Australia to have such a vibrant, inclusive glass community. It is also very fortunate that the University of SA is right next door to the Jam Factory, so it is an easy transition once you’ve finished your degree, to start making work in the Jam Factory glass studio. We are also very lucky to have Gabriella Bissetto as our head of glass at the University of South Australia. She was such a positive influence when I first started working with glass and I really love her enthusiasm for the material.
I also share ‘The Ware House’ studio with six other artists, five of which are glass artists. It’s such a great environment to work in. We all get along well, we discuss ideas, offer feedback on new work and I find it beneficial to my practice. We also have it set up with a cold shop, so everything apart from the blowing process is done there.
I studied both photography and glass during my university degree, so it seemed only natural to combine the two things I love together. I was lucky enough to learn about a gel medium technique that my photography lecturer discovered and through experimentation I realised that this could be applied to the glass surface. The combination of these materials led to my ‘Optical Landscape’ series,
'Optical Landscape Photographic Series, Forest'
I combined black and white photographic images on the back of thick clear glass forms. The changing thickness of the glass creates some beautiful optical effects when viewed through the front of the form.
Then in my Honours year I changed to creating images from my glass forms. This was done by carving lenses into thick clear glass forms and then taking these forms into the photographic darkroom and creating and capturing images of refracted light. This series was titled ‘Optics and Light’.
I have continued to create multiple series of works expanding and exploring a variety of techniques. The combination of imagery and glass is still front and foremost. My latest series of works titled ‘Optical Landscape engraved series’
still combine imagery of the landscape, but I have chosen to engrave these patterns onto the glass surface. These forms still utilize the thickness of the glass creating reflection and magnification of the imagery.
I have always been fascinated with the optical qualities of glass. In my ‘Optical Landscape Photographic series’ the thickness of the glass gives the illusion of space and the glass acts as a three dimensional optical lens through which you can view the black and white photographic image, when viewed through the front of the form. Alternatively my ‘Optical Landscape Engraved series’.
'Optical Landscape Engraved series' Leaf
I have a cut and polished window, which allows you to view the interior space. I love the way the solidity of clear glass form and the curves of the interior bubble highlights the natural qualities of reflection, distortion, movement and space within each glass piece, creating its own interior world.
Many have heard of SOFA, can you tell us what it is like to have your glass exhibited there?
It was such a huge honour to have my work exhibited at SOFA multiple times by Glass Artists Gallery also later by Kirra Gallery. I was also fortunate to be able to go over for the exhibition twice. It’s such an amazing experience being surrounded by so much fantastic artwork. It was quite surreal to see first hand, the artwork of many of the artists that I had studied while at University, as well as meeting some of the artists themselves from all around the world.
Glass Artists Gallery in Sydney would have to be the main gallery that supported me right from when I first finished my degree in 2005. Maureen Cahill took my work both to SOFA Chicago and Collect London in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. She also represented my work at Art Taipei, Taiwan 2006, Glass Weekend, Wheaton Villiage USA 2007 and Art London in 2008. It was through this international exposure that I made many contacts with galleries from around the world, who then exhibited and continued to sell my artwork.
Discuss your use of colour in your glass.
The majority of my exhibition work over the years has been in black and white. I like the stark contrast and simplicity of a minimal palette, although recently I have been exploring using colours from within the landscape to enhance the imagery I have been engraving. An example of this is in my recent exhibition titled ‘Seasonal Landscapes’ at Beaver Galleries, Canberra.
'Seasonal Landscape' Spring
Here colour has been used to enhance the decorative nature of the surface patterns of my engraved pieces, and in my latest work based on the seasons within the landscape, I have used colour in the interior of the piece. These are designed to have the same qualities as a watercolour painting, where two transparent colours blend together and overlap each other.
Since we bought a farm in the hills 2 years ago, I have really noticed the change in the colours of the landscape from one season to the next. We have a fabulous view across rolling hills and valleys and its remarkable what a difference there is in the colour palette, between the lush green colours of spring, compared with the browns and tans of autumn and the blues of summer skies. It has made me a lot more in tune with using colour to express landscape.
'A Moment in Time' The Master Bedroom
This series of works stem from my memories of my grandparents house on Kangaroo Island, where I spent my holidays as a child. Each room in the house was covered in different wallpaper patterns, and it was these patterns that I translated onto glass forms. The optical qualities of glass continued to be the foundation behind the forms. The transparency of clear glass, the solidity of the form and the suspension of the bubble, suspended as a moment in time. The bubble acting as a lens, magnifying the memories and capturing an essence of my childhood. The rectangular forms acted as a fragment or segment of the past, framed within a three dimensional space, which when placed together read as a story of captured moments in time.
'A Moment in Time' The Tapestry Lounge Suite
I find that I am constantly designing and creating new work in my head, so I find that being given a deadline for a solo exhibition gets me motivated to actually make my ideas come to fruition in a three dimensional object. Having said that, it always takes a lot longer to create exactly what I have imagined, so it doesn’t seem to matter if I have a year to make the work, it always seems to come down to a rush at the end. I am a perfectionist in my work, so I am always striving to make the work better and better, so without a deadline, I would probably never be finished!
It was initially a bit scary when everything was shut down. Galleries were closed and exhibitions were cancelled, so my income became almost non existent. The JamFactory also shut down, so couldn’t make any glass work either. Although in retrospect, it was also a good time to reduce the pressure of filling orders, and making deadlines. Instead it gave me time to spend doing other things, which has, in turn, led to creating new designs and new work. Recently it seems that galleries and online sales have been going very well and people are supporting local artists. This is reassuring and I am enjoying getting back to working again.
Magnification and the reflection of light and imagery is particularly evident in my ‘Optical Landscape Engraved series’.
'Optical Landscape Photographic series' Field Lines
These pieces are created with such a solid amount of glass and the bubble is suspended in the middle, so when the imagery is engraved on the outside surface you can see multiple reflections of that image within the piece. The curves of the glass also highlight the qualities of distortion, movement and space within each piece.
Take one small and one large piece and discuss the pros and cons in both.
I guess the pros and cons of a large piece is that firstly they are incredibly heavy both to make in hot glass and secondly to hold and coldwork, when they can weigh 6-7kgs, so they are very demanding physically. The pros though are that you get some beautiful optical effects resulting from having that large amount of semi-solid glass and they do look spectacular when finished.
The beauty though of smaller pieces, besides being a lot easier to make, is that they draw you in to a small world that you can hold in your hand.
Form is so visually important, especially with my work being quite minimalist.
There is such a fine line when using such thick, solid clear glass, that the pieces still have an elegance and refinement to them. I love the counterbalance between the solidness of the glass and the refinement of the delicate imagery used to describe and capture the beauty of nature and the landscape. It’s such a contrast between the two.
Into the Shadows, Acrylic on linen
I was born near the coast and have spent a lot of my life walking & swimming at various coastlines around Australia so it was inevitable that it had an effect on my inspiration. I get agitated if I don’t get to the coast often unless I am in my other love—the outback.
Yulara landscape 1 , Acrylic on Linen,122cm. x 61 cm
The coastlines differ vastly around Australia. They differ in light, smell, vegetation, temperature and colour, all of which evoke images for me. The north of Australia has a vastness to it’s coastline with huge tidal fluctuations and often opalescent aqua waters that occur because of the marriage of Pindan & white sands on the shore. The vegetation is totally different to southern beaches too. You have pandanus, grasses & scrubby trees binding the dunes together & often mulla-mulla (a native flowering bush)too. In the south the beaches are often covered with low bushes & beautiful sea grasses & some have seaweed balls washing up on the beach which as kids we loved to throw at each other. Further south the beaches change again as does the light. The Tasmanian beaches are often given a dramatic grey sky to set them off & bring out the greens of the foliage.
Beach Moods 3, Acrylic on canvas,45cm x 45 cm.
The inland of Australia is so diverse in its imagery, from the Flinders Ranges where I lived for a time, to the red desert country around central Australia or the sheer breathtaking beauty of the Kimberley which I visited annually for 16 years. The Flinders throw a soft blue hue ,both in atmosphere & the saltbush/bluebush that sustains the livestock. This is off set with magnificent old red gums ,rocky creek beds and the occasional rugged ,rocky gorge. The red center often brings the comment ”You’ve painted this a bit too strong or red” but you have, to spend time and visit it, to realize the depth of colour out there.
Harsh Country, Acrylic on linen, 122x61cm
In a good year after rains the contrast between the vivid greens & the red sands is amazing , added to that all of the wild flowers break into bloom .The pink and mauve Mulla-Mulla ,yellow Seneca ,vibrant magenta parakelya and the white & yellow poached egg paper daisies can cover the dunes in vast swathes. Then, there is the indescribable Kimberley ,which amazes at every kilometer travelled. The flora is unique, the skies are huge , the colours are brilliant and the size is huge. There is a painting at every escarpment, boab tree, creek bed, gorge & river, not to mention beach. Each of these places has its own evocative smell to trigger images.
Wyndham Boabs Landscape , Acrylic on Linen,210cm. x 92 cm.
I enjoyed my years of residency @ Uluru because despite the hype , the rock & Kata Tjuta do live up to their status. There is a lot to see out there other than just the two major attractions and the colours. Scenery and culture all add to the inspiration, there is a feeling that pervades you when you are walking in and around these places—a feeling that you are walking with the ancestors of the place.
A Little Piece of Cooper Creek 2, Acrylic on Linen,155cm x 145 cm
I happens in other areas too, like Island Lagoon.
I’m not sure I can say that any have directly helped me in my career other than allowing me to continue painting by purchasing my work, the fact that they have seen fit to buy it does give you a mental fillip to continue painting.
Early in my career I had a wonderful gallery director (who I stayed with till she retired ) and she was very proactive. She decided she would like to showcase South Australian artists in London and I was lucky enough to be one of the ones chosen. It was an honour to be amongst such illustrious artists, some of whom are still painting/sculpting today. The painters were a diverse selection, some figurative ,some landscape ,some more abstract and a sculptor, whose work has gone on to be included in many prestigious collections.
I think it helped me to feel I had something to give with my art as I was young & full of self-doubt—now I’m old & full of self-doubt.
Beach Mood , Acrylic on canvas, 45cm. x45 cm.
The essence of a place is a whole collection of senses that wreath a place & evoke images. It can be a smell, a bird call ,a flash of colour or a swathe of colour it can even be just a feeling that the landscape prompts as you walk through it. But that is the most important thing to me, if I don’t experience a place, I don’t paint it.
A Little Bit Later, Acrylic on linen ,122 cm. x 61 cm.
Tread Carefully is another step in me describing a place-in this case Kakadu.
Tread Carefully, Acrylic on Arches, 73x53cm
I often take flora or fauna and develop an image that is both descriptive of the bird/flower & a sight common to an area ,sometimes in a slightly more abstract approach as in Island Lagoon 1.
Island Lagoon Revisited 1, Acrylic, gold leaf on Arches paper, 52x72cm
Which uses the harsh iron browns, soft colours of the flora & symbols & marks to show the bleached vertebrae/ animal pathways. Alternatively, Imperious is just the emu with nothing around him because his strong character demanded that he was the center of the work. This is a way to paint “the essence”
Imperious! ,Acrylic on Canvas,122 cm. x 92 cm.
Imperious is painted sans background and almost life size as I felt his strong almost arrogant presence warranted no distractions. He still sits in my studio looking down on me working with his imperious look.
Whistle stop was as much about the birds in their habitat as it was about the birds (Whistling Ducks) themselves. It was my homage to the bird life in Kakadu which has always captured my interests whenever I have gone there. I have also included stylised/graphic Magpie Geese & Wild ducks that are prevalent on the waterways up there. The almost linocut look is a reference from another life when I did a lot of printmaking
Whistle Stop, Acrylic on arches, 52x72cm
Because I’m a curmudgeonly old bloke & because I tend to walk the beaches less populated & at dusk or dawn when there isn’t another soul to spoil the beauty. I prefer to put a bird in my coastal work-they are far less intrusive to the feeling of peace I try to achieve.
Cloud Wisps 1, Acrylic on linen, 122x61cm
Water has always been a battle to paint but at the same time it has been intrinsic to a lot of my work. The best I can say is that I go to the studio & fight with the paint until I achieve something I am half satisfied with.
Neglected, Acrylic on Arches, 72x52cm
Beautiful reflections continue to attract me.
Time is usually by the light I choose to paint—dusk, dawn or strong midday light with strong shadows.
Last Light - River, Acrylic on canvas, 101x101cm
The other way I paint time is the area/painting itself , because it is a record of one of my trips. Place is evident in all of my work because, again it is usually an image specific to a particular place even if it is not a straight landscape. As in Fragments of An Inland sea ,which is inspired by my visits to various fossil field around Australia.
Fragments of An Inland Sea, Image size,74 cm .x 54 cm, Acrylic on Arches
I use many methods to record a place. I used to do small onsite gouaches, but not so often now. I do jot down very rudimentary line sketches & notes to jolt my memory & I do take photo’s which I cast about the studio to remind me of the essence & sometimes for reference if it is a particular flower or bird but my work is a montage of an area not a specific place, though I hope it is recognisable. In the studio I have books & books of small, coloured studies I do to work out a painting.
Gorge Note Book 4, Acrylic on Arches, 26x35cm
Some never come to fruition & sometimes the big painting gets destroyed because it isn’t a patch on the sketches, but occasionally we have a winner.
It is hard to pinpoint one tool of trade so I will say worn brushes & useless credit cards ,both of which are great for mark making. “Summer Hillside “painted with credit card, grass & glad wrap
Hillside Shadows 2, Acrylic on canvas, 92x122cm
Interview by Deborah Blakeley, February 2021
Colour and its use is a very Scottish thing. I think we have a lot in common with the French Impressionists also. Much more so than with the English painters who are more subdued in their use of colour.
We have the Scottish Colourists as part of our history, and I think I am part of that tradition.
Red Still Life with Chinese Lanterns, Mixed media on Board, 41 x 41cms
For me, I couldn’t think of life without colour. It conveys so much in terms of mood and emotion. I also think it’s an antidote to the Scottish dreich climate!!
Still Life is a subject that was part of the curriculum at Edinburgh College of Art. All art schools taught it, as well as life painting, portraiture etc. I loved it and loved arranging the objects into attractive groups. I also like painting what I find to be beautiful.
Nowadays I start with a rough set up, and it changes over the painting period. Objects get painted out and replaced by something else!! It’s a moveable feast.
Autumn Fruit, Acrylic on watercolour paper, 67x101cms
Part of the fun is shopping for flowers and jugs and all the other bits and pieces. I’ve accrued quite a collection in my studio!
I was interested in Bonnard and Anne Redpath: both painters of still life, and in Bonnard’s case, he painted from memory and Anne Redpath kind of painted what was in her mind, rather than the set piece!! I’m with these guys as I love to go off piste with the group!!
There are always flowers in my still life. I don’t know why, but I think it’s to do with the pop of colour they give and also my love of everything floral!! I’m a bit of an addict.
Flowers from an Edinburgh Garden, Watercolour and Gouache on Arches paper, 105x117cms
There are a couple of gardens I visit: One garden is at Wemyss Castle in Fife and the other one is where I buy my flowers at Millpond Flower Farm in the Borders. The sense of wellbeing I get from these environments is second to none.
This is a good time to paint still life as the weather is cold, and the studio is more inviting! I tend to work on single Flower pieces in the summer when the flowers are in season.
Two Jugs with Chinese Lanterns, Acrylic on gesso board, 51x61cms
I can make any painting into a giclee print. They are really for people wanting a nice image in their house without acquiring the original! Those prints are not signed, and I can print as many as I like. People often scroll through my Instagram account and request a print for instance!!
On the other hand, I have worked with professional printmakers through the years, and then it is a more serious business where the prints are editioned and signed. There might be 20-50 in the edition. With this method, the prints are screen prints.
I’d like to produce more prints, but I need to work with a professional. It’s a different approach to image making and I need that expertise. I have worked with a marvellous printmaker and artist called Gill Murray, and we are planning to work together again.
Wee Jug of Roses, Acrylic on gesso board, 30x30cms
I don’t teach every week. My painting schedule is too busy for that. What I tend to do is teach an intensive 2-3 days, where I work everyone quite hard!! Lots of exercises and techniques to free up the students’ work. We usually play all sorts of music and generally have a good time! I may do these courses about 8 times in the year.
With the pandemic, I have decided not to teach meantime, but hope to resume when things eventually settle down.
I like the landscapes that I see around me on a regular basis. It’s about what is accessible and what I love. I do make forays to the West coast of Scotland occasionally, but generally I like using what is local. I love our fields, and grasses. I don’t go for the dramatic glens particularly! I’ve included some landscape from Italy as well as Scotland in the photos I’ve sent.
Trees at Paxton House, Acrylic on canvas board, 20x 30cms
There’s really not much to say. If I’m out walking and see something that excites me, I will scribble down an image and usually record it on my iPhone. Familiarity is key; if I see something regularly it kind of fixes in my mind. I rarely paint on the spot but gather the images sometime later. This is where the creativity comes in and I muck around with wax candles, watercolour and gouache. Pen and ink too. The more finished paintings can go into acrylic paints, but I go between the two. Whatever I paint is not necessarily true to what I saw originally!!
I also introduce still life into the landscape or more truthfully into a garden scene. It’s an attempt at ‘feel good’ picnics in the garden! Bottle of wine, cheese, lovely plates and glasses!! Again, garden flowers will feature. Perhaps I am a creature of the good life!!
Bluebell Wood, Wemyss Castle, Acrylic on board, 20x30 cms
Good light is important for still life. However, when you paint outside, good light is often the enemy. I think that early morning and light at the end of the day are hugely important. The skies are more interesting than when you get bright blue skies and full sunshine. I like the winter landscape especially, where the trees are bare, and the shadows are long. Snow and icy conditions are also exciting visually.
St Giles, Edinburgh at Night, Watercolour, ink, oil pastel on watercolour paper, 56x76cms
This is an interesting question. I think I was always drawn to a water based medium. I found that when I bought my first acrylics, I instinctively felt I knew how to use them. The various mediums that can give you texture, and line (string gel) are exciting. I can glaze and use the Golden Liquid paints just like watercolour. It’s so exciting and creative.
Late Summer Flowers on a Yellow Ground, Acrylic on gesso board, 68x68cms
My first love was watercolour, and sadly I am using it a bit less now. However, it’s good to look back and realise that the watercolour/gouache and inks are actually very exciting and freeing. I am about to start using the mixed media this winter, starting next week. The major difference for me is that the acrylic can give me more intense colour over bigger pieces. However acrylic inks fill that gap. I love using wax relief, or oil pastel with watercolour as it gives the most exciting texture. The gouache can give me wonderful opaque colour. My very big flower pieces are achieved on this way. Another point is that you can work very quickly with this technique. The mark making is fast and exciting and you must react quickly to the image appearing in front of you. I like to challenge myself and try to do paintings very quickly, or in one day!! It can be scary in a way that the build-up of acrylic paint is more considered. I can hardly wait to start!!
Midsummer Flowers on a Blue Ground, Acrylic on gesso board, 60x60cms
This has changed a lot. The market is burgeoning with artists. New and old. Lots of people are changing career and becoming artists overnight. Many new galleries have sprung up, and of course there is more wealth around than there was 40 years ago. A lot of galleries really serve the interior design market.
I used to have one London and one Edinburgh gallery, a couple of provincial galleries and my teaching. Now, that picture has changed and I now work with many more galleries, throughout the country.
My main criteria is that I like the gallery and its director, and the space.
The second criteria is that you like the artists (or some of them) that they show. Being able to talk to your gallery is important.
Roses and other Flowers, Acrylic on gesso board, 50x60cms
Studio space is important. I’ve usually worked in a room in my house, and I have never shared a space. I don’t share!!
When we moved to the Borders, we bought an old Bakehouse in our village. It came with a piece of ground where the stables had once been. When we acquired it, the land was used for fly tipping and was full of weeds!! This has been cleared and we built a posh garden shed called ‘The Shedio’!! It is a lovely wooden structure which is warm and full of light. It has such a nice feeling, that we sometimes sit there as a family and share a glass of wine and cake!
As for lighting, we use battery power for the daylight tube. We hope to get electricity in next year.
Plockton, Sailing Boats, Acrylic on gesso board, 50x70 cms
Edinburgh Festival Fireworks, Acrylic on Arches watercolour paper, 114x115cms
I do keep sketchbooks for set projects like foreign travel and for a project about my local landscape which was started earlier this year. They are full of scribbles and splashes of colour. I rely on my iPhone and camera to capture moments and weather. In fact, I recorded the icy shrubs and grasses on the road outside our village on my phone. You simply cannot sit out there and paint them in that situation. The best sketchbooks are in your head. It’s the familiarity of your surroundings that are important.
I have always been drawn to intricate things, providing a place for concentration focus and respite… From the details bigger pictures emerge.
Vase Forms | Grammar of Ornament - Byzantine No3, Monochrome & Polychrome. Photography by Shannon Tofts
To ornament and decorate the world is a fundamental human impulse - even the most functional of objects are often decorated in some form. The rich history of how humans create and utilise ornament is an endlessly fascinating area of exploration.
GO Greek Commission, Photography by Shannon Tofts
Gathering Bowl | Sanday - Tresness.
This has been a lovely collaboration to work on, developing slowly through conversations with Anna Garner, founder and director of The Garnered.The work responds to an Island called Sanday in the Orkneys which has a special place in my heart. The colours are drawn from memories of autumnal beach walks around the coastline of the island, reflecting pure white sand, rust coloured kelp and the bright turquoise to deep dark blue of the sea.
Gathering Bowl | Sanday - Whitemill.
The parquet pattern is a favourite which I often return to. In this instance it seemed very fitting, recalling the patterns of tweed fabric and knitted woollens that are essential for windy walks around the island.
Gathering Bowl | Sanday - Catasand.
Each bowl sits on a small ceramic plinth which elevates and frames the work, giving it space to breath.
I am curious about by the journeys that languages of ornament undertake. Designers, artisans, artists and collectors, pick-up, re-work and re-interpret decorative motifs, through different materials & craft processes, by applying them to new contexts or through building up collections. The Grammar of Ornament is a perfect example of this process in action.
First published in 1856, the book is a compendium of pattern complied by Owen Jones who also devised an accompanying set of design principals intended to shake up and reform British design and manufacturing.
It is a an extraordinarily beautiful publication and a rich resource for lovers of The Decorative. It is also however highly problematic to a contemporary reader, reflecting the politics and position of Victorian era Britain and raising many questions about the dominance of a singular western empirical perspective of design history.
I’ll quote directly from the V&A museum to answer this question
“Owen Jones (1809 – 74) was a versatile architect and designer, and one of the most influential design theorists of the 19th century. In his search for a unique modern style, Jones looked to the Islamic world for inspiration.
Jones developed key principles for the newly-established Government School of Design, which later became the Royal College of Art. Jones' bold theories on the use of colour, geometry and abstraction formed the basis for his seminal publication, The Grammar of Ornament, a design sourcebook that is still in print 150 years later.”
The inspiration for colour in my work is very varied: It might have a historical reference point, be a distillation of my view of a particular place or a response to a design brief. Sometimes it is just a combination that I find appealing, there are certain colours that I regularly return to.
Patterns of Flora Woodland, Entrance Wear, Door Handle, Photography by Ruth Clark
I like creating movement through the use of colour, shifting across a range of hues or tones, and I enjoy adding in unexpected accents that can totally change the feel of a piece.
Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats - Woodland. Photography by Ruth Clark
How did this come about?
Is it or others still available?
The colouring book I made was part of a larger project called ‘Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats’.
Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats - Coast (detail) Photography by Shannon Tofts
The work was commissioned by Atlas Arts and developed for Raasay House in collaboration with Botanist Stephen Bungard. The work explored the native plants and associated habitats on the Scottish island of Raasay through a collection of permanently sited ceramics at Raasay House.
Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats - Colouring Book.
To accompany this commission Atlas Arts invited me to create some artist editions including a colouring book. There are still a few signed copies of the original A3 colouring book available for sale via Atlas Arts. During lockdown we decided to make an a4 printer friendly copy available to download for free. You can get a copy via the Atlas Arts website:
Patterns of Flora | Mapping Seven Raasay Habitats - Map
I developed this collection exclusively for curator Valery Demure to present through her gallery Objet d’Emotion. The work brings together some of my favourite motifs across a series of hand-built drum and vase forms. Chevron motifs can be sourced back to heraldic imagery and stripes have a modernist association.
Colour Research, Chevron Stripe, Asanoha, Photography by Shanno Tofts
The Asanoha is a Japanese plant motif. I enjoy bringing together motifs from varied sources to create interesting dialogues. When developing my studio ceramics, I often look for very simple forms that act as vehicles for the surface patterns. The drum and vase forms felt particularly appropriate to the idea of a skin of pattern stretched across a surface. Making work in groups or families allows me to expand and explore an idea. With this collection each piece can stand alone but also exists in dialogue with the group. The colour palette for this work was developed in conversation with Valery and pushed me in a new direction, resulting in a very rich, bold collection.
Drum & Vase Forms | Chevron/ Stripe/ Asanoha. Photography by Shannon Tofts
Gathering Places | Collage i, ii, iii. Photography by Shannon Tofts
I allowed the drawing to dictate the shape of the rim of the ‘Gathering Places’ vessel series. The result is that the individual motifs suddenly becomes emphasised and the work appears to be constructed from individual units. I like this ambiguity and how it prompts the viewer to think about how the piece is made, referencing processes such as mosaic, inlay, marquetry, stitch or weave.
Gathering Places | Grammar of Ornament, India ii. Photography by Shannon Tofts
I have recently been awarded a QEST Scholarship (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) to enable a period of research and learning with heritage tile manufacturers Craven Dunnill Jackfield. The scholarship is supported by Johnny Walker and will begin in January 2021. It is a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in traditional tile making techniques, learning from exceptional craftspeople, with the intention that I will use the experience to develop contemporary work. QEST is a wonderful organization, and I am thrilled to be part of their growing family of talented alumni. The added bonus, of being supported by Johnny Walker has connected to an extraordinary group of craft practitioners from a diverse field of activity, covering horology, product design, printmaking and bespoke tailoring. It is a very supportive network that has proved especially valuable during this challenging year.
I am currently working on a commission for a Haematology Centre at The Edinburgh Western General Hospital, curated by Round Table projects and supported by Edinburgh & Lothian Health Foundation. The brief has allowed me to develop a collection of ceramics based on pattern books from the Linoleum manufacturing industry that was synonymous with the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy. The commission has allowed me to explore historic archives held by Fife Museums Trust including an extraordinary collection of pattern books. It is always interesting to work on a public commission, using my interests as a springboard for responding to a design brief and specific context. Working in healthcare settings adds another layer of complexity and challenge which I enjoy. I take great satisfaction from knowing that my work can help to transform clinical settings into far more approachable and welcoming environments for patients, staff and families.
The most significant of these commissions to date has been ‘The Tiled Corridor’ for The Royal Edinburgh Hospital, supported by Edinburgh & Lothian Health Foundation and realised in collaboration with tile manufactures Craven Dunnill Jackfield.
The Tiled Corridor | Royal Edinburgh Hospital. Photography by Shannon Tofts
The design is based on research into the Victorian era interiors of former hospital building Craig House and two tiled stairwells within the building. I have utilised motifs and colours extracted and adapted from these original stairwells to create a contemporary design which is vibrant and jewel like. The work spans the length of the main public corridor of a new hospital building and is comprised of around 2000 tiles, manufactured by Craven Dunnill Jackfield, and an additional 300 made by me in my Edinburgh Studio.
It has been fascinating to collaborate with a manufacturer and adapt my designs to an architectural scale. The work has become synonymous with the hospital and has achieved a great deal of recognition in design publications. It has even been included in a guidebook. To apply such a rich and carefully crafted surface to the walls of a public hospital implies a level of value, care and nurture that is very deserving of the hospital community. The corridor has become a place to linger and a means of orientation and, I hope, the work will bring moments of respite and pleasure to people using the building for many years to come.
It would have to be ‘The Tiled Corridor’. This project has been such an important work for me, a real labour of love to complete that pushed at the boundaries of my knowledge and abilities. But the hard work truly paid off with a work that has been incredibly well received, most importantly by the patients and staff at the hospital. It has led on to new and exciting opportunities including the QEST award and the chance to collaborate further with the talented team at Craven Dunnill Jackfield.
The Tiled Corridor | Royal Edinburgh Hospital (detail). Photography by Shannon Tofts
This all depends on the project. In the studio I have two top loading electric kilns so I am limited by their capacity, but I would consider hiring kiln space if I required it. I will also work with fabricators and manufactures to realise work at scale and in none ceramic materials.
Collection | Grammar of Ornament - Byzantine No3 Polychrome. Photography by Shannon Tofts
A scalpel and 10a scalpel blade. This is the tool I use to inscribe all of my drawings into clay.
Creative communities, are very important, to me, whether that be within the field of ceramics or more broadly across craft, design and art. I always enjoy meeting new people and being exposed to new ways of thinking. We are fortunate in Scotland to have a vibrant & active craft & design community.
It is going back to 2015 but I love the simplicity of ‘Jacket Sparrow’ discuss.
Back in 2015, I had just finished an intense portrait of a meerkat and I was looking for something more loose and less dense in terms of thread. Also, I had reached a point in my new career, where I wasn’t so sure where I wanted to go with my art and not overly confident, that I will ever make it as an artist. Lots of doubts and little trust in my potential. So, I decided to go back to something I felt confident with and that was collage making – but it wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t add a challenge to it and so I went for a bird, a subject I had never stitched before in that manner. The reference photo I used for this piece spoke to me right away and sparrows are always popular with the crowd and so I went with it.
As the collage grew, my inspiration kicked back in and what set out to be a loose piece, turned into something fully embroidered. I just couldn’t stop adding details, which caused my fabric base to pucker and I was left with no other choice in the end, but to cut the sparrow from its base and to stitch it onto a new fabric background. I held my breath the entire time I was cutting along the edges of the embroidery, it was nerve racking having spent so much time on a piece and then having to chop it all up. When I then held the bird freshly cut in my hands, I knew that I needed to give him a less ordinary background and having been following the patch making trend on Instagram at the time, I decided to stitch him onto my denim jacket. I liked the idea so much of wearing my own art, taking it out into the public and creating unique exposure. It took me forever to find the right placement for it and I really loved the idea of its tail going underneath the loop at the bottom of the garment. There was no plan behind it all, one thing simply led to another and the learning curve was steep.
Jacket Sparrow, Detail
Tell us about your relationship with your machine?
I have three machines in my studio, which I frequently work with. One is a vintage, motorized Singer flat embroidery machine from the 50’s, a Bernina Record from the 70’s and my Brother machine I bought in 2011. All three have very different characters and produce very different textures.
I do not have names for them or take overly good care of them to be honest. They have no handmade covers or fancy stickers, but I am grateful for each one to call my own. I am fully aware of the torture I may cause them at times, the stop and go stitching, the endless hours they are ploughing through layers and layers of thread without any symptoms. So, if there is some kind of relationship, it is a respectful one. I am aware that I couldn’t work the way I do without them and I appreciate the fact, that they are all still going strong, all three of them.
When do you get cross with your machine?
Like every artist, I have bad days. Days where nothing works out, time seems to have been wasted because no obvious progress was made, or an idea didn’t work out as mapped out in the head. And it is on those days, that machines tend to tangle the threads, break their needles or refuse to wind bobbin thread – and it is on those days that I have zero patience with anything and that is when I get cross. Obviously totally wasting my energy by directing all my anger towards the machines, but it is the only vent at that very moment and frustration finds its way to be seen and heard. Luckily I have learned over time to simply walk away, after throwing that small tantrum, and switching the machines off for the day.
Discuss the full meaning of your masks.
What are they hiding?
What is behind their eyes?
The subject of the masks has developed over time. When I first started to look into the matter of endangered species and the rapidly growing loss of wildlife, I knew I wanted to use my art as a channel of information and to raise awareness. Back then I didn’t know exactly how powerful art could be, but intuitively I tried to give mine a deeper meaning.
So, the idea behind the masks is that I wanted to make the viewers connect with my subject.
Mask – Sumatran Tiger
I wanted people to meet those animals on ‘eye level’ or equal terms and to make contact, because I believe that you can only care for something, if you are emotionally drawn to something.
Mask – Snow Leopard
To me, those masks are bearing urgency, sadness and hope. They are hiding so many emotions, and every individual will discover something different behind their eyes. But I think the common ground is sadness regarding the plight of the species and their dependency on us humans to make a change.
With the current urgency that our planet is experiencing, having lost 65% of all our wildlife already according to Sir David Attenborough, my need to create more masks has grown over the past few months.
Show us two animals you have embroidered that are endangered.
Discuss the technical aspect of the work
The background to the animals endangered status
In 2016, I started to focus on endangered species and lending them my voice to raise theirs. I haven’t stopped doing so and I don’t think I ever will either.
Receiving feedback from my followers on social media always fuels my intentions to continue, as they let me know that they for example had never heard of a cassowary before, or that it is for example the plantation of palm trees for extracting palm oil, that destroys the habitat of orangutans. If I can make one person boycott products with palm oil in it, I have already made a change. If I can show people how beautiful a pangolin is, and explain how peaceful they are, they may teach their children and make them aware.
Orangutan. 90x70cm. Photography by Martin Wacht
If I can help make readers understand, that petting a baby lion in a roadside zoo is supporting a wildlife crime, they may think twice about where they will book their safari next. So embroidering endangered animals always comes with a message.
To discuss the process, I chose the portrait of the orangutan and the pangolin, as they entail three different techniques: fur, skin and scales. I mentioned before, that I like to make every portrait a bit of a challenge to me and those two definitely have been quite a journey and a stretch to my wings.
Both portraits, like all my work in large scale, start out with a simple sketch of the outlines of the subject on my base fabric. I often create a line drawing first and the transfer it on my calico fabric with a light board. The next stage is an extensive and very detailed fabric collage for which I usually grab my Batik fabrics, as they create a smoother look. Not that this would make any difference in the end product, as it will all be covered in layers of thread, but I have a need for the ‘ugly stages’ to be pretty as well.
Orangutan. Embroidery process
The most frequent question I get asked is: why do you create a fabric collage and not stitch directly on to your base? Now, there is a simple answer to that, because the collage becomes my navigational map during embroidery. I instantly know where a tiger stripe begins and where it ends for example and I can find the area I am working on much easier on my reference photo that I study a lot during the embroidery process. Sometimes I think I spend more time staring at the photo that embroidering the portrait, but it takes time to study all the details and to identify all the colours involved. The collage process also helps me study my subject in more detail and I familiarize myself with patterns, texture and fur growth direction for example. It lets me study highlights and shadows, which play a major role in photorealism.
African lion. 80x60cm. Photography by Martin Wacht
Once the collage is lightly glued down with regular glue stick, I start my embroidery process and that always begins with the eye(s). They are the windows to the soul, as they say. To me, they are the window to emotion and to connection with the viewer, and so I spend a particular long period of time on them. After that I work my way around the portrait, focusing a very small areas, no larger than 10x10cm at once, to really let myself zoom in and capture all details. When working on skin, like the face of the orangutan, or working on scales like the ones on the pangolin, I use freeform ‘zigzag’ stitching and build up the texture by applying light layers of thread in coordinated shades. Wrinkles and hard lines are added at the end, to make them more effective and they are always accompanied by a shadow and a highlight. And the big bonus of stitching skin and scales is, that you can always go back over them with another layer, if the tone needs adjustment – no unpicking!
The approach when stitching fur is very different to what I described above. Fur comes in neatly stitched layers, starting with the darkest colour, working up to the highlights and then going over the area with medium tones again for blending. The highlights are added at the very end and are usually single stitched hairs in the lightest colour available, to make them pop and create movement. I have learned that there is not one technique that can be applied to all animal portraits. As unique as they are in nature, as unique are the approaches in embroidering them. There are certain basics, but I have not once completed an embroidery that did not require me thinking about a new technique or completely out of the box. Not even stitching the same subject saves you from not having to think about new approaches and that is why I enjoy my work so much and love what I get to create, because it keeps me on my toes and keeps developing my skills and makes me journey so very unique!
You have lived and studied around the world. Comment on how ‘Global’ this has made you feel. (perhaps with a story)
After completing high school, I went globetrotting and lived seven years abroad to study operational management for film and TV in England, special effects make up in Canada, Tourism Management in Wales and working in hotels in Ireland and Spain. I tried to find my potential in all these years and one education formed the stepping stone for the next, totalling to six completed degrees with only one being of a creative nature. It simply wasn’t what I had myself down as, back then it never crossed my mind to become an artist. I enjoyed people and the company, I found pleasure in working in the service industry and being away from home. Connecting with people from all over the world literally made my world. But it never made me truly happy and was only a small fraction of my path to my true potential. After becoming a mum with 31, finally having agreed to settle down in one spot, my creativity started to flourish. Like it was waiting for me to hold my feet still and finally be heard. All the traveling and spending time abroad has been a vital factor for my artistic career, as I am able to share everything in English and making it easy for me to establish connections with fellow artists, event organisers and collectors. I feel that I can take part in the artistic world without many boundaries and much confidence, at least what language is concerned.
Tell us about the significance of finding your own personal working space.
Being a mum of two, I always had struggle to find time for my creativity. Carving that out for myself, created the need for my own studio and I am very blessed to have been able to ‘carve’ that out for myself too in our house. I now inhabit quite a large studio that I share with all my animals, and it has become my safe place. I have the liberty to create a mess without having to clean it up, I get to retreat and throw tantrums in it, I can let my creativity and emotions run wild and there is no judgement. It truly is my safe place and there is nothing in the world I would trade it against with.
Comment on the community of the textile world.
The textile art community is strong and incredibly supportive. Especially over social media, I have met the most kind and loving people, that are there for you on bad days, that celebrate with you every little sale you made and that tag you in ‘calls for art’ because they think you could rock it. It doesn’t really get better than that – artists supporting artists, women supporting women (and men, there are fabulous male textile artists out there too!). The hashtag #communityovercompetition says it all.
You often work on isolated parts of the animal’s body, eyes, or mouth. Why do you use these perspectives?
Very similar to the masks, I want to draw attention to the details of the endangered animals. I want my audience to take a closer look, to zoom in and discover not only single threads, but the utter beauty in our fauna! I want them to connect to the wild, to take the time again to appreciate the beauty in things. Time has become such an important factor in our society, that no one seems to take it anymore to stop and look at details. It is like people are trapped in a race and the appreciation of natural beauty is lost.
What background fabric and how many layers do you use?
My background fabric is mainly medium weight calico or a poly cotton mix, depending on the size of the subject. Calico is a lot more flexible and easier to stretch on artist canvas before framing, so this is my number one choice and a single layer is sufficient.
Explain the impact of using the humble embroidery hoop in your work.
When I started out with machine embroidery, there was a lot of experimenting with different materials. That also involved stabilizers of all sorts, trying to avoid the fabric to budge under all these layers of thread. It took a good two years to finally discover, that a simple wooden hoop in combination with the right fabric and the right density of thread would do the trick. No stabilizers, no cutting embroideries and transplanting them onto a new background needed.
Video of working on you bird.
Questions that I want to ask after watching this video…
How many coloured threads do you use in this piece?
I don’t remember the exact number of coloured threads I used in this piece, but there must have been something like 45 of them. My rule of thumb is to use at least three shades of every colour that I identify in the reference photo, to create realism.
How do you set up the threads so that you have quick access to them?
I have large working tables next to my machines, and the threads are spread to the left of me, colour coordinated and in little groups. I need them to be all on display, so I have the chance to find the correct shade I am looking for. It does look very chaotic, but it actually has a system to it.
How do you achieve the translucency of the wings?
The wings have been an extra challenge, as I wanted them to be detachable and 3D. So, I practiced sandwiching a piece of golden organza fabric into Sulky Solvy stabilizer and stitched all the outlines and wing details onto the stabilizer in coordinating thread. I had to repeat that process three times before I got them delicate enough to match my macro image of a bumble bee. But the organza fabric worked a dream and really pulled off the realistic look I was hoping for.
Macro Bumblebee with 3D wings.30x30cm
Have you done any bugs or insects?
Apart from bees, I have never fully embroidered any insects or bugs. Although, coming to think of it, their textures and colours are incredibly beautiful, so maybe I am going to look into that subject matter soon!
What is your next project?
My next projects, that I am very excited about, are two pieces that once again highlight endangered species. For one, there will be another Amur leopard mask in the making and another chimpanzee portrait, of which I stumbled across its reference photo and instantly felt the need to translate it into thread. So, this is what I will be working on until the end of this year and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of it – with an important statement to protect our wildlife!
Take one piece that has both given you joy to make and have a great background story.
If I had to choose a piece that has given me the most joy to create, I would pick my portrait of the Gombe chimpanzee. I received the commission from the Jane Goodall Institute – Austria to create a gift for the world-famous anthropologist and UN ambassador of peace, Dr. Jane Goodall, to celebrate the beginning of her extraordinary journey 60 years ago in the forests of Gombe, Tanzania.
Dr. Jane Goodall commission. 40x40cm
I remember spending a long time trying to find the perfect reference photo, the perfect pose of a chimp from Gombe National Park , and my joy when I suddenly found it. I am not sure if it was the pose of the chimp, the lighting I chose, or the emotion the animal carried, but it turned my embroidery process into bliss. I chose my vintage Singer machine for it and in unity the portrait evolved with such ease. There were tough areas to come by, but none that caused anger or frustration. Stitching the single hairs on the wrist and the top of the head just came naturally and this has also been my very first portrait that had no stitching of eyes. The first piece, that wasn’t defined by the look or emotion in the eye, but the pose and shading.
The portrait is still with me and waiting to be received by Dr. Goodall in person, once traveling and events are safe to host again
Discuss your comment, “If you haven’t found your favourite animal here (on the site). No worries I always make time for special commissions.
African Tree Pangolin. 50x50cm. Photography by Martin Wacht
I have an incredible community and a very supportive environment around my artwork and over the years built up a small field of collectors who appreciate my work and fund my business. For a long time, I just created work and every now and then one would get adopted and find a new forever home. But over the past few months, I have had people approach me for awesome commissions and that was a great experience for me, because I got to do animals, like a Great Horned Owl, that I would never had thought of creating. An incredible challenge and a first for me to dive into stitching feathers.
African Tree Pangolin, Detail.
I welcome challenges at all times, as they mean growth to me and those special commissions stretch my wings a lot
I studied ceramics in the 70s when an interest in sculptural ceramics was just beginning to grow but there were only a handful of colleges that encouraged you to explore all the possibilities inherent in making things out of humble clay. Luckily, I was accepted on the BA course at Bristol Polytechnic, which was a very forward-thinking course. Although I tried all the different pottery techniques, it was the versatility and freedom of hand building that appealed to me most and suited my personality best.
The forms and concepts I come up with are my primary concern and clay is my medium of choice. I’m afraid that I’ve never been interested in the technical side of ceramics and find mixing glazes a terrible chore (although I marvel at what other potters can achieve through glazing). I discovered early on, with some relief, that it was possible to leave the clay naked so I started mixing oxides and stains into the clay, which produces pastel shades.
Nowadays I mostly use the clay straight out of the bag without any additions and have started to flock some of the pieces to give colour and a contrasting texture. This allows me to choose colours that have specific meanings or emotive connotations.
‘Portrait of Fanis’
‘Portrait of Fanis’ is part of my installation ‘Conversations with Friends’.
It took me a long time to work out how to portray Fanis who is a very dear old friend with an amazing and interesting life story, multi-faceted and many-layered with an oppressive family and many personal hurdles, which he managed to overcome with dignity, honor and a noble spirit. He is warm, gentle and loving once you get to know him but complains that he gives the wrong impression when he meets people for the first time.
It occurred to me that purple was the colour that suited him most: it is foremost a majestic colour and is created by combining a strong warm with a strong cool colour which seemed to me to be the perfect fit.
When Fanis saw his ‘portrait’ he exclaimed, “That’s exactly how my therapist described me: unsteady but with a solid core!”
In 2019 I made an installation entitled ‘Conversations with Friends’ which consisted of 14 abstract portraits of my friends. Rather than attempting to illustrate them literally, I wanted to represent each friend’s character, disposition and psyche in a subjective and symbolic way. A kind of allegory.
Each portrait was an assemblage of shapes containing multiple elements to symbolically express and inform my view of a particular friend. Some symbols were obvious, while others were more ambiguous requiring time to unearth their meaning.
It was a very interesting project, as I really had to rack my brain about each of my friend’s character and then come up with a new language to express myself. I found it really difficult in the beginning as I kept coming up with the same 3 adjectives that fitted all my friends’ characters: generous, intelligent and loving. I wrote lists of their attributes and spent hours thinking about each one. It was a very special time and has made me appreciate how lucky I am to have them in my life.
Surprisingly, my oldest friends proved to be the most difficult ones to conceptualise. I think that when you know someone for a very long time, it’s difficult to analyze what draws you to that person as they become an honorary member of your family.
In the beginning the portraits were more literal. For instance, Harjit’s portrait is about balance (she’s a judge), her shoe fetish (the shape of the base) and her appreciation of a good glass of red wine (the cup) but the more I worked on the portraits, the more abstract they became.
‘Portrait of Lesley’
I met Lesley 46 years ago at uni. She’s always been a fantastic listener and she’s an amazing film director so ‘Portrait of Lesley’ is all about the ear and the eye. The base is an abstract ear shape as is the standing flower (also symbolising her beauty) while the lorgnette symbolises her wonderful eye and perceptive and insightful nature.
Curlicue, 48cm H x 20cm W
Curlicue, 48cm H x 20cm W, hand built using white stoneware clay, burnished and fired to 960C.
‘Curlicue’ is part of a group of work, which was inspired by the breathtaking rainforest I visited in Peru where nature in its unfettered glory has taken over and the extraordinary vines and creepers that grow there, with their tendrils twirling and winding around each other, all competing to reach the sunlight.
It is made up of 2 pieces that fit together. It was not possible to fit the 2 pieces together until the piece was fired because it would’ve damaged the burnished surface so I had to make several ‘tendrils’ and hope that one of them fit as I envisaged.
I was really disappointed as none of the ‘tendrils’ I made fitted the bottle-shape. Then my partner walked into the studio and picked up a tendril that I’d made for another piece and convinced me to try that one on instead. It was definitely one of those ‘glass slipper’ moments: not only was it the perfect fit but it turned it into the most successful and dynamic piece I have made so far in this series of work.
I’m drawn to clay as it is malleable, flexible and transformable. It is also a down-to-earth (excuse the pun!) and humble material; one that suits all sorts of different personalities. Hard, soft, organic, geometric, from toilet bowls to false teeth to space shuttle tiles - anything and everything goes!
Working on the portraits of my friends for the installation ‘Conversations with Friends’ allowed me to look and think in a new way. Once the shapes for each portrait had been designed, they were placed into a specific arrangement to make the whole meaningful, balanced and appealing. This took many hours of contemplation, work and scrutiny. There is a magic moment in the process of assembling a still life when it suddenly appears as a visually coherent piece and a nature morte is born.
‘Portrait of Yo’
‘Portrait of Yo’ was built up over a number of months of consideration, experimentation and much trial and error. Yo is a woman of many talents, highly intelligent, extremely amusing and oozing with charm. I was very concerned that the piece made a balanced and harmonious still life but at the same time wanted to depict Yo’s endearing clumsiness. While I was making the piece Yo managed to trip up and break her rib which gave me the idea for the element that was missing in the piece.
Adding a ceramic ‘rib’ to the portrait gave it the extra edge I was looking for and condensed the piece into the essence of Yo. A piece that was elegant but slightly awkward.
I take a lot of inspiration from the performing arts especially ballet, contemporary dance and opera. Attending a live performance seems to unlock my creativity and allows me the time to freely roam around in my imagination.
As a homage to the gift of the performing arts, I set myself a challenge to depict undulating melodic motion. In ‘Blue Note’ and ‘Ode’, I attempted to capture the rhythm and flow of music and dance. By deciding to make a group of inter-relating forms I came closer to emulating musical notations and attempted to give the pieces tempo, inflection and movement.
I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and a lot of them come from really mundane and unromantic things. The idea for ‘Moebius’ was born on the way home from the supermarket when the bag I was carrying got twisted round my wrist.
Most people find it irritating that the postman drops elastic bands everywhere, but I think they produce delightful little random shapes worth noting. I’m afraid that ‘Ribbon’ was inspired by an elastic band I saw curled up on my front step.
But I couldn’t bring myself to call the piece ‘Elastic Band’ so I called it ‘Ribbon’ instead.
How do you come up with such charming names for your work?
Thank you for your kind words - I’m surprised to hear that. I think that the titles given to a work of art are a very important part of the work as it gives a clue to what the artist was thinking although personally I sometimes prefer something more ambiguous to allow my imagination to wander.
Although I’m not very good with words, I really enjoy them in literature, poetry or as little disembodied organic beauties and the truth is that I place great importance on the name I give a piece. I spend hours pouring through dictionaries and leafing through my 1966 edition of Rojet’s Thesaurus (which has many more interesting words than the later editions) to find the right title for a piece. Sometimes I succeed but other times I give up in frustration and end up calling the piece ‘Vessel’ or ‘4 pots’
I have always been fascinated by avant-garde fashion and try to keep abreast of new designers. I am interested in how the body can be used as a sculptural silhouette and especially the art of deconstructing and reconstructing as seen in the likes of Galliano, Supriya Lele, Yohji Yamamoto, Raf Simons and Issey Miyake.
Both ‘Wrap’ and ‘Unravelled’ have these interests at their heart.
A bowl that proclaims its function but is purely symbolic adds to the ambiguity of my work and draws attention to the nature of clay as a material which straddles 2 worlds.
The empty space is there to be filled by the viewer’s imagination.
Matthew Burrows came up with a marvelous and very generous initiative to help artists during these difficult Covid times. Artists use Instagram to post and share their work using #artistsupportpledge. The work has to be priced no more than £200 and every time an artist reaches £1000 in sales, they pledge to buy £200 of work from other artists.
I make things which hopefully will give other people pleasure so the only pieces I’m left with, are the ones that haven’t sold. The most crucial thing for me is the stimulation that comes from using my imagination and the contemplation of the making process. I’m very happy when my work finds a home - in fact it’s a blessing as it makes space for more making.
This piece came out of seeing the scans of my Mums brain when she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. It is not a replica of the scan by any means but the image grew in my mind and after much thought resolved into this piece.
The Way of all Flesh, 147cm diameter
The red circles are fragmented and the image is disordered just as her memory was. I always saw the piece in this grey green colour right from the start, not because our brains are 'grey matter' but because that was how I saw her life. Many dementia groups encourage you to see the joy in dementia but regrettably there was no joy in my Mum's life once the disease became apparent.
I had thought of weaving another piece of the same size in the same colours but a more ordered image indicating a healthy mind. I may still do this.
The tapestry is 147cm in diameter with a limited palette of 5 shades of a grey green colour and red and black linen.
My circular tapestries are not woven round and round in a circle, they are woven from left to right as normal, so the first pass at the bottom of the tapestry is quite short, as is the last one at the top. I usually have a piece of card inserted into the warps which is the negative shape of the bottom of the circle, this gives a solid base to weave onto. If you do not have a solid foundation then you will struggle to get a good consistent weave throughout a tapestry no matter what the shape.
People often admire my round tapestries and ask how I manage to get them so round but to be honest I am helped out hugely by the human eye and brain, people see that they should be perfectly round so they see them as perfectly round.
It is so difficult. Tapestries are traditionally big murals that run, in series and tell stories. It is not until you walk into a gallery hung with large tapestries that you realise so much of it is all about scale.
However, in the 21st century this brings problems, who has the money to buy these big mural tapestries? Who has the walls big enough to exhibit them? Even some of the larger tapestry exhibitions have size limits on each work, so my current triptych of three tapestries with a total width of 4.5 metres has nowhere to go.
As artists many of the galleries we exhibit in are smaller provincial galleries, they do not often get visited by people willing to spend thousands of pounds on a tapestry so it makes sense to produce smaller work.
But for me personally this is tricky. I cannot just take the designs for the large work and make it smaller. I usually weave at around 3 or 4 warps to the centimetre but if I was to make the work smaller and still want to get in the details I would have to weave at 14 or 16 warps to the centimetre, which becomes cloth rather than tapestry.
This means I have to do special designs for smaller work but I find apart from the occasional portrait I am not happy with these smaller works. It is a conundrum I struggle with.
Great Uncle Antonio, 30cm x 30cm
How has the pandemic effected sales and the general effect from an English artist’s point of view?
Because tapestry is a slow medium, I have not felt that it has had much impact on me at all. When we went into lockdown I was about two thirds of the way through a big tapestry so I just kept weaving. I then went straight into my next project which is 2.5 metres wide which I am still weaving. As a rule, I spend many days isolated in my studio so not much has changed. I know some weavers lost their creativity and direction due to the Covid crisis, but I am fortunate not to be one of them. If I hadn't had work in the pipeline. I may have struggled but I whilst I am weaving a piece there are generally two or three projects in my head ready to go.
International exhibitions are important to get your work out there and be seen as much as possible. No-one will have heard of you if you never exhibit your work. I have been fortunate enough to have work included in publications, been invited to exhibit and to speak at conferences specifically because my work was seen overseas.
The UK has suffered from not having much in the way of the big tapestry exhibitions, so we have, to go abroad. The British Tapestry Group have done some in the past but none recently and The Cordis in Scotland takes larger works. Again, it is a problem for weavers who want to weave traditionally sized tapestries. I started the Heallreaf exhibitions in 2015 and we now take work up to 2 metres square, it is difficult to find venues big enough and even 2 metres square is not big when you look at historical tapestries. Another consideration is that it costs a lot of money to send your work abroad. In 2019 I was invited to exhibit in Canada and it was almost cheaper to fly to Canada and take the tapestry in person than send it by courier.
I have only ever once made a piece of work specifically because I thought it would sell and fit in with the current 'interior design' trends. It was small and sold instantly but it is not work I particularly want to keep making, so I have not. I also struggle with exhibitions that have a theme, I find I have to take time out from the work I am currently producing to find a link to the theme that I can work with and then produce the tapestry. I do understand that often a theme can give an exhibition cohesion and it can be a useful tool to stretch your creative mind but sometimes it is hard to work within other peoples, constraints and maintain the integrity of your own practice.
Red Shift Two, 30cm x 20cm
I don't have a dedicated dye room so I will often buy colours but it can be difficult to find the right colour; I have spent the last month dyeing greens for my next project because I cannot source the right green from anywhere in the UK. Sometimes the results of my dyeing can be less than perfect so if I need yarn that is dyed very well with a good solid colour (for instance if I am going to weave a large area of one dark colour) I can get yarn dyed for me specially, although there is often a long lead time so I have to know many months in advance exactly what I want.
Green Man, 30cm x 20cm
I use acid dyes. This is because they give consistent and repeatable results, and they are very colour fast. Environmentally they appear to be no worse than many natural dyes as the mordants you need to use for natural dyes are not necessarily good for the environment. The dye company tells me that if you exhaust the dye bath, that is: use just the right amount of dye so it all goes into the yarn and none is left in the water, all you have left is water and you could drink it without any harmful effects. I am not brave enough to try it, but it does appear to be just water.
I have recently been experimenting with dyeing with pigments with varied success, that is a long-term project for the future.
Blue, 75cm diameter
Merino wool is generally too soft for tapestry weaving. I use a worsted yarn which is more traditional in the UK, it is a harder yarn with little or no loft and I try to find a mix of fleeces from sheep like a Corriedale or Leicester. Blue faced Leicester is particularly good but expensive and difficult to get hold of in quantity in the right thicknesses.
Strangely it can be difficult to get worsted yarn in the UK. This is because of an historical decision to breed sheep for meat in the UK and for fleece in the Antipodies.
The Fallen Diptych, 150cm x 150cm
Cutting off is just what it says. When you have finished a tapestry you tie a row of knots across the top to keep the weaving in place and then you take your scissors and cut the warp threads below and above the weaving, liberating the tapestry from the frame or loom.
Sometimes after you have cut the tapestry off it can look a bit lumpy, especially if your tension was not as consistent as it could be so you can block it out. This involves placing it face down on a board and pinning it round the edges with brass nails every centimetre or so. Then, once you have done this you place damp cloths on top of the tapestry and leave them to dry. This tightens up the weft and can remove any bagginess in the tapestry. Even if the tapestry does not need blocking to correct any anomalies within the tension it does wonders for the look of the tapestry, the slightly tightened weft gives a lovely smart finish which is difficult to describe.
This commission came about when the client liked a piece of my work that was already sold. Fortunately, the client allowed me pretty free reign as I undertook to create something like but not the same as they piece they originally chose. Totally independently I had just finished a piece of work for an exhibition in Istanbul but that work had to be completely tufted, like a rug and I had fallen in love with the technique.
Commission - 100cm diameter.
So the commission became a round tapestry with a disk of tufting in the centre. This idea of the 3D and the circular nature of the tapestry echoed the original piece the client had admired. I enjoyed it but quickly realised that the commission was woven much more finely that the 'rug' piece I had woven for Istanbul, consequently the small tufted area in the middle took as long to weave as the whole of the rest of the tapestry. I sort of fell out of love with tufting after that but that doesn't mean I will never do it again if a tapestry needs that sort of effect.
I wove, my first pass of tapestry on 10th December 2010. I became immediately obsessed with it as I found I intuitively understood many of the techniques and how to blend and use yarn to make the images I wanted. It was on a short course at West Dean College and I quickly went onto to do more short courses and in 2012 enrolled on the three year full time course to do my MFA specialising in tapestry weaving. I continue to do the odd course even now as it is rare that you don't learn something new from other weavers, we all learnt and work in very different ways.
In order to become a Qest scholar you have to prove to a panel that you are committed and passionate about your chosen craft, it is a wonderful honour and achievement. Qest follow your career and once a Qest Scholar always a Qest Scholar so the organisation does not give you, your scholarship and then forget about you. Scholars meet regularly (until Covid that is) for social events and exhibitions and I was fortunate to be included in their book 'A Celebration of British Craftmanship'.
My links with Qest will continue with exhibitions, sales of work and receiving the support they can offer at various events and likewise supporting them in any way I can. I have donated work to their auctions which help raise large amounts of money for the charity.
Pod cast detail
The pods were an experiment for the second year of my MFA when I was at college. It started because I had seen the amazing tapestry heads created by Louise Bourgeois but I was so disappointed when I realised that they were tiny pieces of tapestry sewn together to make the face shape, presumably they are sewn around a mannequins face. So I set out to make 3D shapes in tapestry but with as little sewing as possible and that was how my pods started. Since then I have experimented with different materials and different sizes and using the same basic techniques I have made corsets and other experimental work. However, the pods themselves are a little disappointing in my view, okay it is a pod or sphere of handwoven tapestry, brilliant but what next? This is the question that has sat with me for 4 or 5 years until now, I have just started working on large scale woven 3D shapes, using the same pod technique but making life size anthropomorphic structures.
Hawk Moth Caterpillar – 25 x 11.5cm
This small tapestry came about after I found a hawk moth caterpillar in the garden. They are quite amazing little creatures and I was fascinated by the colours, shape and texture of it's skin. This was one of my very early tapestries and the design is almost a direct copy of the markings on the caterpillar but I wanted to convey the texture so used wool for the black background and silk for the coloured markings. It was the first time I had used silk and I found the silk areas are very 'boney', that is, the line of the warp threads is much more visible than in the wool areas. This worked well as it accentuated the 3D effect of the markings.
This tapestry was the first I ever had accepted into an overseas exhibition as it was shortlisted for the Kate Derum Award in 2013 Australia. It is now in private collection in the UK.
Cecil - The Uninvited Guest - 1.5 x 3m
2019 was a tough year, my husband was very ill and for 3 months the doctors thought he had potentially terminal cancer. The good news was that he did no, but he was still very unwell and in and out of hospital all year.
These tapestries were a response to the year, combining my husbands image, some of his CT scans and other elements that occurred to me during the design process. I do not do a lot of drawing nor do I keep a sketch book, designs turn up in my head fully formed and ready to go in full colour, they are then translated to paper using photographs, drawing and collage. I have a lot of time to think about the designs whilst weaving and in the past I have tried to move the designs on from this mental image but always come back to pretty much the original because it is fresh and the later amendments to a design tend to make it look over worked and forced.
I used wool warp for these tapestries and I don't think I will do that again, I will go back to cotton warp. Part of the reason for doing it was because I had never used wool warp on a large piece before and I thought it would make the finished tapestry lighter but on both of these pieces the tapestry fought me all the way.
I am considering doing a third in the series in red but need a rest from them for a bit. I have started writing poetry to go with some of my works and 'Cecil - The Uninvited Guest' has been distinguished with a poem.
Cecil - The Uninvited Guest
You arrived out of the blue
you stayed a year
you flaunted yourself
like a twisted broken skein
drawn taut inside
do not return
These tapestries are currently in my studio waiting for an opportunity to be exhibited.
After completing University and traineeship at the Jam Factory Craft and Design Centre, my, partner Marguerite and I moved to the Sunshine Coast to work with Chris Pantano. When Chris retired I built a large studio in Yandina and eventually set up at home at Dulong on the Blackall Range
Take us briefly through the stages to produce, ‘Bunya, Glass House Mountains’.
There are two main parts in the creation of my work. I start by visiting wilderness areas, drawing and photographing many aspects of the place. I have developed techniques which enable me to use my drawings as a stencil so I can carve these images into the glass.
Kureelpa Gorge 2
The second part is blowing the forms to carry the design. This involves layering different glass colours in the blowing process and when the glass cools carving back through these layers to reveal the image.
The Glasshouse Mountains are phenomenal geological formations of the Sunshine coast and have fascinated me from the moment I saw them. The direct reference to glass factories in England when Captain Cook first laid eyes on them and more importantly the Indigenous stories about creation and place. Bunya trees are hugely
important to the First Nations people and an iconic feature of the area.
Kakadu, Baark Marlam
I first became fascinated by Kurrajong trees when I saw them in the country around Coonabarabran.
I immediately related to paintings done by Fred Williams and his depiction of the landscape in the Pilbara. I love many things about these trees and again the importance to Aboriginal people. The bark was used to make cordage for nets and fishing line as well as seeds which were ground to flour also edible roots.
Not everyone can say they have blown glass in front of Elizabeth 11, how did this come about?
When the new Jam factory was built in the centre of Adelaide I helped set up the glass studio and was part of the team chosen to be working on the day Queen Elizabeth opened the centre.
As Humans we have a desire to be valued and contribute to society and culture in some way. For, me the landscape has been a constant source of wonder and inspiration. I am driven to capture its beauty in a time when there is a very real threat of species disappearing through the environment changing irreversibly. My work is a
conscious record and hopefully has its place somewhere in history.
I use murrine and Millefiore as details in many of my works. The seed pods in the Kurrajong series, eyes of Bee eaters and kingfishers.
Nymphae Platters are some examples.
Nymphae Platters - detail
What I love about glass is the way colour is revealed in its purest form. Light that is reflected or transmitted through glass can make the colour look completely different.
How many colours to you have in a single piece? I can use between 1 and 20 different colours in the etched series as well as an infinite variety of tones depending on how thickly I apply these.
I blow all my own work.
Bunya Glasshouse - reverse side
I shape the forms to suit the way my drawings fit on the piece. Prefering to flatten the vessels so I have a canvas to work from but also like to wrap these images around cylinder and barrel forms to resemble a frieze.
I have sold my glass to collectors and businesses around the world including the UK and America.
It is good to know my work has a place in different cultures. For me, crossing these boundaries the work is successful and desirable.
Glass is a very dense and hard material and yet fragile so I like to make forms which are balanced and stable. Simple shapes to carry complex designs.
Pieces range from 10cm up to about 100cms and weighing 15kgs.
Felting became my sole focus in 2005 when I moved home to care for my parents and younger sister. Focusing on my felted art was a positive distraction from doctors, medical struggles, and so many changes.
Every time I work with felt, there is something new, and for me this is what is so exciting. I never feel stifled by predefined rules or approaches to a project. Finding my own path to design and execute a project, is freedom to me. For example, in a millinery class using hat blocks and preformed millinery felt hoods to make hats, the idea hit me, that with my felted art I could make my own felt hoods and they could be any shape or size. That was all it took. My mind went into overdrive as I contemplated how tall, wide, or detailed could I create a hat. This began my first large body of work and won the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. The giraffe hat is an example.
I have been very fortunate to have developed a strong network of artist friends. These artists mentored, critiqued, encouraged, and helped guide me to venues that promoted my art. Also, my art is unusual, not what you might normally think of, when thinking of hats, coats, or animals. For example, the large gorilla’s head with eyes that seem to watch you as you walk by.
The 3-foot-tall giraffe hat, peeking over the blinds, as the model wearing it, waits for her turn to walk down the runway, invokes chuckles in the audience. My first piece of art to be shown outside of the USA, went to Germany for the International Hat Show, then a Lion hat went to Iceland, and it continued on from there.
This was a wonderful collaboration between artist, Marlene Grutter and myself. For three years we had shown wearable art on the runway in Cleveland, Ohio, and taken some of the top prizes. It was suggested that we should enter Australia’s premiere wearable art runway event, Wearable Art Mandurah, we did, and what an adventure! Our art titled, “Captivated”, was the first wearable art entry from the USA. After the runway show, “Captivated” was put on display at Mandurah’s Welcome Centre, and then taken to be viewed at the U.S. Consulate in Perth, Australia. The kindness shown us by the artists in Australia and the U.S. Consulate was unmeasurable.
The giraffe hat was my mother’s all-time favourite. I remember her going to a ladies meeting wearing it, and coming home all smiles with a blue ribbon for the most unusual hat. It makes me smile every time I look at this hat and reminds me how Mom was always there for me.
The bust of my dad’s head was my greatest challenge to date. My dad was in the late stages of Parkinson disease and suffering with depression. In an effort to keep him engaged, I suggested to him that I wanted to try something new with my felting, and needed a model. My parents were strong supporters of my art and I was confident he would agree. Beginning the bust was exciting. Never before had I seen this done anywhere. This could be a first. We sat together for hours, and as I measured and felted, we talked. My dad who had never been a talker started sharing stories with me, things he had done throughout his life. My dad has passed, but I will have his stories, and my art forever. In the end, what started out for him, ended up being a treasured gift for me.
Learning that Yurts, homes made of felted wool, are still used as dwellings by several nomadic groups in Asia, fascinated me. Just thinking of felting this beautiful textile, and then draping it over the form to make a home, almost seems like magic. A Yurt, art to live in.
The Silverback is 26” tall, 17” wide, and 13” deep. This head is solid wool, not armature, or stuffing. He has glass eyes, black walnut base, and a thin skin of acrylic paint that was applied at the end to create the look and texture of a real gorilla’s skin. When I saw the Silverback at the Columbus Zoo, I saw intelligence and power. These are characteristics I wanted to convey in my Silverback. The large size was created to give the full impact of looking into the eyes of a real gorilla, something most of us will never get the opportunity to do. With both the Silverback and Baboon, needle and wet felted techniques were applied. Both have been on display at Mansfield Art Centre, Ohio, USA.
The Baboon is 30” tall, 18” wide, and 18” deep. This head is solid wool, not armature or stuffing. He has glass eyes, and a black walnut base. This Mandrill Baboon was inspired by a documentary I saw. They discussed many characteristics of this primate, but one predominant characteristic was his bad temper. I created this life-size head for the observer to look full in the face of a bad-tempered Baboon, maybe giving the impression he is screaming, “quit destroying my home.”
Animals invoke curiosity, contentment, empathy, and positive feelings. With my art, I want people to experience positive emotions. My fascination with animals turned to primates and their places in the world in my teens. Admiring the work of leading primatologists: Jane Goodall, Dain Fossey, and Birute Galdikas; their field work and discoveries have deeply inspired me. While I cannot partake in field work as they have done, this project over the last 2 years, feels as though my art may, in some small way help others to understand these amazing creatures and how important their ecological role is on our planet.
Time is the most difficult part of my art to estimate or calculate. Some aspects of my art are experimental, requiring research and testing. The Silverback Gorilla took a year to finish, but it was not a solid year of work. The Baboon was faster, but still it took 8 months to complete. Some of my smaller pieces, like a basic hat can be done in a day or two. Hats like the Giraffe hat took about a month.
Colour can set the mood without a word, pull your attention from across the room, or give realism to an inanimate object. My coats are made with colours to be seen from the stage, runway, or across the room, and themed to relate to the event that they are shown. This coat was shown at the theatre play of, Romeo and Juliet, Mount Union University, Ohio, USA. For realism when making my animals, a variety of different coloured wools are used. This technic gives highlights and depth to their coats, can show different skin tones and individual features for the body. There is so much power in colour when used well.
Currently, I am finishing up a body of work on primates. There are 9 individual pieces and the Silverback and Baboon are part of this body of work. After finishing the primates then Christmas projects begin.
Ideas come from many places. The zoo is wonderful to watch different animals for hours. Sometimes it’s something I see walking, browsing in the library, watching TV documentaries about animals, surfing the internet, or even a commission piece. Commission pieces are interesting, because sometimes people ask for items I would never think of. This can offer me a whole new challenge. However, my inspiration is usually something that has caught my eye, and stays in my mind repeating over and over, wanting to be created.
My studio is setup with all wet felting in the downstairs room, with three 6-foot tables, washer/dryer, sink, and shelves lined with clear containers filled with different coloured fibre for easy access. Then for dry or needle felting, the office on the main floor is setup with bookshelves, supplies, small table, desk, and computer. Beginning a project, starts with a clean space and everything put away. From then on until the project is finished, everything related stays out. This is a kind of organized chaos, but it works. A rule of thumb is, one project needs to be finished before moving onto something else. This keeps me from having half-finished projects left over, and can help push me through a project that might not be as entertaining as the next one.
Felting is a versatile art form that allows me great latitude in approaching a subject. What you see in my art is, traditional wet felting, dry needle felting, and some variations of my own. The animals, coats, and hats are not sewn. Each is felted layer upon layer of wool, in one continual piece with no seams, to create my designs. Other technical processes include: creating wire armatures, designing resists to shape and separate wool for wet felting, and blending the right wools to attain the desired outcome. All of these and more allow me to translate my vision into felted wool.
Storm from Paul Balmer on Vimeo.
Matte house paint
Yes. I need the line work ( which is the first stage of a painting) to be black but also having a black base means I can get shades of a color just by applying the oil paint thick or thin. Example: white can be grey when brushed thinly on black – so I get a range of tones without mixing them.
This black background partly shows in the final painting (either as line, windows or shadows) and offers a real contrast to the oil paint
A dremmel tool (a hand held drill with a spinning disk at the end).
Using a Deremmel tool
A few days out of the month I will spend time messing around in the studio. Some of the best surfaces / textures can come from this time. I am always experimenting with textures. Burlap covered in a thick gesso makes for a great surface to paint on, but I usually use canvas or wood panels and a primer.
Seven or so.
More than the drying is the fact that it keeps things interesting to jump around between paintings. 5 hours on a painting at one time is a lot. If I get bored then it will show in the painting so it’s good to change it up. Some paintings that don’t seem to work at the time, I will put away for weeks at a time and look at them every so often until suddenly the solution to improve them will seem obvious and then it’s time to take them out and start painting again.
SoHo Studio, New York
No. 4 days all is dry.
The surface of these paintings is a result of heavy brush strokes, sanding, scraping and drilling. To get to do this, I first build up the surface with many layers of a very thick gesso. Then I can pretty much do anything to that surface (although not when I first started using both the sander and dremmel – I would often go through the canvas. A needle and thread can sew up most holes and a lump of gesso to hold it all together did the trick).
Both, but I really need music for those moments when I am feeling very creative. Music seems to make the process of painting almost spiritual especially when I am listening to something ambient or orchestral. Film scores seem to do the trick too. Music is, very important, to me and the process.
Above the Chaos 64 x 64 inches Oil on Panel
All paintings seem to require a “lateral thinking” phase, and then a completely disassociated creative phase. These seem like two very distinct states of mind and both as important as the other.
Midday Summer from Paul Balmer on Vimeo.
I don’t think it has a name and I can’t say I have seen anyone using this technique. I “sketch” into the canvas with a spinning disk. It leaves a distinct groove which I paint black). Then I use the oil paint (with no linseed oil or turpentine) which is very thick, and I brush the paint on or roll the paint on so as not to fill in these lines. The lines form the basic foundation of the painting. I do prefer a “discovering” line rather than one that outlines an object – just like you find in a pencil sketch or an etching. A line that explores the form. I also work out the composition with these lines and the more the better. Even if an object has moved entirely, I like to show these lines as well ( it’s the ghost of where the object was) It shows the history of the painting and all the decisions that were made along the way.
The more layers the better because as I sand the surface different colors show through unexpectedly. The process of “messing up” and ‘discovering” is, for me, the most rewarding part of the painting.
I paint the painting then use a disk sander on the surface. I repeat that sequence until the painting looks complete. Some paintings I will leave very sanded and others will be cleaned up much more. If they look too real or edges are too defined then I will sand down those areas to rough them up. The best part of doing this is all the unexpected marks and colours that show up.
I prefer not to work from real life (for both the cityscapes or the still life paintings). I do like sketching from memory then using that drawing to help map out the etching on the canvas.
How I remember the object seems to serve me better as it makes me paint an impression or a representation of the thing. The less real, the better.
I’ll spend some time mixing colors (on a very large glass palette). Here I will be fairly casual because some nice combinations may come from this. I will then choose all the colors that will be in one painting. All the light colours and shadow colors. If they look pleasing on the palette then they should look good on the painting. All that I mix that doesn’t look good – I place on a separate glass for another time (that goes in the freezer where it will stay fresh for another painting).
I start with the lightest colours, then down to the shadow colours. I like working with a particular red and I mix many shades of both warm and cool grey to keep the shadow areas interesting. I am a big fan of Payne’s grey, also a light purple mixed with sepia for the shaded side of a white object.
The less real, the more interesting the painting is to me. So by playing with perspectives and adding many horizon lines – help’s make things less predictable. It started with the cityscapes because I wanted to get many things in one painting i.e. buildings, water, boats, and bridges. If I stuck to a 3 point perspective I would be limited. By having multiple planes and vanishing points I can add all kinds of objects all over the canvas.
A building painted flat alongside one that has dimension can be visually confusing but holds a viewers interest longer. It also throws a painting towards abstraction especially if I can reduce areas into patterns that are further broken up by texture.
One can’t be too exact when drawing with a dremmel and I like the fact that it takes a few lines to work out the position and shape of something.
Stripes of fabric The stripes (tablecloth) offer a way to bring a viewer into the picture. It also sets up a perspective that is soon contradicted by an object following a different perspective. A feature carried over from the cityscapes.
Sydney Opera House City and Sea, 24 x 80 inches, Oil on Canvas. (Paul Balmer is originally from Sydney.)
Shadows are there for contrast and to make objects look more dimensional. I also like the city to come out of the shadows to reach the light. These lights and darks make the composition.
I set the camera up myself (or my wife takes the shots) so it’s not an issue. I doubt I could paint with a crew behind me.
I have a large New York Cityscape that hangs in the Delta lounge at LaGuardia airport with a photo plaque and description. I often get sent the picture from folks that spot it.
I have a few paintings in hospitals around Connecticut including Yale Hospital – that seems to bring some joy to people .
Yale Hospital landscape
Current studio Connecticut
I work in an industrial space with high ceilings and many windows. It has so much light even on a rainy day. I also have two additional rooms downstairs – one for power tooling and the other for storage.
No; I sometimes work at night. That was my preferred time until I had a family.
I do. I started my fine art career painting landscapes and they became tonal paintings. My current work sets up a mood with one primary colour (and limited tones). Perhaps this is why I was included in the book by David Cleveland on “A History of American Tonalism”
I learned everything from being an illustrator and doing commercial art but to be a painter was the goal. To have the freedom, with paint, every day, to interpret what you feel or see. And to spend one’s day experimenting and playing with colours and textures.
To have some people recognize my style and say “that’s a Paul Balmer” makes it pretty special.
w w w . p a u l b a l m e r . c o m
The horizon is a mysterious, glorious and untouchable thing and I spend a lot of time staring and thinking about how to represent it in my work. Often, I find that a simple line of paint, representing an horizon, can capture what I’m after and take me to another place. See the two paintings below as examples.
A Distant Shore, Watercolour, 34x15 cm
On a practical level, horizons help set the perspective and I spend a lot of time playing with the position in the paintings and how that changes the feel of the piece. However, not all of my work is focused on horizons. Sometimes I want to escape their tyranny, but I do find myself coming back to them again and again.
Three Trees, Watercolour, 50x20 cm
Vast landscapes take your breath away. They give us perspective on our place in the world in the same way that staring into the universe at night does.
Landscape in Blue and Gold, Watercolour, 32x50 cm
I am interested in trying to represent that feeling of awe. How do I do it? Well I find that a tricky question to answer. First, I should say that I have spent a lot of time looking at how other artists, such as Turner or Ackroyd do it and why they are so brilliant at giving a sense of space. For me, I think it comes down to leaving ambiguity and space in the painting and not cluttering up with detail. It is about what you leave out as much as what you put in. I use a lot of large washes and let them bleed gently into white paper.
Sunrise in the Mountains, Watercolour, 38x54 cm
Shower Moving Inland, Watercolour, 53x35 cm
Living in Scotland and sketching/painting a lot outside, I naturally find that the Scottish climate and light imbues almost all of my work. Of course, when you live here, you can’t ignore the weather. Indeed weather provides so much of the interest in landscapes – the shifting shadows, tones and colours, the excitement and energy of storms and of course the rain. Wonderful challenges for a painter. I can’t really imagine living in a better part of the world, for the diversity of landscapes and weather, and for the delicious, northern light.
As my painting has developed, I find that I’m not so interested in purely representational work or very abstract work, although obviously I greatly admire other artists who work in these ways. When I’m out in the countryside, I often feel a variety of emotions, from awe and elation to anxiety and sometimes even fear. It is that overwhelming, emotional experience that I feel compelled to try to capture in my work. How it feels to stand in these incredible places, that have been crafted by geological forces over millions of years and that are home to unique assemblages of species.
I often start with representation. I do a lot of sketching outside and constantly looking for those little moments or places that are the key to capturing a sense of place. I also take reference photos.
The Howe of Cromar (from sketchbook) Watercolour and charcoal
I come back to my studio, I put the photos and sketches up and quietly I re-imagine myself in that place I want to paint – the feelings, the light, the sounds, the smell and the landscape. Then I work quickly to try and capture that feeling. I don’t care about the details – whether the line of a mountain is exactly right, or a tree is in the right place, or even whether there is a tree – it is about whether I look at the finished work and feel moved and a connection to that place. Sometimes, I skip the whole sketching part and work from the memory of place alone and look inward to find the spirit of a place I remember.
The Howe of Cromar. Watercolour, 20x14 cm
So when the process works it is a conversation between the painting, my emotions and the landscape – I find I disappear completely into the work and pop out at the other end. Boy – that is a wonderful and addictive process. But of course it can also be frustrating when it doesn’t come together as I would like. In that case I keep on trying to figure out why something didn’t work. In fact having a painting that I don’t like gives me such freedom to try approaches I probably wouldn’t try on a blank piece of stretched paper. I am surrounded with folders of discarded paintings…
Oh, in so many ways. I spent 35 years working on wildlife and conservation issues, and all of that history and learning and experience has naturally contributed to who I am. We live in a time of brutal and rapid change to our natural world, so I carry a constant sense of grief and anxiety. I can see this coming through in some of my work, and I am sure it will continue to do so. But at the same time I don’t want to focus on the negative, I want to reflect a sense of hope and love. This is partly to help maintain my sanity. Using art as a therapeutic way of dealing with the grief helps for sure. I hope it may even help lift and inspire others. I also use art as a
It is odd moving from a career in science to one in art. I find both approaches incredibly exciting and stimulating. Obviously, there are many differences between the two, but they share three important things. First, they are both focused on finding a truth about the world how it works and how it is experienced, second, at their heart they stem from careful observation, and third, they both rely on reflection and criticism. So in these ways my science life has made my entry into the artistic world easier. I have spent much of my life working in UK upland landscapes, and I have also been fortunate enough to travel to amazing places around the world for work. My head is full of imagery from these places and I know these inform much of my work.
To be a Buzzard & create a sky. (from poem by Norman MacCaig] Watercolour, 50x78 cm
I am always aware of the boundaries that affect my relationship and connectedness to landscapes. I was incredibly lucky to spend some time in the Serengeti a few years ago. It was amazing to see the wildlife and the big open spaces, but in these situations, there was no feeling of belonging, of being a part of the place. As we drove around in our Land Rovers, it felt as though I was watching it on television, rather than actually being a part of it. This deeper connectedness only comes when I spend time walking, snoozing, getting wet, sketching etc. Where I live in Aberdeenshire I walk almost every day in the amazing countryside around our village, and my relationship with it has totally changed over time. It feels a part of me. This barrier between the artist and the landscape is something interesting to explore. I am uncertain how it affects my work, but I feel sure it does.
The view from the village, Watercolour, 46x31cm
The land where I live (from sketchbook) Watercolour, 20x14 cm
My awareness of boundaries has been exacerbated by having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which I was diagnosed with last year. For those who don’t know about CFS, or M.E., it is grim. It sucks the energy out of you and affects your cognitive function, leaving you exhausted, confused and disorientated. Not surprisingly, this condition has affected the relationship I have with the world. It seems further away, as though I am trapped behind glass. I battle with this daily and sometimes the frustration pours out of me when I’m painting – see the two paintings below.
A Lost Connection, Watercolour and charcoal, 48x68 cm
I am so lucky that my condition is better than other sufferers have to live with. The glowing, silver lining is, of course, that I am able to paint. I often struggle to read and write and be coherent (writing responses to these questions really takes it out of me), but thankfully the condition doesn’t hinder my ability to paint, often for hours on end. What an absolute, glorious joy.
It has been a roller coaster. My world came crashing down last summer, when I got diagnosed with CFS, so I went into my own personal lockdown as a result. My life hasn’t changed all that much since.
The Wildness Within, Watercolour, ink & charcoal, 72x54cm
I spend all day, almost every day painting, exploring and playing. In fact, despite the illness I feel incredibly fortunate – like a child in the largest sweet shop in the world, without the risk of diabetes or tooth decay. One frustration with the whole pandemic business has been that I’ve had my first two exhibitions cancelled. Fortunately, however, I have finally been able to show my work this autumn at the Tolquhon Gallery near Aberdeen, so I’ve been able to see what they look like together up on the wall in space.
Stillness, Watercolour, 120x80 cm
I have been playing with a variety of different papers that vary in size and texture. Size and orientation obviously affects the feel of a landscape. Recently, I have started to paint on larger paper and it is such a thrill. It forces you to work at a different pace and is dynamic and energetic and stimulating. It also helps create that feeling of space.
Arctic peace, Watercolour, 120x55 cm
I adore colour and playing with combinations. Why be afraid? When you go into landscapes and you sit and really look, you see amazing colours and dramatic combinations. A lot of my watercolour work builds on calm and subtle colours, but nothing is more exciting than a line of bold colour in an otherwise calm painting.
Incoming Tide, Watercolour and ink, 72x46 cm
I really love and admire the work of Brian Rutenberg and I sit and stare at his use of colour. Sometimes when I want a break from watercolour I will work with pastels or acrylics, to be able to enjoy rich colour.
Tarland Burn, Oil pastels, 15x15 cm
This is at the core of what I do. I am driven towards simplicity and I am slowly learning to achieve it through experience. The challenge of course is understanding when to stop. This takes time to learn (at least for me), so sometimes I force myself to not stop but carry on adding to a painting, generally until it is a hopeless mess. The key thing here is to watch myself and reflect on when I felt the most power in the painting and when it flipped to a different state. In watercolour it is that first line that is often so important – like the surgeon making the first cut. You have to be bold and confident. In the painting below I knew I had what I was trying to achieve after the first mark.
The Coll, Watercolour, 78x54cm
I am still learning. I haven’t been to art school and have only done a few evening classes, so I try and study other artists such as Turner (obviously), Ackroyd, Marin & Melville and I paint, paint and paint, with a self-critical eye. Slowly I am getting to know other artists to get their feedback and to understand their practice. And this winter I am doing a 5 month residential art course with a highly regarded art school (Bridge House Art in Ullapool). I want to be challenged and to learn and then bring that back into my work.
Pike Lake, Watercolour, 38x28 cm
Since my career in science stopped! I have finally allowed that compulsion to paint to come out. It feels like opening the floodgates and there is no way I could possibly stop now. I paint constantly and I’m just completely captivated by watercolour and trying to figure out how water and pigment and paper interact. It is just so exciting. Sometime maddening, but often it makes me gasp with joy – how that first line of Prussian blue demands attention or how a wash slips and settles and competes with its neighbouring colours. I do paint with pastels and acrylics, but watercolour is my first love.
Firstly, painting landscapes is a compulsion. I don’t seem to have much choice in it and my main motivation does not come from wanting to share. I get up in the morning and I simply have to paint. I often dream of colour and landscape and I need to get it down. That said, it is a pleasure and a privilege when others are moved by my work. Naturally, I hope that by producing work that moves me, it may also move others, bring some light and just make this world a tiny bit better.
Interview by Deborah Blakeley, September 2020
Symbols allow us to communicate without the barrier of language. They might mean different things to different cultures but that makes their use very interesting. They create links and connect us.
Humans have been sculpting in clay for thousands of years. It feels like the most natural thing to do and I started making non-functional ceramics during my degree course many years ago. I don’t get too hung up about definitions, it’s the intention that is important.
Many of us take the hand for granted. I have a lovely book by Bruno Munari called ‘Speak Italian’ which has pages of hand gestures alongside the translation. He understood how important these gestures are to our understanding. Even if you don’t use them, the hand is the most incredible piece of anatomy and hand eye co-ordination is instantaneous for most of us. We do this without thinking. So I am drawing the attention to the tool of tools and paying homage.
Hand trio, black, metallic and venule
The names are simply descriptions of the glazes with each one a unique combination.
My technique of mixing porcelain and stoneware offers a random texture which provides a good base for oxides and matt glazes. I have 3 white glazes which I interchange depending on the base colour. They highlight the texture which, in turn, highlights the form of the piece. I do the same with my black glazes.
Midnight metallic vessel
A curator can introduce related artefacts and artworks that share a theme which draws interest from the public. Museums are ripe for interpretation and contemporary pieces can reinvigorate displays of historical objects
My childhood was spent by the sea in Devon and family holidays were spent on the rugged and wild Cornish coast. I took this beautiful landscape for granted. From college, in my late teens until a few years ago, I lived in Hackney and Stockwell in London, both very urban environments with their own contrasts and tensions. It was vibrant and exciting. It wasn’t until I moved back to the coast, with a young family, that I appreciated the importance of a connection to nature. Coastal environments are a rich source of inspiration with the effect of the sea and salty air on rocks and pebbles. I can’t walk on a beach without filling my pockets.
I originally created 100 ceramic birds which took me about 4 months to make and it was this installation that presented the idea to explore clay workshops with refugees, to think about migration and include a supportive public. The aim was always the artwork at the end. Currently there are 200 birds in Flock Project with plans to expand the it even further. It feels timely to do so.
Flock Project, Photo by Ben Roberts
The installation has been exhibited in Brighton and London so far. We held workshops in the ceramic galleries at the V & A Museum, a favourite place to visit in London, and have plans to display the project in a museum which contains a collection of birds from around the world.
Large Ponti bird
The last iteration of Flock Project was in a large white gallery and it felt appropriate to elevate the birds onto a plinth which was shaped into an oval to echo the murmurations that Starlings make. This circular form brought the project back to the original inspiration, watching these beautiful flight patterns on the end of Brighton Pier.
Birds are the most studied animals on the planet and climate change is impacting their numbers dramatically. This decrease is the first sign that things are wrong. There are parallels with human migration - the survival, safety and opportunity for your family (genes) to thrive. It was a privilege to get to know people who have survived such traumatic journeys and to see how the creative process can help to heal.
Various stages black birds
I’m simply exploring ‘themes and variations’. I sometimes put images up in the studio of a bird that comes from the other side of the world but I’m not interested in direct representation, more to remind me to loosen up and experiment with the form and patterns made by a group.
I’m exploring the materiality of clay and the different processes at my disposal. The cracked surface contrast with smoothed tops. Sometimes I create texture on the underside of a form, there to be discovered.
A bud vessel is layered with different glazes that react and form a metallic, smooth satin glaze.
This Loop vessel is more structural and so a strong cobalt and nickel matt glaze emphasises the architectural characteristics.
Black Looped vessel
Fjord vessel uses all my known applications and is rich in texture. The shape is a simple oval but within the surface there is a lot going on.
Fjord vessel, detail
As the title suggests, I was thinking of mountains with frozen and eroded surfaces.
Discuss your involvement with V&A and Refugee week. Refugee Week happens in June.
It’s an opportunity for people to share their experiences with each other and the public. The ceramics department of the V & A is huge and holds extraordinary collections from around the world so it was very fitting to hold our bird making workshops there. If you go onto the website www.flockproject.co.uk you can see images and videos of the event.
V & A Flock workshop
I’m lucky to be able to work, in isolation, at my studio, and have had a very busy year so far. I’m working on a short film of Flock Project and plans for a museum display integrating natural history exhibits. I’m continuing with the inspiring galleries and shops who support my independent way of working and the relationships that I’ve built with them are vital. Output is important and communicating to people, outside of my studio, through my work, is what it is all about.
It was a good word to use in the beginning when I was mostly doing quirky and colourful wall mounted deer and Highland coos. As my work has developed however, I feel it may not be the best word to describe them as I’m trying to tell more of a story with the characters now. I’m not sure how to describe them best, “Textile Sculptures” I guess but it sounds a bit dry.
Costume design and clothes making was a great introduction to sewing and I was also using that skill in the years I made art dolls. After meeting my husband on a zebra crossing in Sydney, Australia and moving from Sweden to the wild Highlands of Scotland in 2004, I got in to art doll making and was creating those as a hobby for 6 years.
2010 I totally lost inspiration. It was quite upsetting for me as my well being is tied to my creativity and if I don’t create I feel restless and lost. Gardening and baking saw me through the two years I didn’t sew at all and it wasn’t until I had our first daughter that inspiration returned, and I developed my fauxidermy. I still have my first ever deer head, she’s called Elisabeth the 1st.
In retrospect I think the reason I lost my inspiration with the dolls was because I never let myself develop, the style of them stayed the same from the third (the first and second dolls were disasters) to the last and I felt trapped. With my animal sculptures I decided to never shy away from an idea and always try different things. My work mantra is “I make what I want”. Simple and effective and I think it has helped me develop.
This is tied to my inspiration. Inspiration is such a powerful force in my work and I have come to know better than to ignore it or work against it. If I am not inspired work grinds to a halt and nothing gets done, I sit at my desk and stare. When I’m inspired I can leap out of bed at 4:30am to get to work. I have learned this about myself and let myself make what inspires and due to my awesome followers on social media even the most “out there” pieces have found happy homes. I can be nudged in certain directions and every once in a while I’ll take on a commission but it needs to be something that excites me.
In the beginning, when I was working with an array of fabrics I’d say it was the fabric combinations that came first. I loved to pick out juicy combos and then work out who would suit it.
The past few years I have more and more turned to unbleached cotton that I sculpt and then paint with textile and acrylic paints so now it’s the animals that comes first. Or an emotion, or a position, or a relationship… or something else.
I am self taught and have had to work out my process, what suits me and what works. In the beginning I was actually embarrassed that I never use patterns, I thought it seemed lazy to not create patterns for each piece but now I am confident enough to be free of that. I have the fabric in my lap and cut without pattern or drawings. My husband would say that I cut in my lap because my desk is too messy and he does have a point. But it works for me. I get an idea in my head and it’s a bit like being possessed, the piece needs to come out before I can move on. I have tried to ignore the crazier pieces for something more “sale able” but I just can’t get past it so it’s quicker to just make it. A bit like exorcism. When I have cut it out, I sew it on my sewing machine, his name is Maximus, and stuff the parts with synthetic stuffing.
I would love to find a biodegradable substitute but have not managed yet. I then use this base to sculpt the features by pinching in and adding bumps and eyes. I use mostly glass eyes and sometimes I cast them myself in resin and paint them. When the features are where I want them I add a skin layer, trying to focus on wrinkles and the overall expression. All this is stitched by hand. I use wire for ears and limbs to be able to position them slightly and add structure. When the piece is sculpted, I paint it.
This is quite a scary stage, especially if it is a large piece that has taken a long time to sculpt. I paint them with several watery layers and let it dry between each layer to build up depth. I like when the paint create a pattern on the fabric, a bit like a glaze or a watercolour painting. I finish by adding things like eye lashes and usually sit them on pieces of rough wood or driftwood as the contrast between the fabric and the wood works well. I always have between 10-15 sculptures on the go at any time, that way I can work on what I feel like, be it sewing, painting or finishing.
Not therapeutic, I’d say it’s necessary for my well being. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I don’t make sketches, I just have the ideas in my head until I make them and, I tell you, it gets crowded in there.
Is it the facial features?
Lately I have developed a bit of an obsession with adding things to the heads of my characters and I love contrasts so for example I made a toad with bunny ears. His angry face and drooping fag contrasted so well with his cute bunny ear headband and fluffy tail. I can imagine the profanities he’d like to shout at me, it makes me smile and sometimes that’s enough.
Is it the pose?
I also made a hare sculpture sitting on a heavy piece of wood and here it’s definitely the pose that makes the piece. He looks slightly tipsy, like he’s telling a long story about something only he thinks is funny.
Like many others, I suffer from environmental anxiety and the total sense of powerlessness can keep me awake at night. I needed to feel like I did something, contributed however small. I had made a couple of pieces hung up by their jumpers and was contacted by one of my followers that told me how uneasy they made her feel. She was asking me to stop making them but her comment made me interested to take it further. If one piece made her uncomfortable, perhaps a whole alphabet would be an effective way to shine some light on the threats to so many of our wildlife.
My goal was to make one textile sculpture for each letter of the alphabet depicting unusual, vulnerable and endangered species and also highlight some of the threats excessive packaging used in supermarkets, global warming, commercial fishing etc. That’s how the idea came about and I started thinking and researching what animals I wanted to highlight.I decided to do it as a sponsored challenge in aid of WWF UK so I set up a JustGiving page and people could donate the same way some people get sponsored to climb a mountain or run a marathon. I also set a target for donations and if I reached that target I would raffle out a commission piece at the end of the challenge and your donation would act as a raffle ticket. In the end we donated over £5000.00 which was great.
It was the animals hanging by their jumpers that started everything, they looked so vulnerable and in need of assistance, at our mercy. Just like our planet is, and we are anything but kind to her. It also helped to use the clothes as a way to highlight different issues, like the Walrus hanging by a tropical shirt.
Global warming and melting ice is a huge problem for walrus. The Jaguar hung by a faux fur coat to highlight not only the fur trade but all the endangered animals that are hunted for pelts, scales, glands, fins, shells etc.
One of my followers suggested the name “Hanging by a Thread” and that was just perfect for the collection. My mum is my knitting collaborator, and she created a stunning array of beautiful jumpers that they could hang from. The journey to make them all was amazing; challenging, exhausting, emotional, often sad but also thrilling and I felt so much support during the whole experience.
It certainly helped to bring the collection together and give structure. I needed a beginning and an end or goodness know where it would have ended up.
It was a real challenge to find different ways to depict the different issues. To be varied and still keep a theme. I painted a Commercial Trawler tattoo on the Hammerhead shark and hung the Vaquita from a plastic net used as fruit packaging. The issues are endless. The Xenarthra (sloth) is climbing through denim to point to the unsustainable and heavily polluting fashion industry.
The Turtle also hung by plastic as our seas are so full of the stuff and the stripes of the Zebra disappearing as a symbol that we are running out of time.
Again, I let inspiration be the deciding factor. I had a list of the alphabet with options for each letter. I tried to get a good selection of different animals, locations and issues and made what inspired. I did actually start with Aardvark but then jumped to Orangutan and ended with Quokka
I didn’t restrict it, it’s just what happened. Cutting free hand makes them all different and I go up and down in size, I must have been especially excited about the Uakari as he ended up so much bigger than the others, he was also one of my personal favourites. I always listen to audio books when I work and I was listening to His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman and it felt like I was making my daemon.
My aim was always to find a venue for them and display them as a group. Ideally I would have liked to be able to raise more awareness and funds perhaps auctioning them off and I was gearing up to start contacting organisations. Putting myself out there is not my strength. WWF UK was in touch and very supportive during the process of their making but they didn’t have any venue suitable for them. It was starting to feel like a pressure. I was also stressing because we are due to move to smaller accommodations awaiting to build our house on a croft that we are making into a small holding. The thought of them all in storage in the humid Scottish air was not good. When Covid 19 hit and lockdown was a fact I let myself off the hook and decided to find them homes individually. I was delighted when they all found loving homes in record time. It’s a shame they were never able to be displayed as a group but sometimes you just need to move forward.
Since I was about 15 I dreamed about having a piece represented at Vårsalongen. It is such a dynamic venue where a group of judges (they change every year but are always distinguished in their fields) pick out pieces based on the pieces alone, not the artists age or CVs, just the piece. The mix is usually very inspiring and it’s a big yearly event in Stockholm, I think 2021 will mark the 100th exhibition. My contribution was “Monkey” a quite large monkey sculpture made to look like an old fashion pull toy with wooden wheels but if you look closely the wood has gone through the flesh of the monkey and he’s bleeding.
My hope is that he’ll make us think of the way we treat our wildlife and planet as a whole. I was so happy to be selected and travelled to Stockholm to be part of the opening in January. It was fantastic to meet some of the other artists and see the exhibition with my monkey included.
I love hares too, they’re my go-to animal.
I think it’s because I had a pet rabbit growing up and spent most days, watching her, sketching, painting and sculpting her. I got to know the features and body well.
Although my hares usually sport larger than life feet, simply because I like big feet. I was approached by the fab owners of The Imaginarium in York, a shop where magic is real, and where I had displayed my pieces for a year or so. They asked if I would like to create 9 hare sculptures to be displayed in their window for Easter. Well, I was thrilled to oblige and the result was amazing, they did such a fab job displaying them.
I think it’s because they’re such characters and they invoke emotions, I know several people who speaks to their sculptures. Adoption is a nicer sentiment than sale. They’re re-homed and I miss every single piece but I’m also so humbled and so happy that I can make a living doing something I love so much. I have the best job in the world!
I love to make free standing sculptures but there is something about a wall sculpture that really changes the dynamic in a room. I am forever working out new ways to display them and to find the right narrative and movement. I usually have an idea but, as I’m starting to create, it can change direction totally. That is another reason I don’t take many commissions, the freedom to change my mind is important as that can take a piece to a new and unexpected place. I am starting to explore more emotions and facial expressions as my ability grows, it’s exciting.
Alison contacted me after I had shared photos of the Monkey sculpture for Vårsalongen and she was so excited about my work. Union Gallery seemed like such a dynamic place and I felt it would be fantastic to have my pieces represented there. Delivery was postponed by Covid-19 but we kept in touch during lockdown and I was spurred on by Alisons energy and exuberance. She also very much left me free to decide what I wanted to make and it ended up being a mix of seven different pieces. Some slightly sad and thought provoking (I hope) and some a bit lighter. Originally I wanted to deliver the pieces in person so I could see the gallery and meet Alison but life gets in the way sometimes and in the end I had to send them. The response I got when they had been unwrapped I will always treasure and the fact that she immediately cleared the window and displayed them all there was amazing. I feel very lucky to have found such a great ambassador for my work.
In the beginning the biggest challenge was the overwhelming anxiety and sadness for the people directly effected by the virus and their families. The anxiety and fear has been with me for many years though as this is how I feel about the global environmental crisis we’re in. So I try to manage it with family time and work. As I both live rurally and work from home the biggest physical difference during lockdown was to have the kids at home.
They’re eight and four and I share my messy studio with their playroom which works well as they can play or do crafts when I’m working. The only difficult thing is to get them to tidy their side when my side looks like a landslide. Of course there are also many interruptions but I’m quite used to that. At the beginning of lockdown I thought the first thing people would cut when things got uncertain would be textile sculptures but demand stayed steady so I could keep creating.
I also picked up painting again after a 15 year break. The urge had been growing inside me for a while and I made some large canvases and used paints I had at home, sometimes it can be freeing to not have unlimited choice. I hope I’ll keep painting.
To finish off can you comment on your charity work and how you have been able though your sculptures to help support financially with your art. Please give us insight into two that I am aware of.
I follow the work of an array of artists on social media and I have become online friends with a couple. It’s amazing to never have met in person but still be able to discuss art and support each other online. One of these is the super talented Janine Heschl who creates mind blowingly realistic thread paintings of animals. It was through her I heard about the charity auction and I entered a sculpture of an elephant.
This was the first wounded pull toy I ever made and I was delighted when she was accepted to be part of the charity auction. Dr Jane Goodall’s work is so inspiring, her life a lesson in compassion and I wish we could all take a leaf out of her book. The future of our planet would be better for it.
The distressing news of the Australian bush fires at the beginning of the year were so awful that, even from the other side of the world, I had to try to help a little. I created a little wounded kangaroo Joey and created a raffle where donations were made straight to an animal sanctuary on Kangaroo Island. It was a raffle built on solidarity and trust and I was blown away by the generosity shown.
The baby Joey went to a home in America and his bloody bandage could be removed when he was happy in his home.
Inspiration. My mother died in 2009 and the sad task of going through her belongings fell to me, her only daughter. She had been an artist as well, and was the one who had made sure that in childhood I had all the supplies I needed to be creative. So it seemed appropriate then, that her clothing became my medium too. I was expressing a longing for her, but in addition a respect for the way she presented herself in the world—always beautifully dressed (unlike her daughter with her paint-spattered yoga pants). It was hard to make the decision to cut up her garments, but as I handled them and reworked the fabric, and remembered the times she wore them, it was as though I was spending time with her once more, which I found enormously comforting.
Homage ll, 48” x 66” x 3” Deconstructed clothing, rope
At about the same time I became aware of the work of El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist who creates tapestry-like hangings from bottlecaps. I travelled to NY in 2013 just to see his show, Gravity and Grace, at the Brooklyn Museum, and the work so moved me that at first I was speechless. I knew then that my years of photographic, rather intellectual realism in egg tempera, oil, and pencil were over. It was time to try something new, to press forward with what excited me, and to leave what was already well-practised and understood.
Medium. It was the utter transformation of detritus, trash, the no longer useful, into magnificent art, worthy of museum timed-entrances that spoke to me. My daughter Tamar describes it this way in her Lonely Palette podcast episode of El Anatsui [thelonelypalette.com/episodes/2017/3/1/episode-15-el-anatsuis-black-river-2009] “...the creativity that went into turning something that is so one thing into something so entirely different that you start thinking about the social and economic implications.” The artist said it himself: “The amazing thing about working with these ‘fabrics’ is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories.”
The repetition of like elements gave them rhythm and texture. This was a transformation so complete that it actually made me gasp when I saw what the elements actually were: discarded liquor bottle caps and collars. Several years later I got a similar thrill when, standing incognito behind some attendees at the Gardiner Museum Gala in Toronto, I overheard a comment about the doily-like intricacy of the 9’ fibre Christmas tree I had made. Then they read the blurb on the stand beside it. "What? This is made from men's shirts?!” What I had learned from El Anatsui was that you need to make a stunner first, and only reveal the dirty secret afterwards-- that this isn't gold leaf or metallic threads; it's bottle caps. This isn't fine lace from France; it's shirts from thrift shops.
Twice Blessed, 108” x 38” x 38” Deconstructed and stiffened white men’s shirt backs, acrylic base, wire, turnbolts, styrofoam, fairy lights.
I had needed a medium in which to be expansive: something ubiquitous, something cheap, something original. After making those first homages to my mother, the medium declared itself, of course: cast-off clothing. One only has to be paying attention, it seems. I’d bring home armfuls of shirts from thrift shops, rummage sales, and friends’ closet clean-outs. I’d deconstruct them and end up with piles of collars and cuffs, pockets and plackets, yokes and seams. Why shirts? Unlike women’s clothing with its many fabrics, colours, and designs, there was a predictability, a sameness about men’s shirts. The fabric was easy to work with, the same thin, crisp cotton I remember being so aware of when my father had hugged me. Every man I knew wore shirts; they were the uniform of work. They smelled of ironing, or piney deodorant, of labour and stress, of stability and love.
Message. Then I happened upon a small book entitled Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline and my eyes were opened to an uncomfortable global paradox. Garment manufacture had turned into a lightning quick cycle of Third World underpaid women, using flimsy fabric, simple pattern, and knock-off design to keep Western consumers supplied with cheap clothes. Worn briefly and discarded quickly, the waste we created made my head spin. The Council for Textile Recycling reports that the US alone generates 25 billion pounds of textile waste a year-- 82 pounds per person!—and most of it is thrown into landfill. Now more than ever I needed to insert myself into this cycle of exploitation and waste, to increase awareness of and express my distress over the vast quantities of “stuff” we thoughtlessly toss away, how quickly we determine its usage to be over, and its value gone. By up-cycling, I wanted to see if I could create something transformative, inspired, sometimes even whimsical. I don’t think I speak only for myself when I think we connect with material on a deeper level when we recognize its previous life, its inherent history. It’s one thing to behold a fibre sculpture, but another to recognize it is made with the shirt cuffs you button each day.
I’m not a schooled weaver, knitter, embroiderer or quilter; my techniques are simple—cutting, sewing, gluing. For me, fibre sculpture is more about making something I’ve never seen before, from parts of shirts we see every day. I let the deconstructed pieces suggest how they might be reconstructed. I would turn a buttoned collar around and it looked like a tulip Row.
Tulip Row, 32”x30”x3” Deconstructed men’s dress shirt collars, hems, glue.
or a fish.
Off to School, 48” x 62” x 3.5” Deconstructed men’s shirt collars stiffened with polymer medium, wire, buttons, thread.
Then it was simply a matter of figuring out a way to make the piece...should it hang from a wall or from the ceiling? Did the collar need to be shaped with wire? Did the cuff need to be stiffened with acrylic medium?
Cuff’d, 27” x 24” x 4” Deconstructed men’s dress shirt cuffs, stiffening medium, glue.
I was playing in the sand and it was important to drop any hesitation or pre-judgment, to let the passion and original approaches fly. Seams and hems turned into hundreds of . White shirt backs, painted with medium were hand cut and layered, the result resembling lace.
Garden without Seasons (2014)—70” x 28” x 4” deconstructed men’s shirts, glue, sewing
On a lark I pinned them from the ceiling, fastening the pieces to each other with paper clips and they seemed to transform themselves into a bridal gown.
“...and the Bride Wore White” 8’ x 14” x 12” deconstructed men’s dress shirts
embedded with polymer medium, paper clips and filament line to attach; hand cutting with scissors, sewing.
I often got excited by the shadows thrown on walls when the work was illuminated, and in this particular case the larger dark shadow attached to the gown became a Father-Daughter dance.
I had begun quilting elements with holes one summer in my studio, not at all sure what they would become. Hundreds were strung on curtain rods. After arranging and rearranging them in varied formations on the floor, I decided to attach them as a long train of sorts, and it ended up to be 37 feet in length. It was affixed to our 3rd floor ceiling, tumbling down through the stairwell, and puddling on the first floor. Easy to see where the title came from. Over fifty shirts in colours that graduated from white to black through purple hues sacrificed their lives for this one. The piece has been configured differently in several exhibitions, sometimes threaded through with tiny fairy lights.
Rapunzel, Rapunzel 400” x 18” x4” Deconstructed, quilted men’s shirt pieces, glue.
A while back I decided to break away from the very tight and representational work I had been doing in egg tempera and coloured pencil for so many years (see below). I had picked up an old 1905 Underwood typewriter at a flea market, a clunker, but beautiful in some ways for how it looked, no longer for what it did. I made dozens of drawings in almost as many media, from every angle, creating loosely abstracted, experimental interpretations of the machine.
Shiftlock Balloons, 20” x 28” coloured pencil on rag paper
Eventually the round keys emerged as elements that carried forward into my next series: very large collages using found paper and oil stick. The paintings all seem to contain that circle, stretched and pulled, as figure and/or window, singly or in masses. In some paintings they succumb to gravity; in some they repel or attract each other like magnets. What intrigued me was their engagement with each other, and their energy in space. So when I turned to fibre, they appeared again, as holes in the fabric. Hard to explain why certain elements become iconic in one’s work. I think the shape simply pleases me. Perhaps the artist should focus on making the work, and leave the explanations and connections to more objective viewers!
Light into Darkness, 48” x 48” found paper collage, oil stick
(collection of Fed Ex Canada)
Yes, in 2016, I was chosen to participate in a Textile Symposium in Daugavpils, Latvia, a small town three hours from Riga with the distinction of being the birthplace of Mark Rothko. Some years after his death, Rothko’s two children gave money to turn an old fortress there into the Mark Rothko Art Centre, and since then it has been a gathering place for artists in various disciplines to live and work at the museum, sharing intense time together, culminating with an exhibition of the work done during the residency. I knew little about Latvia before I went, but some research taught me that a once thriving Jewish community there had been decimated, first by the Nazis, then the Soviets. Even on Yom Kippur when I visited there was no service at the one synagogue that survived in town. Under the Soviet regime, even recitation of the mourners’ prayer was forbidden in public. I knew then that I had to make something to pay homage to this cruel history. I ended up with a linen hanging where the Hebrew letters of the Kaddish (mourners’ prayer) were cut out of a handmade prayer shawl. When illuminated from the front, the light was projected through the holes as a ghostly image on the wall behind. Beside it stood a plinth with names of some of the victims (copied from the Holocaust Museum in Riga), the prayer transliterated into Latvian, and a few stones as is the custom to leave at a Jewish gravesite.
Kaddish 60” x 48” linen, fringes (Permanent collection of Mark Rothko Art Centre, Latvia
During the residency I read a memoir written by a survivor of the Daugavpils ghetto (How Dark the Heavens by Sidney Iwens). I came to a paragraph where he describes seeing a huge dark shadow ahead of him as he ran through the forests at night. Approaching, he realizes that it’s an old fortress. And there I was, 65 years later, reading his book in that exact location-- the fortress renovated by the Rothko family. Both Iwens and Rothko lived in the US for most of their lives but had never met. I left the memoir for the Rothko library, returning it to from where the story began.
Recently my niece gave birth to her first child, a little girl that she and her husband named Adira. The Hebrew name means “strong woman.” As a gift for the newborn I thought of making a soft little quilt for her, and asked that the squares of fabric I needed be contributed by the strong women in her life-- her grandmas and great grandmas, aunts, cousins, and dear friends of her mom. People were truly delighted at the chance to send something. Little by little envelopes arrived in the mail-- pieces of fabric embedded with memories from special items of clothing, from old pillowcases, favourite jeans, a treasured tablecloth. Many of the women included a blessing for the baby or a story about where the fabric came from. After they were all collected, I made the quilt and had the new parents take photographs of the baby cuddled up in it, which of course we sent to all of the contributors.
Adira’s Quilt, 40” x 30” varied fabrics, batting
They look as though they could be, but no. Usually I’m deconstructing wearable garments for their parts.
Joomshirt, 30” x 52” x 6” haji paper, buttons
Recently however, I made a new shirt using the ancient Korean paper felting technique called Joomchi. It’s made entirely of Hanji paper, layered and manipulated so the long fibres break down, fuse, and develop holes. As a reversal, I cut up a fabric shirt to use as the pattern for the paper shirt. Each section was kneaded individually with water and, “eager hands,” as Jiyoung Chung, a well-respected teacher of the technique, puts it. I was so delighted when Joomshirt was chosen for Excellence in Fiber 2019.
For many years I drew and painted the figure, using coloured pencil, egg tempera, or oil. Because I would leave off the heads, and often the hands of my subjects, I had only their bodies to explain who they were. Relying then on what they wore, the gesture of the pose, and the body type, it fascinated me to see how much of a person can be described.
Madras, 28” x 19” Coloured pencil on rag paper
It was always the clothed figure I found so intriguing for we must conjure the body underneath based solely on the contours and lie of the covering. Parts are hidden under folds or stiff fabric. Other parts are revealed through taut, clinging, or transparent fabric. It’s an exploration. But it’s also a metaphor for any covering over form, any façade which simultaneously can hide and reveal what is underneath. Pushed psychologically, the metaphor can describe our own affective behaviour, as we allow some aspects of our nature to be shown to the world, but conscious or not, keep other parts hidden.
There has already been a very visible change in the art scene for the same reasons that affect so much else. Exhibitions have closed early, have been pushed ahead months or even years, or are cancelled altogether. Four shows that were to include my work have been postponed. The summer outdoor shows were moved online, a bold change for their organizers and I applaud their flexibility. But it’s hard for most people to buy art they haven’t seen up close, especially fibre art, a difficult sell to begin with and not displayed to advantage on a small screen. Outdoor fairs are a social event and family outing; sales are far less likely when the artist isn’t present to talk about the work.
In a time of uncertainty, art is the first thing we think we can put aside. Who will be spending money on a painting when they aren’t confident about the economy, or fear their job is in jeopardy? Who thinks of adding to the beauty of their home when no one is visiting? Who is gifting art when celebrations are cancelled? Our focus is on getting groceries safely, and deciding if it’s right to send our kids to school. Acquiring art will wait.
Artists aren’t just worried about diminished sales. Many have kids at home and must direct their creative juices toward activities for them. Many artists I’ve spoken with just aren’t feeling inspired. They are scared, or depressed, and if they can’t work they don’t usually qualify for unemployment benefits.
I happen to be one of the lucky ones whose kids are grown, and whose family income hasn’t been affected much. I still spend most days happily ensconced in my home studio. There are fewer distractions. Personally, I have found that making a very large piece (aiming for 8’ x 9’) with many intricate elements is giving me a necessary sense of continuity and direction that I don’t feel elsewhere. The finished piece is only a vague idea in my head, allowing me to change course as I go, experiment, stay light on my feet. And that keeps me challenged. At a time of deadly disease, social and political unrest, far too little contact with my kids and grandkids, my studio has become the only place I can feel I’m in some degree of control.
I Want to Bubble with Everyone, 8'x 9'(in progress) Deconstructed Clothing, discarded swatches from interior designers, sewing, quilting.
Play this short video, and I promise you will be smiling and feeling, Oh! so much better. Ready to face another day or even the whole week ahead. Thank you Susan for sharing this with us all.
It is hard to say which residency has impacted me the most. On reflection the residency that has the most impact on me was when I was appointed the first resident artist for the Zoological Board of Victoria based at Melbourne Zoo in 1980.
Lowland gorilla, 400mmx650mm
For the next 6 years I had intimate exposures to animals from around the world.
Australian Fur Seal illustration
This experience was trans formative and life changing.
Australian stamp art
From John Blakeley's Australian Decimal Stamp collection
Secondly I have been to Japan about twenty times for exhibitions and commercial activities beginning in the early 1980’s and tailing off around 2013. An exhibition of my wildlife art and sculpture at the Kyoto School of Art and Design was a definite highlight and the other in Tokyo in the Year of Association Japan / Australian Governments. Australian Embassy, Showa no mori, Forest Hotel for Australia Japan week celebrations, Ecological art exhibition and ceremonial proceedings. Both experiences occurred in 2006. Japan has been a huge influence on my outlook and appreciation of what is important.
Kyoto University of art and design exhibition
The other highlight has been my two residencies in China. The International Sculpture Symposiums in Changchun, China in 2014 and 2017. The 2017 symposium was particularly memorable working with master stone masons of 30 generations.
Shell form, Granite and Gail Higgins, International sculpture symposium Changchun, China
The skill levels were crazy good and the people beautiful. It gave me the opportunity to see how big and diverse China is and the importance of handing done skills and working together.
Purnim town entrance, basalt
The global pandemic has affected the creative community enormously. There is no national or international travel so
artists have to think how to stay active, relevant to their craft and keep their head space balanced. I had decided at the start of 2020 to scale back overseas art chasing and focus on making Nirranda Arts work here and see this as the future. The Covid-19 situation has reinforced that the future is online teaching, workshops and sales. I am working towards this and at the same time expanding my offers at the studio to cater for domestic customers and art lovers.
Indigenous dreaming, illustration 400mmx650mm
I resigned from my university job 14 years ago and needed to find a way back to being a full time working artist. My body and mindset needed real change from the institution and the difficult work of illustration. By chance I met Marion Hera-Gorr of Beautiful Silks, did her silk painting workshop and instantly saw I could move ahead with this. Perfect timing as I needed something to set me free. I moved into silk painting not knowing anything about the discipline. This proved to be a strength as the rules meant nothing to me. I made my own way as I went to suit my already existing drawing and design knowledge. The nature of silk painting technique is instant and spontaneous. This is what I wanted in my art production, no pre-planning and to work totally intuitively.
Desert song, satin silk 1400mmx3200mm
I make wooden frames to stretch the silk to suit the size I want or need. For workshop teaching and production silk scarves I have frames at 1000mmx1000mm. Bigger frames at 2000mmx1200mm and 3000mmx1400mm and a range of other sizes. (preferred silk size is 3500mmx140mm).
I use flat tables and fold silk to create longer pieces up to 8000mm x1400mm. So in a way the constraints are minimal and I am constantly thinking on how to make the process new, achievable, and creative.
Pollination, silk painting in process
I use different types and weights of silk depending on the work I want to make, silk crepes, satin and chiffon. All have their individual characteristics and abilities.
Ready for a silk painting workshop
No, it is very different. Whilst I admire William Morris and the processes of that time, my method is almost opposite in that there is never pre planning except for a vague feeling what i might like to do, no guidelines or pre drawing on the silk. Morris’s work is highly regimented and controlled. My technique is totally intuitive, flexible, grounded in basic design and illustration.
When I do a repeat in the design it is because I want the ends to join up seamlessly. This is done for commercial runs of yardage and digitally printed for clients and garments.
The drying time between colours varies and depends on what I want to achieve. Also the atmospheric conditions at the time can influence the timing. The process of applying dye to silk is traditionally by brush. I have a beautiful selection of Chinese brushes, all have their differing qualities and purpose. I tend to use my favorited brushes and have broadened the application of dye by using spray bottles and squirt and throw dyes onto the work depending on what I want to achieve. I generally wait until the surface is dry before applying more colour but it also needs to damp if trying to achieve a tonal or blending effects. I use hair dryers, the sun and the waiting game during drying and like to think about the next step.
Lilly pond, satin silk,1000mm x1000mm.
Preparation takes time before the task begins. It is important to have a clean work space, clean frames, correct silk, mix the dyes, prepare the gutta and resistant, make ready the various applicators and tips, water containers and sprays. All are gotten ready before the silk painting begins so when the chaos of making is happening the only thing to really think about is what the next step is and not get diverted or have accidents due to lack of preparation. It takes a couple of days to get things ready. Applying the silk to the frame is also a sort of meditation and helps me get into the right frame of mind and become accustomed to accepting the path I am entering.
Commercial scarf design
The thickness and quality of line is important. Over time I have become increasingly aware of the timing of line placement and its variance within the design. Line is used to separate colour and controls viewer's eye tracking. Line can help emphasize and create the mood I am seeking. I use various applicators with different tips to create different line widths. I also have developed a tendency in my work to deconstruct and destroy the line. This gives a layer of freedom to the work and looks a bit like batik. The line if placed in the correct position can be deconstructed and not loose its potency. There is not one way to make lines, it depends on the maker's intent about what is to occur.
Silk painting, edition of scarves chiffon silk
Salt when applied to dye on the silk’s surface when wet or damp will create a natural pattern, a sort of fractal, a chemical reaction where the moisture is drawn into the salt crystal. The size of the salt crystal will determine the strength of the reaction. I use rock sea salt in a medium to small sized crystal. I also grind the silk in a mortar and pestle for finer effects. The application of salt can occur any time during the process and I generally wait till the majority of the piece is nearing completion. After applying salt it needs to be dry and scraped off the silk surface before steaming or other working. Again the process varies depending on the piece at hand.
Salt effect on silk
Wall art – 2D
Pollination, silk painting, 1400mmx 2000mm on satin silk
My silk painting is dual purpose. First of all I see the work as a fine art practise, hence my attitude is primarily making a work of art especially with big works. I primarily make for exhibition and from there I apply the designs to commercial uses such as digital runs for rolls of fabric yardage, runs of scarves and for garments. Clients buy originals for wall hangings, stairwells and just as art pieces that are framed. I make small editions for scarves and sarongs. I also make pieces that are quite long for garments that need a lot of fabric and make silks for specific wearable art garments.
Satin silk garment
I had done various sessional stints at different universities early on in my career. From 1991- 2006 I worked full time at Deakin University, School of Communication and Creative Arts.
Primordial Paradox. acrylic painting, Deakin University
Lecturing in graphic design, drawing and sculpture. I think the main thing that has changed over that time has been the leap from the individual artist and that analogue mind and real hands on creativity to the digital realm where we see a flattening of the creative landscape. Here many people can do amazing work. Once artists were reliant on their ability to research, keep journals, work conceptually and then full fill the creative task. That market allowed talent to find their way up the creative and commercial ladders with logical ease. The digital era has broadened accessibility and made it easier to make great work. This means also that the market has become smaller, more competitive and overwhelmed with visual stimulus, hence the mystery of creating art diminished and somewhat undervalued.
I have had many commissions and institutional works acquired over the years in various art disciplines and differing circumstances. Monetary value does not outweigh what is important. I tend to like the commissions that push me out of my comfort zone into areas where I am not well known or published, where I really do have to compete and vulnerable to criticism. I love the work I did for the new cancer hospital in Warrnambool.
ICON Cancer Hospital Warrnambool Flying Ganett sculpture
To create art where healing is the main objective is a luxury for an artist. I was approached by the main driver of the project Vickie Jelly. It started as a small discussion and turned into two sculptural pieces and 3 oil paintings.
ICON Cancer Hospital Warrnambool Leafy sea dragon sculpture
It was a good feeling to know that the art would be viewed by patients, staff and visitors all there for the same purpose.
The art business relocated from Warrnambool to Nirranda in early 2017 when my partner Gail and I purchased the Nirranda Community Hall (est. 1896) and obtained a permit to trade as an Art and Craft Centre. Today Nirranda Arts operates as a professional art and design studio focused on silk painting, textile design, sculpture, drawing, painting, workshops, teaching and other commercial activities.
The underpinning philosophy of Nirranda Arts is of an ecological consciousness which is concerned with how one living thing is connected to another living thing. That art is purposely made to heal. To create positive emotions and help people feel happier and empowered.
The name is thought to have been derived from an Aboriginal word meaning moon. There are also other indigenous words meaning moon.
Nirranda Arts is located on the Great Ocean Road, nestled between the Bay of Islands and Childers Cove in rich dairy grasslands, 300 kms south west of Melbourne and 25 kms east of Warrnambool.
Nirranda Arts is an art sanctuary, a sort of creative retreat far away from the city. No pollution, few people, no competitiveness or noise. The physical environment impacts me all the time. The coastline of the region is spectacular and relatively unspoilt. Fresh air, big skies, pure water and surrounding farmlands combine to create a pleasant work place where I feel like a free artist.
Big sky at Nirranda
The art and the environment are part of the same in that sense and those natural patterns, rhythms and emotions become part of the creative process whether I intend it or its unintended but is there.
In my mind the purpose of art whether in textiles or any other art form is to heal. I am not interested in my emotional state or telling people how I feel about society or the current politics. I see making art as a contribution to the greater good of humans and hope this translates and transcends into a more caring and kinder world.
The state of mind of the viewer can never be taken for granted. The application of design strategies and control mechanisms within the artwork will either aid or hinder visual communication. In all my work I use basic design principles to control the viewer to achieve the emotional response I am aiming for. Whether this is done unconsciously or blatantly doesn't matter because once seen the message is delivered. This is how all successful visual communication is made.
Toledo zoo poster
As for the health of the artist. I can only judge my own journey. A blend of posture pain and an aging body has meant changing methods and technique to compensate. It is never easy working alone but seems to be the way. I find it is important to treat everything I make as if it was for the first time. This gives the work and myself space for renewal and growth. New when creating and gives me a voice and freedom of expression I have grown more and more to be grateful.
Working in Melbourne in the early years became quite limited very quickly. To me the best work was done elsewhere. For many years I chased this illusionary dream. The international experience over 40 years has given me many things. The exposure to different cultures, to their artists and craftspeople, seeing amazing art and design, learning other ways, methods and approaches to life. The realisation that there are many amazing artists out there with fantastic creative minds and hearts is a humbling and earthing experience.
Southern Ocean Godess, Bronze, International sculpture symposium Changchun, China.
Today I base myself on the Great Ocean Road at Nirranda Arts, an old community hall located in a rural setting wedged between the Bay of Islands and Childers Cove. I have seen enough of the world to know how lucky it is to be here. With this in mind I try to continue the art practise and contribute to our society and help people to make art and walk softer on this beautiful earth.
Looking back, I can appreciate that my parents were my first painting teachers. I would observe my father making pencil portrait sketches of us as I grew up, and my mother made small paintings of me and my brother, usually depicted as cherubs! Both of my parents were talented artists, and though neither went to art school or pursued art as a career, they both had some training and created very accomplished landscape and portrait paintings.
My father was a family doctor based in the rural village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, southwest UK. He used to carry a small watercolour set in his car so that he could stop and paint local landscape views between visits to his patients. Back at home, he would then explore the views from nearby fields and, once I was old enough, I began to accompany him on his painting excursions. After working for an hour or so at opposite ends of a field, we would meet up to see what the other had done, and this was really how I began to learn what did and did not work in a painting, and to understand what my own paintings needed in terms of technique, mood, and subtlety.
My painting ‘Young Tree on Lewesdon Hill’ captures the brief few minutes as the sun sets behind a young beech tree on the path up the hill. I seek to capture the sun in its most dynamic essence, rather than simply painting an orange sphere in the sky. I wanted to make it feel like the viewer was hardly able to look at the painting because the sun is so bright, appearing to almost melt the tree trunk as it glistens through the leaves.
Sun setting behind a young tree on Lewesdon Hill - oil on flax - 108x140cm
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of creating light, depth and atmosphere in a painting. The West Dorset landscapes that surround me, provide me with countless ways to explore this, using complex and multilayered oil painting techniques to create dynamic optical effects.
I’m always on the lookout for distinctive moments to capture in paint. Growing up, I used to capture fleeting moments with quick plein-air paintings, whereas now I prefer to work more slowly, creating highly ‘accomplished’ paintings that require several weeks or months of work, extensive preparation and dozens of layers (glazes) of paint.
A view from Bulbarrow Hill - oil on canvas - 36x92cm
Every landscape painting actually requires a different approach to the sky, according to the mood and atmospherics involved. Some of my paintings have very simple skies because I don’t want to distract from complexity going on in the foreground or because lush foliage fills the upper half of the painting, so only glimpses of the sky are visible. Sometimes the mood of the scene is quite minimalist and meditative, so I simply create gentle gradations of colour across the sky.
A Hazy summers view across the Marshwood Vale - oil on canvas - 120x60cm
But sometimes, the sky can be packed full of drama and amazing spectacle, and then I thoroughly enjoy indulging in the theatre and cacophony of light, texture, depth and colour.
One of my most elaborate skies is probably in “Dorset Clouds above the Marshwood Vale”. For this scene I painted the sky with the canvas lying flat on the ground so that I could create pools of paint, overlapping, merging and multilayered, that mimicked the wonderfully dynamic cloudscape above.
Dorset Clouds - oil on canvas - 120x60cm
I never simply make up skies (or landscapes for that matter), everything is based on moments that I’ve witnessed in Nature, though many things may change in the course of making the painting. With my plein-air studies I simply respond to the scene before me, but with many of my studio landscapes, I sometimes combine two or more days into a single painting, particularly if I witness a more interesting skyscape that might better complement a splendid landscape that lacked great skies on the day.
North Bowood Mists - oil on flax - 100x40cm
Sunlight is so varied in its effect, sometimes bright and illuminating, other times more subtle and indirect. I’m always looking for dynamic moments to capture, and when they occur, I decide which vantage point will best suit those atmospherics. I have at least a dozen different places that I’ve returned to again and again over the years, some are epic views from hilltops, other are more intimate glimpses from behind trees, through hedges or looking up paths.
Eggardon light in the valley - oil on canvas - 100x40cm
When I’m looking for a grand landscape panorama, I often paint the views from the top of Eggardon Hill, an ancient hillfort in West Dorset. It’s a spectacular view, and because we’re so close to the sea, we often get low clouds and the sea mist sometimes creeps inland. This creates wonderful atmospherics of light, filtered through the clouds and mist. In ‘Eggardon Light in the Valley’ there is just a slim sliver of light between the land and the clouds, illuminating the valley below. Making a painting like this is all about patience, often working on just one area of the painting over several weeks to achieve the subtlety of colour and tonal gradation that it requires.
An October view near Whitchurch Canonicorum - oil on flax - 90x35cm
I often create compositions where there is a dark foreground, a light middle ground and a slightly darker sky. Some of the best skies are slightly stormy, with light breaking through the clouds and perhaps rainstorms in the distance. I also like to paint nightscapes, often with dark skies above a townscape or showing the moon above the sea.
The Last Cafe - oil on canvas - 210x70cm
‘The Last Café’ is one of a series of paintings I’ve made of a local café that I often stage in a theatrical manner. With this particular painting, I decided to show it as a large dark, empty presence against a dark sky, but with the dramatic light of the moon breaking through clouds and suggestions of civilisation in hints of light across a distant coast.
Litton Chaney Moonscape - oil on canvas - 210x180cm
For ‘Litton Chaney, Moonscape’ I went out for several nights to look at the moon above this small village close to the sea, trying to work out exactly what colours I was seeing. It’s a hard painting to photograph because I had to use a gloss varnish on the darkest parts of the sky in order to achieve a jet black. The cobbled road was actually an invention, so that I could reflect the moonlight in the bottom half of the painting.
Cafe Royal with cars 120x60cm
Perhaps the power of Nature is best felt when we witness a dramatic sky above an impressive landscape. One of my favorite vistas is from Eggardon Hill, an ancient hillfort a few miles outside of Bridport. The views from the top of the hill are often totally breathtaking, and, along with the atmospherics in the moment, you can also soak up millions of years of history that have shaped the hills and valleys, matched by the hundreds of millions of years along the Jurassic Coast, where the south coast meets the sea.
Grant Panorama from Eggardon Hill - oil on flax - 240x80cm
Eggardon Hill has a crescent shape with a steep hill on the south side and escarpments a on the north side, which nicely frame the view into the valley beyond, which dips steeply towards fields and woods below. A few miles west, smaller hills rise and fall, with towns and villages dotted within the valleys, and further away, more hillforts of Lewesdon, Pilsden Pen and Lamberts Castle dot the horizon. The view of the sky is far broader from the top of the hill and can contain multiple weather fronts from blue skies one side to rain clouds on the other.
Buckland Newton - oil on board - 60x40cm
As a boy, when I was working on my plein-air watercolours alongside my father’s often very accomplished paintings, the experience really helped me to demand more of my own work and to try to accomplish something equally engaging and surprising by tweaking the composition, improving my observational drawing, and honing my palette to maximise the visual impact of the image.
These early experiences made me appreciate that the challenge of creating an accomplished plein-air painting wasn’t just about the ability to capture a likeness of a scene, but about creating something truly memorable, by scrutinising the view and searching for areas to enhance or subdue, using one’s imagination to consider new compositions, and finding ways to push the available materials to intriguing outcomes.
I’ve continued to use watercolours throughout my career, and I can appreciate how they have greatly informed my subsequent relationship with oil paint, both in terms of their versatility and the way one can create luminosity by allowing a white paper/canvas to shine through the thin colour washes above.
My deep love of oil painting really started to develop in my early teens, while I was still at school, when I began to make plein-air oil sketches on board, mainly inspired by John Constable’s plein-air sketches, Corot’s paintings of the Forest of Fontainebleau, and Cezanne’s many paintings of Mont St Victoire.
One of my early oil sketches on board is of the Buckland Newton valley, where I grew up. I prepared the board before I went out painting, with a simple white ground. I thensketched the scene in pencil before applying thin washes of oil paint.
Homestead - oil on canvas - 30x24cm
A few years later, I painted Homestead with thicker oil paint, sat on the hill behind my parents’ house. Working for just an hour or so in the evening light, I started with a rough oil sketch, then, working down from the top, I painted in thicker layers, with the sky as the furthest background and then worked forwards, with the distant hill, then the woods in the middle ground, and finally the house in the foreground.
I find that plein air painting is a great discipline, but also has its limitations, as it very much depends on finding interesting light and atmospherics on that particular day. There are certain scenes that tend to work well with plein air, such as the light coming through trees in a wood, perhaps across a stream. Also, town scenes can be effective, or anywhere that the vista is interesting to look at in a wide range of lighting conditions.
However, for my larger compositions, the painting tends to be studio based, requiring several months of work to depict a relatively fleeing moment. In these cases, I tend to combine several plein air sketches with photography and collage to capture the essence of that moment, which forms the foundation for a final, highly accomplished studio painting.
North Bowood Sunset Clouds - oil on canvas - 30x15cm
In one sense, the term Cinematic simply refers to the Panoramic format in which I like to paint, something that I’ve increasingly adopted over the years, usually preferring a 3:1 format. It naturally makes sense to me that, because we have two eyes, we automatically see the world in a panoramic format. While I’ve also made many paintings on a standard 3:4 or 2:3 format, I particularly enjoy how we have to ‘scan’ a panoramic landscape, unable to take in all the elements at once, but instead, focusing on one part at a time.
I am also a huge fan of Cinema, from the 60’s to the present day. In fact, my original intention was to first pursue a career as a painter and then become a Film Director, something that remains at the back of my mind. I particularly love the cinematography of Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049), Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire), and Michelangelo Antonio (Zabriskie Point). One can perhaps imagine some of my paintings as the backdrop to a film, and in fact, if you watch the beautiful 2016 version of “Far from the Madding Crowd” it is actually filmed in the countryside where I live.
I also feel that the Landscape can contain narrative elements without needing to actually tell a story. And while I’ve enjoyed creating invented scenarios around my Café Royal paintings, I realised that I actually don’t need to invent any new narratives when I paint the countryside, since I can call upon all my accumulated childhood memories and experiences that are so innately embedded in my psyche.
I suppose, in some ways, I am returning to the original ideas of 19th Century painters, particularly those of the Hudson River Valley and European Romantic painters, visions of the land that Cinema’s greatest Directors subsequently borrowed in order to add atmosphere and grandeur to theirs films.
Before starting a painting, I spend a considerable amount of time on research: first exploring the location by walking, sketching and taking reference photographs, while searching out the best vantage points, all the while waiting for those magical moments of light and atmosphere that might just inspire an exceptional painting. I have also been known to wait several weeks for dull weather to transform into something more theatrical or sublime. And when that moment arrives, I know I have to act quickly, devouring as much information as I can in the brief window that all the elements are in place.
The Offwell Valley in Devon - oil on flax - 130x48cm
Once I’ve got enough reference materials, I then begin to create collages with which I can explore ideas, design compositions and craft pictorial narratives. This all leads to a concept sketch that evokes the mood and atmosphere I want to capture, and I then start on some initial oil sketches on a small scale, with my collages as reference.
The early stages of a painting tend to be quite raw with strong colours and vivid tones that I deliberately exaggerate so that I can clearly spell out the grand themes within the painting. I then begin to patiently build up the many glazes (layers) of oil paint required, gradually toning down the colour palette in order to achieve ever greater subtlety over the following weeks and months, all-the-while, improvising and adapting various elements of the painting. This intentionally patient process means that none of my paintings are rushed and I don’t ever feel that I have to compromise my ambition for them.
From then on, it’s all about my relationship with the painting, which will continue to evolve and develop in its own way until it’s finished. Because I work with raw oil paint, I tend to have to wait either a few days or a couple of weeks for a particular layer to dry. This also gives me time to consider which areas of a painting are either working effectively or are unsatisfactory and to imagine what I might do next. Sometimes the painting suggests surprising new directions, and at other times I simply continue to follow my original plan, building up layer upon layer of glazes, gradually developing the dynamics and atmospherics throughout the painting.
I guess I see my Cinematic Landscape paintings as a hybrid of the past and present, eagerly drawing from various landscape traditions with which I combine the traditional skills of plein-air painting and studio-based landscape painting, while also utilising photography and digital technology such as Photoshop.
I should also point out that while my paintings often appear very realistic, I never simply copy a photograph and I am certainly not a Photorealist painter. And while I frequently utilise photography, it is mainly in order to capture fleeting moments, and so that I have some reference materials available to me several months after that particular moment has passed. Furthermore, once I’ve created the composition for my painting, I then break down every aspect of the landscape and then patiently rebuild every field, pathway and tree, according to the mood I’m seeking, through a patient process that is both improvised and exacting.
The technique I use to create my Drip Figures actually originates with my Abstract Paintings that I created in the mid to late 90’s. In these paintings I would drip and drag the paint across the canvas, and I learned how to use turpentine to ‘bleed’ lines and shapes out of the paint. A few years later, when I returned to the figure, I realised that I could utilise my abstract techniques to express the figure in a new way. It makes sense to call them Drip Figures because the paintings literally drip off the canvas. In fact, once I’ve painted the figure, I have to lie the canvas flat on the ground so that it stops dripping and freezes that moment in time.
Drip Girl - oil on canvas - 180x60cm
It’s all about preparation. I start with a flat layer of wet oil paint on the canvas, and I then remove the paint with turpentine, rather than adding paint, as most artists do! Painting with turpentine allows me to ‘feel’ my way around the figure rather than trying to depict something. Thus, I follow the contour of a shoulder or the angle of an arm, and I find I can express the dynamics and attitude of a figure through the movement of the brush across the canvas.
Sam standing - oil on canvas - 100x40cm
What I like about my Drip Figures is that they seem to have an actual presence, rather than simply being a depiction of someone. They literally emerge out of the paint, and the drips evoke how the body is in a constant state of change, as well as reminding us that the human body is full of fluid, which is both such a fragile and beautiful form to be living within.
Multicolour Girl large - oil on canvas - 100x40cm
I am fortunate because I have my studio in my home, so I’ve been able to keep painting throughout lockdown. In many ways, my life hasn’t changed a great deal, as, like most artists, I’m used to working on my own for long stretches of time. What I’ve missed most are visitors to my studio, both the public and other artists, as I really appreciate and enjoy feedback on what I’ve been working on.
I started a new series of landscapes as lockdown began and it’s interesting to see how these each expressed a different emotional state I was going through, from stormy thoughts, to calmer moments and even some feelings of upliftment and hope.
As someone who spends a long time on each painting, my studio has been a vital space. It’s in my house, so I can come and go as I please. After working for a few hours, I usually go for a walk or a cycle ride to clear my head. I find painting to be a very intense experience, often focused on a specific part of a painting that requires great subtlety and patience, and because I work in oil paint, there is always a sense of the narrow window of time in which I have to achieve the result. While it is always possible to repaint over an oil layer once it is dry, my process is pretty unforgiving as it often requires several ‘perfect’ layers to be applied in succession. It’s certainly satisfying once I’ve finished a painting session for the day, and when I finally emerge from the studio, it feels like I’ve been in a trance, so I need to reconnect with something ‘real’, whether that’s walking in Nature or enjoying the company of other people.
Having the company of other artists is very important to me. Going to Art College was a revelation, being surrounded by so many like-minds (unlike being at school) and, since those days, I have always aspired to live close to other artists.
I moved to my current town of Bridport in 1998 mainly because there was already a strong artistic community here. The community had evolved from a short-lived Art College that was run in the early 80’s and which had essentially become an Art Residency, where artists from the UK and abroad could come to live and work. In 1999 the Residency closed, so I started a new art studio complex in a run-down industrial estate in the town. This grew over the years to provide studios for a couple of dozen artists and became a big draw for the town as a whole.
I’ve also been Director of Bridport & West Dorset Open Studios for ten years, so it’s been my business to know every professional artist in the area. I’ve now stepped down as Director so that I can focus exclusively on my own work and on promoting my new gallery project, Bridport Contemporary which is based on the ground floor of my house. I present a selection of works by a number of West Country artists that I particularly admire.
“Hazy Summer in the Marshwood Vale” was a painting in which I wanted to capture the balmy heat of summer. The foliage and greens in the fields below are slightly bleached out, with a dry sun-bleached quality, while the earth is dusty, and the air, moist and humid. The overall palette is both accented to the brightness of summer light and slightly muted, as the hazy light reduces any great extremes of colour and contrast.
In “View near Burton Bradstock”, the evening autumn light is setting behind us, and illuminates the fields and trees beyond with an orange glow. Every time I went to study the view the pattern of light in the distant fields had changed, so I had to choose one particular day when the palette of the fields best complemented the glowing foreground. The distant valley was the last part of the land to complete, and once again, that particular day was chosen to work best with the rest of the painting. The sky above was finished last, though I had a clear idea of what it would look like from the beginning, with a cloud formation created by the warmer air rising above the sea on the right. I then blended the sky in with the landscape across the horizon in a naturalistic way.
Loders Road, Duck Street and Broadoak Road. I wanted to capture the stark, crisp January light in this series of paintings. The trees are bare, the hedges shawn, and the earth lies in hibernation, waiting for spring.
Loders Road - oil on flax - 30x60cm
The painting process is also looser and quicker, with thicker paint brushed on to rough, umber flax, which has had a layer of size (glue). Once the general composition is established, I tend to work from the back to the front of the painting, so that there is a crisp delineation of space between each plane of paint. The colours tend to be quite earthy in the spring, with more browns than greens, and showing a brisk clarity once the early morning mist has lifted.
Broadoak Road - oil on flax - 30x60cm
Lewesdon Hill is another ancient hill fort, much loved for its fields of bluebells and is one of my favorite spots to paint. The foliage gets particularly lush and verdant in the spring, with blankets of grasses, flowers, and leaves. I’ve painted two versions of “Lewesdon Bluebells”, the first was painted quite loosely and in an Impressionistic style on raw flax; the second, a more complex composition looking out from between three trees into the valley beyond. Here, the colour spectrum is rich and bright, with a wide range of greens, illuminated yellow leaves caught in the sun, and the distinctive blue of British bluebells.
Bluebells on Lewesdon Hill - oil on flax - 210x70cm
What a question! I guess the answer is to work out what has brought me the most happiness and to avoid the things I most regret, and yet, surely, we have to embrace the unique journey that we’ve each been on? Looking back, I appreciate that I actually acted with considerable conviction when I was young, so I’d still endorse that. So, I’d highly recommend just getting on with whatever ideas occur to you, and avoid judging what you’re doing until it’s finished, for true originality must also surprise the artist in the process of creating it.
Also, find ways to constantly challenge and inspire yourself. I would be very bored if I had a completely premeditated process and a certain outcome. All of my most successful painting have been as much about discovery as creation.
Pippin Drysdale is an award-winning ceramic artist based in Perth who is renowned internationally for her large, intricate works inspired by the patterns and colours of landscapes around the world.
Mistletoe in Bloom I & II, Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with coloured glazes,
260H x 185Dmm, 270H x 190Dmm
Pippin eventually progressed to exploring ceramics in which to present and display her plants. With her own kiln in the back yard and her irrepressible need to learn and explore a new material, she undertook formal ceramic studies first at Perth Technical School and then at Curtin University of Technology, where she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986 under the tough but impressive direction of teacher David Hunt.
Bloodwood Well 1 - Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with coloured glazes, 300H x 220Dmm
Pippin pushed her learning horizons wider, travelling to the, Anderson Ranch Art Center in Colorado.
Their simple mission statement: “Anderson Ranch Arts Center enriches lives with art, inspiration and community” enticed Drysdale to spend time in this dynamic environment, sharing, teaching and developing her craft, learning from others, and cross-pollinating with artists working in other media. The Anderson Ranch FaceBook page says that this is a place “for artists to immerse themselves in the studio practice of their choice. [They can] work alongside established faculty and receive in-studio support while still getting plenty of independent time, allowing the creative process to flourish.” What not to like?
Pyrites Lustre 09 – Pilbara Series, Porcelain with hand painted gold and Platinum lustre,
270H x 235Dmm
After returning to Australia, Pippin threw herself back into her work and her pieces,
were soon regularly exhibited and collected by major galleries around the world. To date, Pippin’s work has been seen in over 45 solo and group exhibitions in Australia, Japan, India, Europe, and the United States. She discovered a need to work thematically and many of her series are influenced by a journey.
Chichester Range Flood Plains, Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with coloured glazes, 350H x 280Dmm
Drysdale draws inspiration from the colours and textures of landscape, and each of her pieces is infused with her emotional interpretations of place and space. Pippin focuses on the vast, diverse Australian landscape and has created series based around the patterns and colours of the Pilbara region, the eastern Goldfields, the Kimberley, and the Tanami Desert. Stark, severe, somber, sometimes flooded with intense colours, the landscape she journeyed through gave her endless inspiration. Some of her work has also grown from the exotic sights she saw in India, Russia and Italy, and in the Hunsa Valley in Pakistan.
Igneous Rock I & II, Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with colour glazes, 110 x 140, 110 x 145mm
Drysdale,explains that landscape ‘is all about colour, whether subtle and soft or vibrant with contrast’.
Drysdale is totally committed to her work and constantly pushes herself to a higher standard. Her perfectionism is reflected in her ambitious works. In 2007, a major survey exhibition of Pippin’s works was held at John Curtin Gallery in Perth, a testament to an impressive two decades of endeavour. In 2008, Pippin was named a Master of Australian Craft by the Australia Council for the Arts. The following year, she undertook a residency at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. In 2010, her Tanami Mapping I exhibition was opened in Washington DC by Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador to the USA. In 2011, Pippin received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Artsource, the peak membership body for visual artists in Western Australia.
Wild Alchemy at Sabbia Gallery, Interior image
The range of vessels we see in images from world-wide collections of her work present a sumptuous spectrum of colours, warm and earthy, glowing amber-like or opalescent, dark ruby-garnet shades, while some capture and present in solid form the airey colours of mist. The two predominant shapes are the female – goblet-shapes, and the male – phallic-shapes. Many of the open goblet shapes have a contrasting colour inside which enlivens the pieces and playfully ties them to other pieces in the collection. Pippin explains, “the inside of the vessel is coloured by half-filling it with coloured glaze and swirling it round until a perfectly graduated colouring is produced. An evenly coloured inner void … is essential to the overall presence of the work and this … cannot be achieved with spraying alone, which leaves a dry powdery effect.”
Granites in Moonlight, Porcelain incised with coloured glazes, (Installation of 7),
Variable Heights, Tallest 310mm
With reference to her collection, DEVIL’S MARBLES 1 2016 – Shadow play, Pippin describes herself as “an Australian landscape artist”. Incised lines are my signature, but I use the ceramic vessel/ sculpture to describe the shadows and colours of the Australian landscape at different times of day.” The Devil’s Marbles are a collection of monumental granite boulders scattered across a valley south of Tennant Creek. Millions of years old, some of them are nearly 6 metres tall and are still weathering and changing in the desert environment.
Pippin explains that “the groups of lines in crystalline vitrified glazes moving roughly horizontally round each vessel [in my Devil’s Marbles series] are made by applying colour into incised lines after the initial spraying of glazes… Only a small patch of surface can be worked on at a time… a single pot can take several days to prepare and ‘paint’ in this way…I developed this technique by working for several weeks on shards …[until] it eventually became clear that … those lines that resonate with the form of the vessel were the most appropriate…”
Rainbow Ledge Breakaway, Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with coloured glaze, 360H x 320Dmm
The female shapes balance on remarkably slender bases, not quite at the point of teetering, but seeming to be frozen mid-spin. Pippin’s “signature”, the delicate incised lines circling some of the vessels add to the sense of movement of these pieces like the shadowy strata on others. Grouped together they become a table-top landscape reminiscent of some of the extraordinary landscapes in Australia. Of these group installations, the artist explains that “it is their individual and collective shape, colour multitude and brilliance [that] contour the vast expanse of the Australian landscape. In the near future, I will push the integration of groups even further to create more diverse installations.” The Devil’s Marbles perhaps are the quintessential demonstration of this desire. As she says, “My future trajectory will focus on the Devil’s Marbles. I will continue to push the exploration of abstract ideas [about] spatial relations, line, texture and colour. Most recently I have returned to using gold and platinum luster and I am enjoying exploring how it can be used on the marbles to capture the iridescence and radiance of the Australian desert.”
Integral to Pippin Drysdale’s production is her thrower, Warwick Parmenteer. His handling of the clay forms, both on the wheel and on the table, show an intimate feel for the material. Mixing delicacy and strength, Warwick’s hands raise the lump of wet clay to become a large hollow globe which he then leans on to create an altered form, edgy and asymmetrical. Pippin’s metallic glazes then define and enrich the shape with their glowing response to the light. The reflective nature of the glazes emphasizes and lifts the form, the soft edges imposed on the original form becoming softly insistent and dividing the faces of the form from each other.
Now in her mid-seventies, Pippin is grateful to still “wake up every day with a challenge” and believes that she has found her identity through her work with clay.
Feathered Light I, Pilbara Series, Porcelain incised with coloured glaze, 240H x 180Dmm
Pippin Drysdale, Subiaco, Australia
Images supplied by artists in conjunction with Sabbia Gallery
I had a dream of becoming a photographer when I started working as a telecommunication engineer. When I had a travel to Japan, I spent big bucks to buy a camera with a promise that “I can do”. However, my job distracted me from this camera for three years. One day, I found it on my bookshelf, I smiled to myself and released that I am losing myself and my promise. Then I started taking photographs and studied photographic techniques by myself and through my friends and made “I can do” come true.
Not really. All most all of my photos are taken in Vietnam, but I have taken a lot of photos in other countries such as the UK, New Zealand etc.
These water Lilies will be sold for restaurants or used as vegetable in the family.
From August to October yearly. It is during this period of the flooding season and the time of harvesting waterlilies.
T-shirts of the women are a perfect match for the colours of flowers. The shape of the pic looks like character “S” which is soft, gentle like the shape of lilies.
Actually, the water is not clean, because these flowers can only live under mud and water. These flowers are also named, ghost lilies because it blooms from 3am to 5am. Thus, the women must wake up early and collect these beautiful flowers before sunrise.
I check the weather to be sure that the sky and light supported me. I used my Mavic 2 drone to take the photos.
I always use my photos and my emotion for elevating Vietnam’s landscape, traditions, and people. I believe that Vietnam is endless topics not only for Vietnamese photographers but also worldwide professional ones.
In the Salt Fields
Dark blue sea matches with light blue colour of the fishing net, which was lightened up by the sun.
The fishing net is excessively big, which requires the fisherman to put the net under waters and drive the boat and cast it as fast as he can. Especially, it is not easy to create the pattern.
This was created by nature and depended on the skill of the fisherman. I got the moment when he created the shape like a tail of a giant fish on the sea.
Casting net for fishing is daily work of the fisherman in Phu Yen province, Vietnam. He must wake up early in the morning and follow the streamline to the position where he casts the net.
(Ha Long Bay): The reflection of the boat created the colour of the pic. Blue, green, and white were dotted by the red of woman.
The pink algae is naturally grown in the middle of a lake in Lam Dong Province, Vietnam, just once a year in October.
The pink is pale, wide which is vividly mixed with blue of the lake water and the shirt of a fisherman.
The blue of the T-shirt and purple pink of the flower on the black ground created the contrast and impression.
Yes. This image was taken during the playing time, of children living in Phan Thiet Province, Vietnam in the late afternoon.
My emotion and sense just find the best moment of life of whoever males, females, or both.
Then night and the sky is black, but the lights come out. Comment on you work both urban and rural at night.
As usual, the dark is followed by the fears, and people in Hoi An province want to release the flower garlands on the river with a wish to bring happiness and peace for life.
The motivation was always in me, I always drew and painted as a child, my father was an amateur painter and encouraged me and he was also the one who supported me when I chose to go to Art College rather than study an academic subject at university. Although I always painted, I was also interested in other artistic disciplines and I studied Printed Textiles at Manchester Polytechnic where the course involved a lot of drawing and painting. After leaving with an M.A. I decided to work freelance painting and producing painted and printed fabrics. Over the course of the next ten years I worked on both but gradually over the course of time I found myself doing more painting and less textiles and have been painting full time for the last thirty years.
Lemon Lilies and Sea 30 x 32 inches
Colour is the first thing that people mention about my work when I meet them and when I contemplate a potential subject it is the mood and colour that fascinates me. I spend time thinking out the composition and simultaneously contemplate the colour that will create the feel of the painting.
Camasunary Bay 30 x 30 inches
The landscape and seascape is just one category, I only tend to use both terms to convey the fact that much of my work is coastal in one way or another. Most of the places that I choose to paint are on or near the coast, so much so that I moved to the Isle of Skye in northwest Scotland to live by the sea and in a landscape that I love to paint. I am permanently fascinated by the weather and its effect as it moves across the water and the land, it is ethereal, always changing and never the same from one day to the next.
Still life painting goes back to my college days and I just love the concentration of colour that flowers provide. I set up still life paintings in my studio and can quite literally compose the layout of thing on a table. I have lots of different coloured fabrics which I also use and make carefully considered colour choices to create the feel that I want. More recently I have found the land and sea that I can see from my studio window is starting to infiltrate into the background of the still life paintings so the edges between still life and landscape are starting to blur a little.
Snow Fields Harlosh 32 x 32 inches
I love working in coastal areas at the meeting point of land and sea, I am also attracted to harbours and boats, especially working boats and love the associated buildings and paraphernalia lying around them. Piers and jetties that reach out into the water are one of my favourite subjects as are the ferries that serve the area in which I now live.
Stornoway Fishing Boats 30 x 32 inches.
Stornoway in the Western Isles is one of my favourite locations to paint with lots of fishing boats. It also has lots of buildings of differing colours and sizes and is rich in colour and texture I have worked there many times and never get tired of visiting it.
Fiskavaig Last House 31 x 33 inches
I don’t think this is more than half sea, but it exemplifies another aspect of my love of coastal locations. A small croft house at the end of the road and perched high on a hillside surrounded by a panorama of sea and islands, somewhat at the mercy of the north Atlantic winds. I am fascinated by the power of the sea and the human relationship with it. Again, it is a view that I see every day, the rapidly changing weather conditions mean that every day it is different.
Still life is a wonderful opportunity to design colour within the painting. I search for flowers that inspire me and then build my still life around them. Sometimes the flowers are white and then everything else carries the colour. The colour is not always bright and strong although it often is, it can also be subtle or dark at times.
Pink Table with Night Sea 28 x 28 inches
It greatly influences it; I now live in the place that has been my biggest influence since I first visited in my teens. I am now surrounded by the kind of landscape that I paint; I see it every day as I move around the house, what I see permeates deep into my consciousness.
Misty Morning on the River 13.5x13.5 inches
They are mostly done in the studio; I do small sketches outside and then work from those. The work done outside is generally chaotic and I find back in the studio I can take time to select which elements are going to figure in a larger painting.
Cullins from the beach 13 x 13 inches
The exhibition was hung but not yet open when lockdown happened. This meant no preview and having the chance to talk to visitors and buyers, so the work just had to speak for itself online. In some ways that wasn’t as bad as it sounds as I believe that painting is a visual medium and although it is interesting to hear the stories behind them, they should be able to communicate as they stand and I paint them on that premise so I don’t think I would have done things any differently.
Afternoon sunflowers 30 x 32 inches
Sunflowers and Summer nights 28 x 28 inches
As an elected member of the RSW (Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour) I exhibit with Scottish artists frequently, so I feel among friends and very much a part of the Scottish painting tradition despite being English! I have taken part in the Scottish show at Stafford gallery for the last few years now and really look forward to it. I will be sending work again for the 2021 show. that has been done over this year.
Whitby Fish Quay 10.5 x 10.5 inches
I have chosen these two paintings because they are the same view. There are many different things in any view and paintings are a distillation of these things. I find that there are many ways of seeing things and different approaches to painting it. Trying to include too many aspects into one work simply doesn’t work for me hence two paintings which are very different. I am not a sky painter in the traditional sense and I consciously decide whether the sky should be light or dark in contrast with the land. I tend to regard it as a part of the painting which works with everything else. The fish quay painting has lots of saturated colour on the land and quayside so the fading into the sky works well with that whereas across to the west cliff has much darker areas on the land and the use of the very strong blue works as a contrast to that darkness.
Across to the West Cliff 10.5 x 10.5 inches
I tend to work both large and small although they are relative terms really. 10 x 10 inches is usually about the smallest, the largest can go up to 38 x 40 inches of even slightly more although they are more often around 32 x 32, 30 x 30 inches. My limit on size tend to be more practical than artistic. I work in mixed media which is generally a mix of acrylic, gouache and watercolour so framing behind glass is generally required and the larger the work the heavier the framed painting and the greater the logistical problems so that tends to be the limiting factor on size. Having said that I prefer to paint big than small but nevertheless I am fairly content with my large sizes although things never stay exactly the same so it is not out of the question that sizes could increase as time goes on.
A Patch of Sunlight 31 x 35 inches
This painting is from a small line sketch done on the beach below where I live, the view is one I see every day from various angles however the painting takes me back to a day early in the year when the land was still dressed in winter colours and I was stood in the shallows watching the sun through a gap in the clouds course it’s way across the hills on the opposite side of the sea loch. The blustery wind was full in my face and the waves splashing on the beach and the rocks were heavy with the smell of salt spray. Looking at that paintings always invokes the smell of the sea water and the salt laden wind.
1986 textile collection
I ran my own international printed textile business for many years before turning to painting in 2009, personally producing 150 to 300 speculative designs a quarter. My customers spanned across both fashion and furnishing and my designs had to reflect that in terms of style, scale, and subject matter (floral, geometric, textural, conversational etc.). The range of interests and skills that this developed is reflected in my approach to painting in terms of subject matter and techniques, though not in terms of volume of output!
1992 Textile and Clothing collection
I do like to continue to challenge my practice and abilities and see the broad practices of Michael Andrews and David Hockney as something to emulate. Starting my painting practice late means I have a lot to do in the time I have and for this reason I work on 3 to 4 series of paintings at the same time.
Yes, absolutely. The one overriding quality that I want in my paintings is a sense of quietness. Additionally, another aspect of my work is that though my paintings are figurative I want them to have strong abstract composition qualities.
My beach painting series stem from photographs I took of Coney Island beach, New York. Looking out from the boardwalk, the beach, sea and sky suggested a painting of a landscape reduced to simple banded blocks of colour. I paint the figures in small but at slightly different scales to help give a sense of space with subtle perspective. The figures are quite closely observed I want them to have personality and give the viewer possible narratives to play with. My initial paintings in this series depicted the sparse thin line of figures that start populating the shoreline in the quiet of the morning.
Beach 2.3 - Oil on Panel - 39x70 cm
It’s fascinating how different local cultures, politics (small p), aspirations and prosperity are all evident and acted out on the liminal spaces of beaches.
Beach 6.1 (Carrara) - Oil on Canvas - 76x91 cm
For example, the Italian beach club culture with their ordered ranks of loungers and sunshades are different from the British haphazard arrangement of towels and windbreaks. I take inspiration from this for this ongoing series of paintings.
Given that the city is an environment of geometric ordered disorder, and that I live in London, I think it’s inevitable that I would try and capture that. I carry a camera everywhere with the intention to collect images and ideas for future paintings. I search obliquely for the familiar but overlooked that borders the figurative with the abstract. There are piles of prints of these in my studio which I sometime work directly from but often extract elements and reassemble them to make a painting.
Street Painting 12 - Oil on Panel - 48x61 cm
I’m especially drawn to work that balances figuration, abstraction and the painterly. For instance, the work of Milton Avery, Richard Diebenkorn, Mama Anderson and Hurvin Anderson all have these qualities. My Street Paintings are closer to the photograph than these painters, but the abstract considerations are similar. Wolfgang Tillmans photographs have also influenced this body of work with their strong abstract qualities.
Edward Hopper’s use of the solitary figure in the urban landscape and his painting of light as a tangible thing has also influenced my work. Shadow and contrasting light intensify the mood in a piece.
Painting the sea in these works was very different to the beach paintings. I wanted a lot more movement in these and a lot of paint was flicked and thrown at the surface to make the turbulent surf.
Surfers 1 - Oil on Paper - 50x65 cm
I don’t remember seeing anyone surfing in Jamaica. My surf paintings are inspired from time spent on the coast of North Cornwall. In my childhood I often stayed with relatives there and then my parents eventually retired there. It’s a place that is close to my heart.
I’m not sure Jamaica has much direct influence on my painting. My parents left there when I was 19 and I haven’t been back since. I often think about returning and it would be very interesting to see how it might change my painting now.
I was between studios and homes for nearly a year in 2010-2011. I wasn’t homeless but I felt adrift. To continue working on my practice and to develop my drawing skills I went out into the city looking for people who sat still long enough for me to draw them.
Drawing Trafalgar Square 4- Brushpen on Paper - 29x29 cm
When it was warm enough, I found people who sat quietly in Trafalgar Square and when the weather turned, I went to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank.
Drawing Royal Festival Hall 11- Brush Pen on Paper - 29x29 cm
This exercise was great for me because there was no way of knowing how long the subject would stay in position. It meant I had to work really fast and with total concentration. I didn’t ever ask permission from the subject and tried not to be observed because I wanted to capture a natural state of ease without any self-awareness. The photographer Philip-Lorca di Corcia did a similar thing in Time Square in New York.
Where the details need to go and why?
These drawings were made with grey brush pens of varying tonal values. I’d hold 5 or 6 in my hand and start from the eyes; I think Lucian Freud did this working out from there. As I mentioned earlier, I worked at them really fast but sometimes I only had time to get the eyes in before they moved away.
To be honest I don’t paint many portraits, self or of others. The self-portrait on my website is a rare example. My drawings of people in public spaces are more oblique. When a subject presents themselves to be drawn or painted, they can often become performative as they sit, and this undermines my interest.
I regard my photographs as drawings or sketches for a painting. I often use the images from several different photographs to make a painting but will plan out the combining of these images directly onto the painting.
Beach - Oil on Panel - 28x20 cm
I hardly ever sketch. If I make a drawing it’s for its own sake not as a plan for a painting. Only once or twice in the last few years have I made a drawing to develop a painting.
The Art Car Boot Fair is great fun and brings together between 50 and 100 artists of varying notoriety, literally selling art from the boots of their cars. It happens once or twice a year in London and at different seaside towns in the Summer and is a way to sell art direct to the public in a street market type environment. I have sold small paintings on paper which I have made specifically for the Fair and it is great way to meet other artists and Instagram friends.
Sadly, due to the pandemic the Art Car Boot Fair planned for July this year isn’t happening.
I received information yesterday (25th July 2020) that The Viral Art Car Boot Fair will be taking place on 20th September. As the name suggest it will be a virtual fair in response to the pandemic and I will be taking part. Here is a link to the ACBF’s website. Notice of the September fair isn’t up yet. https://www.artcarbootfair.com/ This an image of one of the small paintings on paper which I sold at the last ACBF in December 2019. (Floating Man).
Floating Man - Oil on Paper - 16x25 cm
I believe that creativity is about adapting to and using change for positive ends, I respond well to change as I find that it brings new ways of thinking and working, such as my drawing in 2010/11. As a result of the pandemic I am in the process of moving my studio back to my home. I am lucky to have the space to do this, but the new work area is smaller, and it will inevitably change my practice. Hopefully for the better.
I agree with many other painters and artist friends, that the lockdown didn’t generally change our practice much. Spending the day, hermit like and alone, focusing on our work is what we do in normal times.
Not being able to visit galleries and physically see others work maybe has a plus side too. Living in London there is generally so much to go and see, it can be very distracting. So, having an enforced break from that has been good for my focus.
Cavaliero Finn, one of the galleries that show my work were due to show my work in their gallery in May. Because of the pandemic they put the show online which proved successful.
I’m quite an active Instagram user and over this period it has been interesting to see how it has developed as a platform for artists to sell directly to collectors.
Evergreen - Oil on Panel - 49x65 cm
I think I and other artists have adapted well to the crisis, but it will be good when we can return to a more physically interactive world.
Website - davidedmond.com
Instagram - davidedmondstudio
My background in Architecture is naturally a strong influence on my work. Training to become an Architect is a rigorous process and takes 7 years, and then also a lifetime. I have now worked with clay longer than training to be an Architect. I still plan and draw my pieces before they are made like an Architect will do, and feel and adapt the work as it is constructed like an artist.
Tapestry #10.1 52cm x 34 cm Tapestry #10.2 48 cm x 31 cm
I liken my work to small architecture with no brief and no client. Producing un-commissioned artwork strips away the burden of those constraints to leave only the creative act, a liberating situation and an issue that I am not complacent about. The technical skills you learn as an Architect are invaluable to me. It influences how I construct my work since it is not really a skill I learned in my ceramic training. The pattern of the ceramics is like the façade of a building- both are integral to the design.
I first started making ceramics as an antidote to the creative chains of practicing Architecture; Architecture is a complex multi-faceted professional endeavour that is constrained by a vast array of technical and legislative issues. Clay is freedom.
A group of 2020 pots
The scale of my work is basically limited by the height of a large top-loading electric kiln. Ordinarily my work is of the largest size I can manage (upto around 65cm high) because the pattern repeats tend to be more effective across larger surfaces.
Hamar I (back, 58 cm x 37 cm ) and Hamar II 28 cm x 38 cm). Photograph by Cavaliero Finn
I try to engender the appearance of a patterned cloth draped over the clay form which is generally successful using either geometric or random repeats. During the recent lockdown and with the cancellation of all planned exhibitions artist Matthew Burrows came up with the brilliant #artistsupportpledge, an initiative based around the sale of ‘affordable’ artworks on Instagram. This led me to working at a much smaller scale than I had previously and allowed my work to progress in slightly different direction. My pieces have always worked well in groups, but on the smaller scale it has a particular dynamic and I have been producing sets of two and three ‘companion’ pieces. The patterns do sometimes need to be significantly scaled-down on each piece to succeed but when placed in series an interesting relationship between pattern and form begins to emerge.
I started my ‘pattern journey’ referencing to old textile work and stitching patterns from Iceland and Nordic Culture. This has developed over time into patterns inspired by ideas and images I come across in nature and daily life. I am constantly working into the pieces ‘making stitches’ or lines of weave and the result is often cloth-like in appearance.
Hamar II (front, 28 cm x 38 cm), Hejduk I (back right, 32 cm x 36cm x 20 cm,). Hejduk II (back left, 37cm x 22 cm x 22 cm ). Photograph by Cavaliero Finn
Form and pattern are individually and equally important and my work is defined by the interaction of these very distinct attributes. There is an ambiguity in the pieces with the pattern acting to disguise the shape of the vessel as it runs seamlessly across creases and corners. Shape and pattern are usually conceived in a planned design, however I have become more flexible over time and now often build the form and assess it before committing to pattern. I like to place a rigid, geometric pattern onto an organic form – a bottle or bell shape. The pattern type significantly alters the perception of a piece’s geometry any given base shape will appear dramatically different when rendered with alternative patterns.
I have always been drawn to black and white (or dark and light) and how the monochromatic palette can differ so much. I do create some work with third colour highlights which is effective in accentuating three dimensional illusion and setting up another narrative. I also often line internal surfaces at openings such as the neck of bottle shapes, which begin to suggest a hidden organic interior.
Poem (58cm x 41 cm , back) , Basalt (52cm x 24 cm, front left) , Horizon III ( 31cm x 15 cm, Front right). Photograph by Cavaliero Finn
Hand-building with slabs, which is the process I manly use, is like putting together a mini building. The detail is important, the joining of the slabs and the finishing of the form. It goes hand in hand with my training. I know how to make a pot stand up and I also know if I take shortcuts it is likely to collapse or crack in the kiln. The end result of a piece sets up a visual conversation between the pseudo -perfection of geometric pattern and the tactile impurity of hand-manipulated clay.
I think strong motifs often sit well together, particularly patterns of different grains. I do not always pre-plan works in pairs or groups but rather experiment with combinations to find successful companion groups. It is sometimes the least expected combinations that work best.
Horizon I (60 cm x 47 cm), Horizon II (52 cm x 27 cm, front)
Ebb and Flow was shown as a part of a show for London Art Fair curated by Cavaliero Finn and setting my work with reciprocal pieces by textile artist Jacy Wall.
The two pieces are a pair of similar vessels with inverted patterns fading vertically across the surface. The name Ebb and Flow describes the transition of the pattern from black to white to black and vice versa reflecting the ebb and flow of the tide on the shoreline..
Certainly a considered context is important for photographing art. I work in a studio previously inhabited by the abstract landscape painter Boo Mallinson and most of my work is photographed against the backdrop of the her paint spatters, like a Jackson Pollock mural!. This sets an active scene and avoids the sterility of a white box gallery still.
Yes, it is important for me to keep a record of my designs and plans for new designs. There is always something new that comes from each sketch.
Patterns. Photo by Cavaliero Finn
It has, actually had an unexpectedly positive effect despite the cancellation of nearly all planned gallery exhibitions. I kept working through but rather than building up a collection for future exhibitions as expected I have not been able to work fast enough to meet the demand for smaller works sold online. It has not altered the expression of the work itself – pattern is virus resistant.
Vernacular series. Small pots ranging in height from approximately 6-12 cm, created for #artistsupportpledge.
To create the patterns successfully the state of the clay is very important -it needs to be just less than leather hard. I paint the whole surface of each pot with black or white slip dependant on the clay used and when the slip has lost its sheen, score the pattern outline into the slip using paper strips and pencil. When the slip has hardened slightly more I scrape away sections of slip to reveal the clay beneath. The process is very laborious and I have to be careful to keep the pots well wrapped and humid between sessions so that the pattern can be completed over several days.
My studio is in the south west of England in my West Dorset garden. It is essential for the studio to be close to my house due to the process of working with slip in the way I do - I need to be able to quickly cover or uncover the work at various stages of the drying process.
The outlook from the studio is fantastic with long views over the Devon countryside and great sunsets most evenings. I also appreciate a studio that is large enough to cope with the mess a ceramic studio often demands. It’s a good place to not be an Architect.
I recently bought a new large slab roller. My pots are so large and having to roll out very large slabs from clay is extremely physically demanding. Having a slab roller has literally transformed my life.
I am sure the extraordinary nature in my native Iceland creeps in but it is possibly more my immediate family who now influence my work. We are an artistic family of Architect (my partner), photographer (my 18 year old son) and GCSE Art Scholar (my 16 year old daughter) and inevitable conversations and sometimes unintended suggestions are a big influence.
My mother taught me to knit when I was in grade school, so I’ve been knitting for 50 years or so. I can’t say I meant for my knitting to start doing art in addition to garments. But even before I retired I had started visualizing knit items in three dimensions and I was selling knit neckpieces made with 3-D oval shapes. It was so great to see my name tag at an open house at one of the stores identify me as “Artist.” (But I didn’t actually call myself an artist for several more years.) I was a lawyer for 30 years, and really enjoyed it, but knitting was also always there. It’s second nature to me so it easily evolved!
What really started my advancement was happening to see an announcement for a two-day class at the California College of the Arts titled “Sculptural Knitting.” Wow, I thought – I’m not off base! That was a great class and four other women attending asked me after to join their critique group – we’re still meeting now 12 years later! Their encouragement and support was very instrumental in my artistic development. I now belong to an additional critique group and it is great community. My lawyer friends comment on how I transitioned will into retirement, and my artist friends were always so surprised to find out my career was as a lawyer – FUN!
A Long night
My first knit wire was very early on, when I knit three wine glasses with wire – they of courses did not remain upright and I titled the three together lying down “A Long Night.” There was then a long hiatus on using wire; the real development of wire pieces started in 2016 when I knit a piece about the climate with wire using very light wool yarn to fill in the leaves with green and then brown, “Brown is the New Green.” And wire plays a large part of my piece “Steeling Ourselves.” I have to attribute this development into using wire to Karen Searle and Tracy Krumm both of whom use wire in their art and from whom I have taken a class.
You may like to read the interview on Zoneone Arts with Tracy Krumm in April 2014 https://zoneonearts.com.au/tracy-krumm/
As long as I don’t use wire that is very rigid, knitting wire of a smaller gauge isn’t difficult. But there is a limit in knitting three dimensional pieces in wire that are closed such as a ball. In order to knit it, I use flexible wire but its very flexibility makes it unable to retain its shape unless it is handled very carefully; thus it’s just not practical to make a closed shape than is difficult to reshape it gets flattened. Even with thin wire I sometimes put a band-aid on my wrapping finger to protect it. My wire pieces are thus one dimensional.
Steeling Ourselves, detail.
The inspiration for ‘Steeling Ourselves’ is, simply put, our current president and the state of our country for many of us during his term. It is made with silver wire knit together with linen cord for the color. I purposely created holes in the knitting to further represent his impact. I have not done other work of political commentary. Most of my pieces dwell on creating representations of a mood.
Though not political, I have done pieces which comment on societal situations. In addition to Homeless, Reaching Green, which portrays arms formed into the shape of a tree which are brown at the bottom and green at the top, is a comment on climate change. ‘Helping Hands’ is made of knit hands from browns, beige and reddish hands clasping together to express a hope for outreach.
Most of my pieces are constructed from small knit pieces which I then sew together into a piece. There is thus a period of time when I’m knitting the many individual pieces. As I’m knitting those, I start with something in mind about how I will assemble them. Knitting is a meditative process and working on the pieces helps create different pictures of how they can fit together. And then when I pin the pieces up on a board to plan the assembling, the developing can continue. A piece that was begun to be round seems to work better stretched out, or with the pieces closer together than I had pictured when I started.
The unsheltered homeless people are often in tents, but many are simply sleeping on cardboard on the sidewalk. The homeless are compelling, and I wanted to represent their situation in my art. I made a myriad of squares that represent squares of a knit blanket if they were sewn together. They are laid in the shape of a sleeping body on cardboard which I literally found on the street, with a found pair of beaten up tennis shoes.
Homeless: For Dear Life
I do not dye the wool with which I knit; there is a myriad of color choice in purchased wool yarn. I have a wonderful, wonderful yarn store near me, Imagiknit, and I purchase it there, or less often online or at another store if I don’t find what I need. And there are such a myriad other materials when I’m not fulling the piece.
I titled this piece Quiet because of its lack of color. It is constructed with a variety of fibers, wools and ribbon all in a range of white and beige.
I composed it from a large selection of the small pieces that I had knit individually. As with most of my pieces, I pin the individual pieces on a foam core board, moving them around until I find the pattern with which I’m satisfied. Only then do I sew them together. I did a similar piece in reds exploring the colors. I decided to frame these pieces since they didn’t present well on their own and I thought framing would strengthen them.
When the pandemic began I had pieces at two galleries. Both galleries retained the pieces in case they could be shown in person in the future. One gallery was able to open recently after presenting the show online, but the other was only online.
Except for about a week period of adjustment at the beginning of this shutdown, when I lacked inspiration, it was easier to knit sweaters for my grandchildren. Since then my art practice hasn’t been affected except to provide even more time to do my art, since socializing and going to events is restricted to the computer. My spouse is working at home, but he’s busily ensconced in an office on another floor, so that is not affecting my art at all. It continues including my critique groups, which are now via Zoom.
Simply put, juried exhibitions provide a forum for those of us artists who are not represented by a gallery. I started applying early on, encouraged by my critique group – I had no idea then what a juried show was. It’s much less work that an exhibition though probably not regarded as prestigious as a full exhibition. I’m just delighted someone wants to see my work!
‘Stream of Consciousness’ at the Morris Graves Museum in Humboldt, CA. Name of the show was Feelings in Fiber #2
When I started my art, I concentrated on knit pieces of the human body. The first piece I ever showed was of a torso with an upraised arm scratching her back with a backscratcher – this represented my mother after my father died. I continued doing human heads and hands for quite a while.
The huge jump came when I made Almost A-Round, which was my first piece made of smaller parts and is totally abstract.
That method has flourished into using a variety of shapes – circles, cups, various flat shapes presented flat or on their edge, or ropes. All can be assembled into a never-ending variety of finished pieces.
It was more a matter of “discovering” photography than of changing careers. I worked as the curator for Owens-Corning’s corporate art collection for eighteen years, was also a private consultant. In other words, I worked with the art of others. A photographer friend encouraged me to begin photographing in the mid-2000's. I soon discovered the joy of hunting and stalking street life subjects as I travelled. The “Vanity Fair” photo was one of my first (2005) that pleased me.
Vanity Fair, 2005
Now retired from consulting, I consider photography a passion, not a career.
Wherever I am out and about; particularly when traveling. Key West, Florida is one of my favourite cities. The resident’s welcome eccentrics and camera-toting tourists, I blend right in, just wandering and shooting all day. It is a city full of beautiful backgrounds, fascinating faces and friendly people.
Unlike pre-planning and staging a photograph, I prowl the streets for subjects. This means I might encounter something intriguing the very next second. (Or not.) A site I photograph one moment might not even exist when I later revisit it. There is a feeling of capturing history that I enjoy. There is a tropical mural on the wall of the Hilltop Laundry in Key West that I adore — each year I check to ensure it has not been painted over, knowing it will happen one day.
Hilltop Laundry, 2007
Another “moment in time” photo came when St. Paul’s in Key West was fumigated, and I happened by just as a workman removed the canvas coverings. If you know the photo’s story, there’s no mystery. But if you don’t….
St. Paul’s, 2017
I’m still out walking and looking. But generally, only see random dog walkers out in my small Ohio town. I’m not inspired to shoot pandemic shots because face masks hide the expressions which would interest me. I’m not a photographer of empty stillness. Plus, I know others are documenting our strange and scary time beautifully.
As I travel, I often come across street art unexpectedly. Being fascinated with faces, I try to find an opportunity to photograph a passer-by in a way that makes the person appear to be interact with the art. My husband and I spent an afternoon in Osijek, Croatia last year and in walking noticed a large street portrait. (I’m sorry I don’t know the artist.) This was one of the few times I “lay in wait” for the perfect person to pass by, although I only had several minutes as we were late for a meeting. I hoped to capture a pretty girl, so the street portrait would appear to be ogling her. But then a man walked by. I liked his purposeful stride and felt it worked.
Watcher in Osijek, 2019
Another time we were walking in Edinburgh. I turned my head as we passed an alley and saw this amazing mural by Smug. A few people were walking beneath it, and luckily, I always have a camera. This photo is one of my favourites.
Adverts are all around us — posters, signs, billboards, marquees. I love the graphic quality they add. I saw a wonderful poster-filled wall in Paris. When a young man past I took my picture, only seeing later the space I had centred him in was surrounded by the phrase “Kill the Young.” Thinking that a bit macabre I researched. It’s the name of a British band.
Kill the Young, 2007
Like many people, I love mannikins. (And they’re most cooperative about having their picture taken.) And because they are typically behind glass, there is the additional potential of reflections. I was struck by the difference in mannikin scale in this shop window I saw fleetingly from a London bus. A rain-coated pedestrian walked by and I liked the way his legs seemed momentarily attached to the mannikin behind him producing a “what’s happening?” moment in my photo.
London Rain, 2017
In another window, I did a double-take noticing what appeared to be a woman’s leg attached to a tuxedo clad male — as if someone had playfully added extra body parts to this mute figure.
Fancy Footwork, 2019
Perhaps because I’m tranquil by nature, I’m drawn to hotter, more mysterious subjects and faces suggesting a deeper story. (Just as I like Noir movies….) I never take pictures homeless people, or to make fun of anyone. I always start up a conversation (before or after I make my picture), to explain what about them caught my eye. That’s why I consider it an encounter — we meet, we chat, and hopefully I leave them, feeling good about themselves. At least that is always my intention.
Graffiti Alley Dancer, 2019
I like the strong graphic quality of black and white. I love colour and shoot “pretty” pictures with my iPhone for fun, but find colour distracts from the mood or story I seek in my serious work.
Reflections depend on time and weather, as well as what is happening both through the glass, and behind the camera. They offer tantalizing potential possibilities from moment to moment. In this photo, a gentleman sat on a chair in Starbucks. I noticed he appeared to be sitting sideways in a station wagon (actually parked on the street behind me). If he’d shifted position the strange juxtaposition would have been lost.
Another day I passed a gallery which I knew had a large painting of Marilyn Monroe. While I searched for a subject, a semi pulled up directly behind me, bearing a beefcake photo of a grinning man clad only in shorts. I could see my shadow blocking part of the truck’s reflection. But it wasn’t until I saw the photo that I noticed Marilyn’s eye revealed in my shadow. I love surprises like that.
Marilyn’s Eye, 2020
My current body of work emerged from a research project at the Royal College of Art (London). I was investigating relationships and transitions between two-dimensional images and three-dimensional forms through various processes. Cast shadows and silhouettes became key ideas and inspirations in my research, and I found myself especially intrigued by the boundary of the shadow – the penumbra. The works are in some ways an attempt at a material manifestation of that elusive and ephemeral phenomenon. This built on a long standing interest in boundaries, thresholds and meeting points. They are always contested, uncertain and negotiable, and my works display a visual uncertainty between the definition of the space contained and the space occupied by the hollow object.
'Angled vessels'. Black Porcelain and Parian. H 41cm. Photo Credit Sylvain Deleu
I had always quite enjoyed working with clay as a child, although without any great passion. I think I liked its potential to shift states and take on an infinity of forms. I became seriously interested aged 17 whilst studying for A levels. My teacher did raku firing with us which was incredibly dramatic and engaging, and also showed me Hans Coper’s work which I found captivating and inspiring.
I spent 10 years giving the majority of my time to working as a Senior Lecturer at Bath Spa University, and making some art work alongside that. Now I spend most of my time in my studio, and work as a visiting Lecturer at the RCA in London and the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham. I am very aware how fortunate I am to be able to have that balance and for my teaching time to be almost entirely focused on contact with postgraduate students. I really enjoy the process of tutorial teaching at this level.
'Littoral 3'. H40 x W85 x D20 cm. Parian, grey parian, bone china, black porcelain, painted fibreboard. Photo Credit Jon Furley.
I am most interested in the passing on of understandings and ways of thinking about the creative process. The notion of thinking through making - ideas having an intrinsic relationship with material and process - is very important. I do happily teach skills, although less than I used to, and I don’t see it as my role to show people how to make like me, but to help them find their own way.
On the whole I am pretty open about sharing my process as it is often very tightly linked to the conceptual content of my work.
I do love to study, and have been lucky enough to return to education twice after periods of practice, and to also be continually involved on the other side of the educational fence. At Bristol I was given a great grounding in ceramics and was taught by some excellent artists of which Walter Keeler probably had the most influence on my making and an extraordinary teacher called Mike Hughes on my thinking. Four years after that the one-year MA in Cardiff was an intense period of learning and development which totally transformed my thinking and my work. There were seven of us in the cohort, and the incredible learning dynamic in the student group stood out. The opportunity to develop a new body of work at the RCA was incredible, but most important was having a year to experiment and play and question the fundamentals of my practice at that stage in my career.
'Four Leaning Vessels'. Parian. H 32cm. Photo credit Sylvain Deleu.
The works on paper are a parallel exploration of some of the same ideas as the work in ceramic. Again, the approach is very rooted in material and practice in an exploration of the interaction between paper, ink, water and time. The time between idea and a resolved outcome in ceramic is often many weeks long – so to work in a medium where the same iteration can be achieved several times in one day is a refreshing antidote.
Untitled Drawing. 2017. Ink on Paper. 86 x 67cm framed
The basic inspiration is as outlined for this evolving body of work in the answer to the first question. Specific inspiration for these pieces was to make something that was more overtly a container and to position the piece on the surface in a way which meant that it had a lightness and floating presence. Also, the fins are at an angle that helps to make the perceptible physicality of the object shift in more planes.
Grouping or not grouping of these works
Usually the works are for sale as individual pieces, but they are often photographed and shown as groupings. Grouping conveys the shifting presence of the object from a single viewpoint. What is perceived is dependent upon the relationships between object, light, space and body.
Three Floating Bowls. H 19cm. Parian. Photo Credit Sylvain Deleu
The sense of balance and of the piece floating defies its objecthood and moves it into the realm of ephemerality.
Blue Floating Bowl 19.43 H 13cm Parian and soluble cobalt, photo credit Jon Furley
The pieces are wheel thrown with very thick walls. They are dried slowly before being turned on a lathe. Then they are fired. There is some grinding done with diamond in order to finish surfaces and create the standing point of the piece.
Blue Floating Bowl 19.43 H 13cm Parian and soluble cobalt. photo credit Jon Furley
When I first developed this body of work, I kept it monochrome. This was because I was researching light and shadow and needed to reduce the variables to understand what was going on. The use of colour originated with my work on paper. I am always interested in the interplay between form and surface and didn’t want to use an applied surface. I use a process where the colour migrates right through the form, much in the way that ink moves on paper with the encouragement of water. The colour is dictated by process and chemistry rather than by selecting from a palette.
I am interested in skill and craftsmanship, although not as ends in themselves. The work does take a lot of skill and I do seek some kind of perfection. There is however a subtle interplay with the material and the transformation of process. The pieces do move and distort slightly in the kiln and I enjoy this interaction and undermining of mechanical perfection.
The simple answer to this is time. Look, look and look again. With every change in your viewpoint and in the lighting conditions you will see something different. I am still surprised by pieces that have been in my studio for years when I see an aspect of their presence I have never perceived before.
I etch an initial monogram into the pieces once they are totally finished, along with a unique number including the year of making.
This is in the collection of the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza Italy. It was acquired as part of winning a major prize at the Premio Faenza Biennale. This came at an important point to me and was a great boost to my career. I love to work internationally, and another aspect of the prize was a residency at Officine Saffi in Milan, which sowed the seeds of a new body of work which is very slowly germinating in my studio.
I have been very fortunate to have been able to keep working as I have my own studio which I can walk to. I have never before been more grateful for that. It is difficult to give advice, but perhaps the key thing is as at any time to find a way to keep making work that you believe in.
A little bit of progress with the slow germination I mentioned above and some ideas about new forms for my current work.
I had to decide between playing violin or visual art. In a way, visual art could be done anytime with many possibilities; I was taking extra art classes in high school, experimenting sculpture, different art craft but meanwhile, always drawing in my books. Color pencils and oil pastels were one of my favorite gifts. Violin playing however was daily training, discipline. I was an early admittance to the Quebec Conservatory in Trois-Rivières and playing in the orchestra was so rich and such an emotive experience that I could not imagine myself loosing that feeling after working so hard and performing in concerts. I could not stop taking violin lessons and reaching higher level without practicing more, having more different classes (theory, solfege, orchestra, etc...) As a teenager there was not much time left between school and the many hours of daily practice as well as having all the music classes. Finally, I have been an orchestra player for more than 30 years. Emotion drives!
Swing! 102x102 cm, typical French Canadian architecture; ''mansard roof''
Public award in Salon des Arts Visuels de Brossard in 2016
I took a first painting class in 2005 because felt I needed to come back to my first love of colors. At that time, I was going to painting class with my violin or having to bring my acrylic paint inside, in winter, during orchestra's practices in Montreal Place des Arts. So, as a professional violinist, between 2005 to 2010, I was spending all my free time painting. I developed health problems in 2010. The bicycle accident came after 2 years of being sick. After 3 main surgeries, I was trying to go back to training for orchestra when that accident happened. My left shoulder could not stand playing violin anymore. During those 2 years of not being able to play violin, the painting became my main activity. I was lucky to become a member of very good local association, the AAPARS, in 2010. I began to do exhibitions and I was also attending public demo-conferences. I also took a few classes with well known artists. Though self-taught by visiting museums and exhibits, taking a few painting classes and training with very good artists made me become Josée Tellier Artiste 3D.
Petit Champlain en Septembre, 61x122 cmOld Quebec city
My grandfather was living in a huge and beautiful house. My father was drawing plans for our homes and watching him gave me the knowledge to do the same. I made all the plans for managing my homes, made plans for building my garage or adding rooms to my house. I learned how to use all the tools we needed to build a house and built it with my husband. I feel sorry when I see how hard it is to protect our architecture from severe Canadian climate.
Manteau de mars, 61x91,5 cm. Patrimonial house of Beloeil, QC
Every year we lose many nice houses and for me, painting and preserving its memory is paying a tribute to our architecture. Also, when I was young, during the Christmas season, my father used to drive us around the neighbourhood to watch the Christmas lights.
La Guignolée 76x91.5 cm, House to house collection for the poor tradition in Quebec winter season.
I clearly remember watching more than those lights. In my mind, I was imagining the story in each home , what the people were doing. So, my work express the 2 aspects of houses; first, the shell by sculpting and modelling the form then the mystery behind windows by adding iridescent sparkling glass....
My love for beautiful houses brings me to visit villages or the historic districts of many towns in Canada and USA. The first thing I do is bring my camera and take pictures. BUT, I have funny stories about some of my works. Let me tell you. A few years ago, I had a solo in Châteauguay. I made few historic searches about very old houses there. Well, some turned out to be the oldest in the Quebec province dating all the way back to the settlement. I often use the houses picture but I imagine different landscapes or just move the trees.... etc. what I did with that work. Because of the technique of the stain glass I use and the size of the work, I had to make changes in the windows. I also made that painting with colors, I don't use very often. I did put nice bushes and decided to make it as winter scene. At the opening of the exhibition, a lady I had never met before saw that work and began to cry. I was watching her tears and she just turned to me and smiled. She was the new owner of that house. It was her deceased mom's house. I made the windows exactly how her mom wanted them to be restored, her mom's preferred color and season! WOW!
Le temps des érables, 91.5x122 cm. Quebec artists are inspired by the wonderful colors of the fall season.
I was in Marseilles at International Contemporary Art Fair during that crazy week!!! My goal was to develop contacts in Europe. The show began and was cancelled after one day. OUCH! Much energy and money lost. Then, back to Canada all the art suppliers and galleries were closed. Even with a few confirmed commissioned works, I was unable to make them. The non standard wood panels had to be made and the factory is still unable to make them, maybe for months. All the exhibitions or art activities have been cancelled until fall due to the government decisions. For me, it is a bigger problem than I expected. Meeting the public is a huge part of my inspiration. Having nice talk with people and seeing other artists enrich my imagination. The goal of exhibiting is also what I call a positive stress. Without those two levers I have some problems to go to my workshop. My inspiration slows down... Even if the reopening of galleries began, the clients and tourists are not there yet and it will take a long time before the situation goes back to the level it was before covid 19.
The problem with my work is that the online selling is difficult because it does not show the 3D and as well the effect of light rays on the stain glass. The amount of glass and where it is in the work is carefully determined by the composition.
Beautés classiques, dyptique, 122 x 183 cm
The windshield is made of glass.
Online, my work looks like that of many other painters. My unicity is hard to show online. The mediums I use come from USA an Europe. It becomes harder to get them and is more expensive. Actually, nobody knows how artists lives will be in 6 months. Too soon to get depressed!!! but I am sure all the art community will suffer in 2020. and beyond
I actually work on the works I began before going to France!! , mainly Quebec architecture. But I took nice pictures in Marseilles and I have a project for a graffiti series inspired by Le Panier of Marseilles. Old cars is also subject I began to put in my work recently.
My drawing have to be more developed than just sketches to be able to build the form. I have to work flat and upside down. Not obvious when you have to sculpt a roof. I work on wood to be able to make openings for stain glass insertion. I have many wood tools and glass tools. Then, I build the base relief with many layers of marble dust in acrylic polymer.
Calèche fleurie, 76x76 cm
After many years I have developed different ways using personal combination of that medium wet, half wet, crusted, etc... to create texture effects. It is carving, modelling, sculpting, sculpting the modelling!!! Many layers have to dry during whole night or whole day. It may take up to 2 weeks to build one project to the painting step, up to 3 weeks for bigger ones. So, I work on many sculptures at a time and it take 3 to 4 times longer than just painting. Painting the sky when you have to jump over branches or any form is also challenging for blending colors.
I was painting near a window and I was looking at my brother in law stain glass work in that window. It was a nice sparkling. Then I remembered the story of Gazza Ladra, Rossini's opera. The bird attracted by brilliance... The windows + glass + child fascination of lights + wood panel coming in the art market + my love of houses ... all came at the same time that afternoon. I made experimentations on how to fix everything together and my first 3D with glass work was born ... many weeks later!!!
Matinée à Oak Bluffs, 76x91,5 cm , Historic ''gingerbread'' houses of Martha's Vineyard Island, MA, USA this work won the MAA prize.
I had nice pictures from a trip to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts from years ago. Last year, I felt like painting some of those highly coloured houses. This place is well known for its Gingerbread houses with accentuated details with bright colours. I began to draw and discovered that one of my neighbours, at my winter workshop, came from there. The guy was also a ''colourful'' man and a ''musician''. I asked if I could take pictures of him and his dogs. Then having fun talking with him, having fun painting something related to this nice guy, all those elements made a difference. It has to be colourful! I got inspired by that man and his dogs! Mostly, when I do work for people I like, I am pretty happy with the result.
France Malo, international Quebec artist, talked to me about MAA and how good the association was. I sent my application and was selected! First, if you look at the level of the members, it is very high. Being selected was an honour for me but also a responsibility: keeping the goal of being better and better and striving create the best I can create. It help an artist's career to be recognized by other artists. This is a dynamic association that has several different projects like making books, holding contests and organizing shows around the world. Also, the power of the group allows us to participate in international exhibitions at a lowered shared cost. AND I GOT INTERVIEWED!!!! Thank you to Zoneone Arts and MAA for that opportunity. Honestly, for weeks I did not believe in winning that prize! For sure, such a recognition will help me for the next step...
November 2019, I made a big work for a contest- exhibition with the AAPARS (Association des Artistes Peintres Affiliés de la Rive Sud). That contest is under juried selection and the level is very high. The final jury is a highly professional one. It is always a privilege to do that show but this time, I won the first figurative prize. For me, it was again a big surprise but I am very proud to have won at home. This brought new people to pay attention to my work and I have been invited to sign the Gold Book of my city, Beloeil, QC.
L'auberge de St-Placide, 61x61 cm, patrimonial house from Baie St-Paul, QC
That work won a gold medal at the 44th international contest of CASPQ in 2016 at Galeria La Pigna, Vatican, Italy. I met the owner and had a nice talk about restoring that historic house in Baie St-Paul, QC.
I like it although I prefer “art forger” to “copyist”. I’m always trying to replicate the look, the feel, and the patina of the original. Also, if possible, I source period canvases, paints and frames, so I believe I’m more akin to an art forger, than a mere copyist. Forgers have always been around, it is most definitely an art form in itself.
Working on Modligiani
When I become interested in an artist I become obsessed. At the moment I’m working on Caravaggio’s ‘Card Sharps’. Last week it was Caravaggio’s ‘Entombment’. I have a burning desire to learn all of his methods, his handwriting so to speak and his tricks. As with other artists I become interested in, I obsess about how they worked and achieved their results. I always (where possible) study the original works.
Working on Caravaggio's 'Card Sharps'
I love waking up looking at Caravaggio’s ‘Taking of Christ’, which hangs full size in my bedroom. I get a rush in my stomach when I catch sight of a William Waterhouse or a Picasso – which at the moment are stacked up against my studio wall. There is a photo of Picasso in his home in France, he had a room packed and stacked with art by the likes of Modigliani, Cezanne, and Matisse. He collected the crème of 1920’s artwork. That is how I feel.
I have always been able to draw and I loved copying different handwriting styles when I was a kid. I come from quite a large family, all of whom have an artistic bent. My sister is the best selling author Shani Struthers, my brother Paul is a horologist, my brother Steven a landscape gardener, my brother Tony a jeweller and my brother Dane an amateur painter.
I have a firm belief that art should be accessible to everyone, to be admired, loved and to give a feeling of pleasure to the viewer – not stuck in a bank vault. The two most expensive paintings in the world Picasso’s ‘Les Femmes d’Alger’ and Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ are two paintings that I have thoroughly enjoyed painting.
Being born and bred in Brighton, I have a few tales to tell and a few colourful experiences from my sometimes misspent youth! Peter James collaborated with former Commander of Brighton & Hove Police, Graham Bartlett in a book about some of Graham’s arrests and so, over lunch, we chatted about some of my stories.
I’m drawn by the stories of an artists’ life, Modigliani and Soutine for example, both had fascinating back-stories as did Caravaggio, who was the first ‘bad boy’ of art. I have to love a painting in order to faithfully reproduce it.
Once I have overcome the challenge of a painting, I’m not really interested in repeating it – unless it’s a commission of course.
Not at all. My time ‘inside’ helped me to focus my attentions on creating art and I have never looked back. It was whilst in prison that I fell in love with painting and the art of recreating masterpieces. I have been absorbed in the technicality ever since.
From Caravaggio: the lightning strike drama.
From Modigliani: the fine line.
From Picasso: creativity and always being in the “flow”.
I would say look closely and then look again. Look at nature and try to frame and photograph it in your mind.
Well it would probably end up as a drunken, boozy brawl, but I would invite,
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an Italian painter active in Rome for most of his artistic life. During the final four years of his life he moved between Naples, Malta, and Sicily until his death. Wikipedia
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist and theatre designer who spent most of his adult life in France. Wikipedia
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces, necks, and figures that were not received well during his lifetime but later found acceptance. Wikipedia
Chaïm Soutine was a French painter of Lithuanian Jewish origin. Soutine made a major contribution to the expressionist movement while living in Paris. Wikipedia
Walter Richard Sickert RA RBA was a British painter and printmaker who was a member of the Camden Town Group of Post-Impressionist artists in early 20th-century London. He was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the mid- and late 20th century. Wikipedia
I would ask them if I could watch them work, from conception through to completion. I would just like to stand in their shoes and look through their eyes.
“David Henty Art”
(I always state when selling artwork that the painting is after… a homage… or in the style of…)
David Henty on the hunt.
I love looking in antique shops, which my hometown of Brighton is renowned for (happily!) I also visit markets and antique fairs looking for period frames. France also has some great markets to pick up old canvases and last but not least, the framer I work with is also brilliant at matching frames to paintings.
Luck of the find
At a certain time I started wondering how we relates to the specific places that we live. Modern cities kind of look and feel the same all over the globe. But we all do live in specific biospheres,with very specific conditions and “natural inhabitants”. With the work “Patterns of Parise” I wanted to add value to the very specific place of the Nordic countries.
My work focuses on the relation between modern man and nature and springs from a curiosity towards the natural word. I like to have an artistic dialogue with these elements that are millions of years old.
I collect plants, paint the plants and make prints with heat and pressure.
I paint the plants.
Heat and pressure press.
Printing set up
To make the first original I print on 100 % polyester. Then I scan the original to the computer and then I print it with reactive colour and digital printing mostly on cotton, linen, silk or bamboo.
It comes quite natural to me since I constantly consider how to make form? What form is? etc. I love origami because it transforms 2D into 3D in a very elegant almost “nature like” way. Paper and textile has a lot in common and the things you can do with paper, you can almost always apply to fabric.
The project Mountain scape for the Rokoko-Mania exhibition is a hybrid of many past and present craft inspirations: 18th century European, silk-woven textiles with their luxuriant, exotic (and erotic) flowers and garden motifs; and partly from the Chinese textiles of the same period, with their stylized lineation portraying dragons and mountains, and animal, flower, wave and cloud motifs.
It consist of five dresses, each one representing architypical concepts or elements of nature, including clouds, water and waves, flowers and hills. The dresses are all ‘linked’ by a rocky landscape. This is an element in Japanese and Chinese art that dates back hundreds of years, the perception and implementation of which has long since spread to the art of other cultures.
The Museum is located in central Copenhagen in an old hospital from the 17th century. Really lovely design and craft museum.
Is located in the historic Copenhagen-area, Frederiksstaden, in one of the fine old rococo buildings, originally build in 1757 by King Frederik V as the first public hospital. The museum offers permanent exhibitions where guests can explore the Danish design legacy and historical roots along with sources of inspiration. Guests can also enjoy contemporary Danish design, the lovely museum garden with outdoor serving during summer period, café and museum shop. Closed due to Corona Viris, and they have put renovations forward during this forced closure.
From the museum we were asked to do a comment on a historical exhibition about the arts and crafts of the 1700th. We had some meetings with the researchers at the museum and discussed the period. I had just returned from a longer trip to China, so for me it was very obvious to work with the influence from the China at the time. At the same time there was a growing awareness in Europe about the Chinese becoming a greater power in modern society. The history of trade is quite interesting telling us a lot about how cultures benefit from exchange and at the same time compete. Cultural signs and symbols can become weapons in wars of intellectual dominance.
Photograph, Amanda Hestehave
I wanted to work with elements from 17th century European craft and Chinese/Asian craft and bring to a totally new place offering an other possibily than “cultural aggression”. Pointing to the things all cultures have in common: Nature – earth, wind, fire, water….The natural powers that we all are a part of.
I considered the extravagant dresses of the 17th century courtyards as a strong visual sign for 17th century European culture also it has to do with the role of the woman at that period. As a design object it is wonderfully complex. It’s a kind of architecture….or landscape – a very solid form after all that would go good together with my idea about a “mountainlandscape” – one of the Asian components.
The project was huge and heavy from the beginning it was necessary to move the project two times during the process of making it. It is still huge and heavy and takes up a lot of space, but I am very happy about that project, so I had to find myself a big workshop!
The pieces are made directly from plants that I have collected in my own surroundings. I was inspired by ancient fertility sculptures and the concept of wearing your surroundings directly. One dress from ferns, one from seaweed and one from grasses. The materials and the concept of a dress has been the starting point of the work with form. It is a vision of a future with a better connection between man and the biosphere.
I tend to have a very long process. Take for instance the Fern dress from the Wilderness project. It started while I was doing another project about Nordic dress culture. I was interested in the climate issues in relation to clothes. I was doing a lot of walking around, experiencing the climate. During these walks my eyes fell on tiny ferns and I collected a large amount for no purpose.
I was kind of sad that I would not be able to use it for my project. When I started the Wilderness project. I started to research plant evolution and I realized that ferns are among the earliest plants on earth and it made great sense to use it for the new project.
I am driven by narrative. I tend to anthropomorphise to an unhealthy extent and from an early age saw inanimate objects as protagonists in some drama of my invention. I did very badly in English at school and lost all confidence in my writing. I found that drawing conveyed stories more eloquently that prose. I adore the depth to poetry, and how it can be so open to interpretation, but just don’t have the vocabulary to do it myself. I suppose the most inspirational quote is one by Gustave Flaubert: “There is no truth. There is only perception.”
‘Telling Stories’ 140 x 200cm, 2011
I enjoy describing the inside story of the development of a piece but I often reinterpret its intention differently with each retelling. Time offers its own perspective. I have had a recent conversation with a friend who was discussing one of her favourite songs and loving it despite having no idea what the songwriter meant with the obtuse lyrics.
Detail, ‘Telling Stories’ 140 x 200cm, 2011
I googled several articles where the performer had talked about it, with inherent contradictions as she reflected over a period of time. It is that ambiguity I aspire towards.
How did this piece come about?
‘Coat for Lethbridge Sisters’ 2015
“Coat for the Lethbridge Sisters”, is a piece of wearable art produced between July and October 2015. It represents 80 hours of hand and free machine embroidery over digital printing before being quilted to produce a one-off silk coat. We were approached by Dr. Lynne Hulse and Caroline McNamara regarding their research project and involving the students in a competition. This was all relating to Dr. Hulse research on the two sisters for her book. ‘Passion and Legacy: The legacy of the Irish Arts and Crafts Movement with particular reference to the work of the Lethbridge Sisters (Julia Baroness Carew (1863-1922) and Lady Jane Cory (1865-1947)): a source of inspiration for design in the 21st century. ’The lecture she gave at Girton College Cambridge, in the room full of Lady Julia’s embroideries on the lives of the two sisters was fascinating. It was the driving factor in making the coat. The imagery for the coat was taken from archive images of their work and portraits. These were combined with an original drawing of her King Charle’s Spaniel and manipulated in photoshop.
What is the percentage of hand stitching on the piece?
The only hand stitching is the portrait of the dog ‘Poppy’ on the centre back
Detail of Poppy the dog on the centre back of ‘Coat for Lethbridge Sisters’ 2015
and the French knots on the sheep.
Detail of French knot sheep, ‘Coat for Lethbridge Sisters’ 2015
The rest is machine quilting emphasising their embroidery. In percentage terms it probably covers about 10% of the cloth in total, took over 90% of the time.
I think I respond well to deadlines. (every student I have ever taught has written this and the eyes roll to the back of my head). Having taught both Design and Fine Art students I use the following analogy. Design students need training like sprinters. They like short term goals, lots of feedback monitoring their progress and a rhythm to the years calendar with seasons and deadlines. Fine Art students need training like endurance runners who are perpetually in training but balk at the idea of a finishing line. They are driven by their own improvement more than how well others perform. I suppose I am a mix of both.
‘Coat for the Lethbridge Sisters’, Detail, 2015
The ‘Coat for the Lethbridge Sisters is a case in point. The deadline was very tight and I had full time teaching simultaneously. I feel that I didn’t do this project ‘properly’. I just didn’t have time. Certainly not a methodology I would advocate to students. Particularly the garment development was more ‘make the cloth and work out how it turned into a thing later’. There was no toile with pinned on motifs, no careful scale tests of the design.
‘Coat for the Lethbridge Sisters’
These are things I would insist students did. I just had a sense that this was what I needed to do and after all it would be a bit of cloth and I could chop it up if worse came to worst. I found myself with a tape measure and my sister’s anorak estimating where the motifs would need to be placed on the final garment. Working on a small notebook computer I ‘photoshopped’ merrily away, with obscene confidence that it would all come out right. I created the large digital files. Anticipating that if the motifs were composed similarly to a medieval cope then they would just look right when worn. It was kind of a virtual ‘decoupage’ sticking images of stitched motifs from the Girton embroideries at different scales within the composition. The honeysuckle would go here and the leaf there. The sleeves had to be asymmetric and the front panels dominated by enormous portraits of the sisters. The dog sat firmly on their back, nestled under the miniature of Lady Jane. All on a screen 10 inches big….. A ridiculous way to work but all I had to hand at the time!
I worked with screen printing and oil based inks at school for A’ Level. I love the results but have allergies with the cleaning chemicals. One reason I loathe oil painting. In college I did screen printing on textiles. The chemistry of mixing dyes and the skill required to colour match successfully was beyond my limited patience. I respond to the immediacy of colour. The challenge of getting my drawing onto cloth without having to replicate every stitch (which would still be my preferred option) was driven by necessity of speed. I first used digital printing 20 years ago. To realise it I had to visit a mate in London who worked on photoshop for me and sent to a company there. The expense was astronomical, the quality was dreadful, but the potential was alluring. It is quite amazing how far the industry has come on now.
The Fall of St. Sebastian from the a ‘Appendices’ Exhibition, 2000
For many years I relied heavily on digital stitch as I was using my research time to explore what our college facilities could produce.
Detail, digital stitch fills
I remember the importance of their exhibitions from as long as I knew about textile art at school. It was one of those dreams to be a member that you have in the quiet of night and talk yourself out of in the daylight. I grew up watching Jan Beaney do machine embroidery on Pebble Mill at One on the TV! I applied not thinking I would make it past the first selection process.
‘Whortleberry I and II,from the 62 Group, ‘Construction’ Exhibition, Sunny Bank Mill, Leeds,
Very little, I suspect. I currently manage their social media accounts. So at the least I am useful. I do think I have a different emphasis than many of the members. That diversity is part of its attraction. The way things have worked so far I haven’t shown work that is more drawing based. It hasn’t suited the themes until the latest. The piece for the postponed ‘conversations’ exhibition is basically a drawing that is mirrored so that a moment from the past faces a reflection of that memory. ‘Both sides now’ is wrapped up ready to post. I’m not sure I will ever unwrap it.
Detail, ‘Both Sides Now’, Digital print over machine embroidered ground on vintage jacquard fabric, 30 x 120cm, 2020
I have been very fortunate to have been part of some interesting group shows that have led onto other solo shows. For me the Knitting and Stitching shows have been a great supportive platform.
Family Portrait, 200cm tall, from ‘Decorated’, NCCD, Sleaford, 2017
The two solo shows that have been most pivotal were ‘decorated’ in 2017 in NCCD Sleaford based on my response to WW1 Aspects of this went on to tour London, Dublin, Tipperary and Harrogate and Greenham Common. Their inclusion in Rijswijk Textile biennale last year was very poignant.
Work on display at the Rijswijk Textile Biennale
‘The Birth Certificate’, Differtential shrinkage panels, linen and wool with hand stitching 50 x 50cm, 2019, Island Arts Gallery Lisburn, exhibition, The Shepherds Daughter’.
‘The Shepherd’s Daughter’ 2019 Island Arts, Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
The Shepherds Daughter’.reflected on my mother’s life and the experience of a farm girl who went to work in the local Garment Industry in the 1950’s before becoming a stay at home mum.
‘His Two Loves’ Island Arts Gallery Lisburn, exhibition, The Shepherds Daughter’, Digital print on cotton twill, 140 x 200cm, 2019.
It used a lot of family photos and was a nice foil to the uniform based work I had been involved with for 5 years.
I consciously try and make smaller things. At the end of every exhibition my friends can’t contain their merriment as I vow to never work bigger than a postage stamp in the future. I used to able to paint miniatures with a 00000 paint brush.
‘Starling’ painted in gouache on paper 20 x 10cm. 1984
Now I struggle to draw smaller than A1.
A1, drawing “Naree the Chimpanzee – from Monkey World, Dorset, 2020
Iam limited by my ‘studio’. Unlike many of my peers I don’t have the beautiful purpose built, or adapted studio. I moved back home to England to be a carer for my family. The 4 of us reside in a small 3 bedroom bungalow in a small market town in the East Midlands. They are incredibly tolerant as I spread over every surface, however the deal is that it is always tidied away. Working in these short bursts where you can’t, just leave things pending, is a change from living alone in your own home. Practicalities such as that the sewing machine must be got out and put away each time, has really changed the way I work. I save up machine sewing till there are several things to do.
I’ve been working for months on a large scale quilt with a massive amount of hand stitch looking at a pair of Gibbons. It’s for a competition so I can’t share images of the whole thing yet but my mum thinks it is the best thing I’ve ever done! Who knows if anyone will ever actually see it in the thread?
Sneak peek of ‘Couple Goals’, in progress, hand stitch over digital print, 200 x 140cm, 2020
Big pieces can get scary and I find there are stages when I need to put them aside and work on a different series or finish a different project to distract myself. I have been piecing all the offcuts, I’ve saved and starting to work on throws, that allow me to play with colour through simple running stitch with a fake ‘kantha' approach.
The inspiration is the physicality of stitch and the need to be creative with the limited materials and threads I have in stock.
It has been an opportunity to finish several previously abandoned projects such as the ‘money for nothing’ suitcases that I started 3 years ago.
‘Money for Nothing Suitcase’, 75 x 40cm, 2020
‘Iris’, From Travelling Books, 40 x20 cm,2020
Fifteen of us decide on individual themes and each start a 20cm square notebook. Every month we make a piece based on this research and then swap books. So eventually we have all contributed to each theme. It offers a really, different challenge to what I would normally make.
‘Bauhous Pages’, From Travelling Books, 40 x 20 cm,2020
We have committed to carry on, sending images of what we make and with the anticipation that one day we will be able to share all our individual efforts in person. This is our 21st year anniversary as a guild and we are preparing for a group exhibition later in the year.
21st Anniversary Exhibition for ‘Aspects of Stitch’ 20 x 20 cm, 2020
Not as such. Colour is often thematic. For instance ‘Lazarus’ was about the English War of the Roses so a reduced palette of black alongside the red and white roses representing the Houses of Lancaster and York.
Detail,'Trinidad and Tobago', from Gone to the Dogs', 140 x 140cm, 2011
When I showed the collection I realised it had been heavily influenced by the death of David Bowie that occurred during its creation, hence the title and the last few outfits featured the blue birds of hope from that song.
Detail, ‘Cinquecento’ from ‘Gone to the Dogs’, 140 x 140 cm, 2011
The coat for the Lethbridge Sisters uses the colour palette from their Tree of life embroideries so would have a period quality.
The red and black approach to the war of the roses from ‘Adaptions’, 2016
I like the challenge of representing the forms of creatures and the textures of their fur or plumage but I don’t want to apply actual feathers. I did try some small samples with porcupine quills as they have such beautiful mottling but it was a dead end. In my more figurative work the creatures do become characters in the implied narratives.
‘Sorrow’ Starlings Detail, 50 x 150cm, hand stitched on wool, 2017
I know there are people who have particular aversions to specific things. Someone I know will not even look at work with images in birds in it, another is frightened of dogs. My interests vary from the deeply symbolic to the often intuitive or random. The oak leaves are a good example of something from nature that satisfies all these criteria.
“Oak Leaf’ drawing, Graphite on paper., 20 x 20cm
Not always, and sometimes the hare is definitely female.
‘Lady Hare’ Buttons on digital print, 20 x 30cm, 2020
I don’t identify with the hare as necessarily an avatar. It’s certainly not like Tilleke Schwarz and her carrot motif that features as a visual signature in every work.
Detail, ‘Numbers Hare’ laser cut mdf, trapped under polyester net and over digital print on cotton, 20 x 30cm, 2020
I remember being mesmerised by Kit Williams’ ‘Masquerade’ book from my childhood with his treasure hare hidden in every image. I remember we had pet rabbits that were my sisters and just seemed to be a lot of smell and trouble. Especially chasing to recapture when they escaped from their pen.
Detail, Hare’s Eye’ from Guardians 7’ Hand stitched over digital print, 50 x 150cm, 2018
I remember an illustrated ‘tortoise and the hare’ book and it was only until my 40’s I finally accepted that I am the Hare and not the Tortoise.
‘Hare and the Moon’ Hand stitch over digital print, 20 x 20cm, 2020
The visit to Mexico in 2004 exposed me to their creation myths and the stylised hares in the Anthropological museum really spoke to me.
‘Rabbit Moon Schiffli’ embroidered over digital print, 120 x 120cm, 2018
Recently I have expanded on the superb blue fairy wrens
Fairy Wren detail from ‘Delft Blue 8’ detail, Hand stitch, over digital print, 50 x 150cm, 2018
to look at more foxes:
A1 Fox drawing, Graphite on paper 2019
Pencil and Indian Ink, Sketch, Pencil, 2019
These are mostly still at the drawing stage but stitch will happen.
When I moved back to the UK in 2017. I made some mood boards of stuff that I had always liked and would always like. It was somewhere to start. I committed to the colour blue and images of the hare and the moon for a perpetual series that I could always add to.
I’m not sure of the original context of that quote but I suppose I mean two things. Textile people tend to be hoarders. The ceiling of our bungalow is sagging through the weight of my much, edited fabric stash in the loft. I have focused certain exhibitions to deliberately use the treasures from many years, but there is always more. There must be a reason to transform that piece of cloth into something else. It must have purpose. I hate waste. I am not a recycling warrior but have always repurposed and reinvented from both sentimental attachment and the haptic material memory that cloth has. I suppose more often from poverty and frugality. Recently we have been looking at old photos and I have a physical sensation to that representation of the materiality of things I was wearing; that wool jumper was itchy, those polyester shorts felt ‘slippy’. I appreciate the quality of certain luxury fibres but need to justify the additional expense when there are far cheaper alternatives, especially from craft suppliers. Its purpose is to be more than a fragment in a box that is unseen or unused.
Secondly, would be with regard to my teaching, specifically that has often been to students who are very focused on making their work wearable or with a specific function. When I have used existing clothing forms like the uniforms.
‘Decorated’ NCCD Sleaford, 2017
I was challenged by many to make them wearable but that when I experimented on things that could accommodate the human form rather than being wall based that I was actually making costume not fashion.
My immediate family are well. Knock on wood (picture me tapping my skull). At times the situation is abstract. We are blessed with good neighbours and family who do our shopping. Embroidery has prepared me for self-isolating. We have a lovely garden and I have those I love most here with me. Staying at home has been easy. It has terminated all my employment and income. Things I had been preparing for for months are gone or postponed to some indefinite point in a possible future. I am lucky compared to many who are self-employed. That is as nothing compared to the grief of so many. It has taken the last of one line of our family, two elderly ladies, who were both in previous good health despite their age. None of their children or grandchildren could see them in the last month of their lives. Their funerals had a limit of less than a handful of mourners. We sat by a computer watching via a link. Those experiences will never leave me.
In practical terms I am someone who has always loved deadlines. I need the reassurance of a plan and the knowledge I can refocus as circumstances change. I love a morning swim (obviously not allowed now as the Leisure Centre is closed) as I find my mind rehearses the day’s events and allows me to relax into the day with confidence. It controls my sometimes, overwhelming anxiety. Now I simply plan what I can do between the current meal and the next. It is not healthy. It is one of the things I am struggling with the most, at the moment. Often my diary is full 2 years in advance, and certainly when I was teaching full time I was always forward planning several semesters ahead. Now I have the vague possibility of Three postponed workshops and one booking for November 2021. It is terrifying. Luckily I don’t have to try and negotiate the minefield for this current crop of students and their rite of passage of a degree show. The coronial generation of those studying through this will face challenges we cannot dream of. Universities have moved seamlessly to expectations of a delivery and assessment of a virtual programme. I applaud the efforts of staff to make this happen. Textiles is not a virtual experience. The internet is a tool but not the answer.
Your work is often full of storytelling – comment.
How many techniques are used in ‘’ Coat for Lethbridge Sisters’?
How do you work to deadlines?
What changes do they bring?
Comment on how new techniques such as digital printing has changed your art practice.
‘Whortleberry I and II,from the 62 Group
‘Construction’ Exhibition, Sunny Bank Mill, Leeds,
What have you given them?
Comment on the importance of shows and exhibitions to your career?
Nigel Cheney with installation at Lisburn, The Shephard’s Daughter
Many of your works are large scale – discuss scale and textile design.
I consciously try and make smaller things. At the end of every exhibition my friends can’t contain their merriment as I vow to never work bigger than a postage stamp in the future. I used to able to paint miniatures with a 00000 paint brush. (
Now I struggle to draw smaller than A1.\
I am limited by my ‘studio’. Unlike many of my peers I don’t have the beautiful purpose built, or adapted studio. I moved back home to England to be a carer for my family. The 4 of us reside in a small 3 bedroom bungalow in a small market town in the East Midlands. They are incredibly tolerant as I spread over every surface, however the deal is that it is always tidied away. Working in these short bursts where you can’t, just leave things pending, is a change from living alone in your own home. Practicalities such as that the sewing machine must be got out and put away each time, has really changed the way I work. I save up machine sewing till there are several things to do.
What is your current inspiration and what are you working on while in isolation?
Sneak peek of ‘Couple Goals’, in progress, hand stitch over digital print,
200 x 140cm, 2020
I’m part of a local guild and we do ‘travelling books’.
Do historical periods immediately bring certain colours to you mind and why?
Detail, ‘Trinidad ad Tobago’ from ‘Gone to the Dogs’, 140 x 140 cm, 2011
You use the natural world in your work, how have you introduced this into your textiles?
The hare, discuss how he came into your work and is he always present in you work?
(NC-61) (NC-62) (NC-63) (NC-64) (NC-65)
The visit to Mexico in 2004 (NC-66) exposed me to their creation myths and the stylised hares in the Anthropological museum really spoke to me.
Fairy Wren de tail from ‘Delft Blue 8’ detail, Hand stitch, over digital print, 50 x 150cm, 2018
You comment “I love cloth to have a purpose.” Discuss.
How is Corona Virus effected your art and your academic practice?
My rubber industry project which has produced a book and prints for exhibitions started with 10 years of documentary photography beginning with my hiring in 1976 as an in house photographer at Firestone , then General Tire. I felt compelled to tell the story of collapse in the tire industry and started with life in the plants and the actual destruction of the plants.
Dozer, 1980 firestone copyrite Daniel Mainzer
My first show of this work was in 2008 in the Massillon Museum of Art, initially for 45 days, but the show was extended for 3 months due to rising attendance every day. I received a Knight Foundation Grant in 2017 to write and publish a book of my work along with a full set of prints for exhibition and another set for the Akron Art Museum.
copyrite Daniel Mainzer
Everything was finished January 2020. The book has 35 photos, 7 pages of text and is being sold in the Art Museum, a local bookstore and by me online. The first show at Muskingum University happened in September 2019 and a major show at the University of Akron this summer has been postponed.
I knew that telling the story had to be told with the portraits of the workers in the plants. This has always been my focus and strength as a photographer due to my repour with people. There is always a moment between the photographer and the subject of open welcoming communication. It is the moment to capture which makes a strong photo, much different from photographing work in production even though I always try to have someone in these photos for scale.
Firestone Pieta, copyrite Daniel Mainzer
Everyone relates to the human element in work and it best told in Black and White which requires the viewer to focus on the subject. It is more somber, more serious than color and has a classical beauty coming from the light itself as it falls on the subject. My subjects were very willing to be photographed and were highly amused that anyone would want to photograph them as they were in daily routines which were just what they had to do. Nothing much to them and as uninterested as could be. Not to me.
My boss in the photo studio had no objections to me going out to do this work as we were not that busy. Our work had declined to a fraction of what we did when I started in 1976. Then it was busy every minute and then some. By 1978, the decline had begun and was free to wander in the plants. I showed some of the early work to my boss and he could have cared less so I never bothered again. I was careful to use my own materials so I could maintain control of the work, especially after I was done working for the tire companies, an inevitable conclusion.
John Nevin, copyrite Daniel Mainzer
The work in the book ended in 1987, my last year as an in-house photographer at General Tire, but I never quit documenting the end of tire production in Akron as I have continued to work for the tire companies from my own studio since 1987. The last major photographic excursion was in 2016, a top to bottom documentation of Firestone’s empty plant 1, now owned by Bridgestone Tire. They do produce Indy car race tires there, but that is the only Bridgestone tire production in Akron. Goodyear also produces NASCAR race tires in Akron. There were many thousands of tire workers in Akron in the 70’s, but just several hundred now. I did photograph the empty Firestone Headquarters building in 2016, very eerie.
Plant 2 Firestone, looking east copyrite Daniel Mainzer
The book has 35 photos, 7 pages of text and is being sold in the Art Museum, a local bookstore and by me online. The first show at Muskingum University happened in September 2019 and a major show at the University of Akron this summer has been postponed due to Corona Virus.
I knew that telling the story had to be told with the portraits of the workers in the plants .This has always been my focus and strength as a photographer due to my repour with people. There is always a moment between the photographer and the subject of open welcoming communication. It is the moment to capture which makes a strong photo, much different from photographing work in production even though I always try to have someone in these photos for scale.
Everyone relates to the human element in work and it best told in Black and White which requires the viewer to focus on the subject. It is more somber, more serious than colour and has a classical beauty coming from the light itself as it falls on the subject.
My subjects were very willing to be photographed and were highly amused that anyone would want to photograph them as they were in daily routines which were just what they had to do. Nothing much to them and as uninterested as could be. Not to me.
I wound up shooting automobile racing, mostly for the tire companies, because of my in housework doing this. Like all photographic specialties, there is much to learn and master about shooting racing, plus specialized equipment to do the best job.
You need fast cameras, the best long lenses, technique and knowledge of race tracks and car characteristics. I still do a bit every year, even though I have mostly retired from shooting anything other than my own work.
There is always opportunity in every aspect of photography and while shooting racing, I saw that there were no aerials of the racetracks so I decided to shoot some.
Virginia 2004, Copperplate, 20 x 30, copyrite Daniel Mainzer
Having done aerials for various companies, it was just a matter of picking out the right day and time. Aerials, like any branch of photography, require specialized knowledge to do a good job, the right cameras, film, now digital, filters, plane vs helicopter, a sense of what is the best angle and as always in any photography, using the light to best advantage. Today I see a lot of drones used for aerials and they seem to do OK, but the cameras are small and if one needs large prints, you need better cameras. Also, drones are limited by law to lower altitudes and would not be good for large subjects like golf courses. There is no one solution, technique or camera of all jobs and there never will be.
Mid Ohio 09 20x30, copyrite Daniel Mainzer
I wound up shooting automobile racing, mostly for the tire companies, because of my in housework doing this. Like all photographic specialties, there is much to learn and master about shooting racing, plus specialized equipment to do the best job. You need fast cameras, the best long lenses, technique and knowledge of race tracks and car characteristics. I still do a bit every year, even though I have mostly retired from shooting anything other than my own work.
Parisian Young Man, copyrite Daniel Mainzer
I shot this photo in Paris and it shows a young man in training. We were just walking around the gardens outside the Louvre and this just happened. His mother yelled at him to come back, but he was possessed.
Neighbor’s House, 9 x 12 inches, Acrylic on Panel
About the inspiration.
Being immersed in my neighborhood has opened my eyes to surroundings I previously overlooked. Along with painting, I’ve been using photography as a creative outlet — capturing the warm glow of windows on my evening walks. I find myself exploring local streets like William Eggleston might — inspecting vignettes that I would have rushed past pre-COVID.
Why you need to paint during this time?
I always need to paint, so that hasn’t really changed for me.
How has the lockdown affected you personally and your art?
The lockdown has giving me more time spend with art, since my studio is at home. This aspect of lockdown has been wonderful, but I wish the global pandemic wasn’t the reason for it.
I like to leave room for the viewer to create their own story. There are numerous possible scenarios, and I like to give the viewer the opportunity to interpret what’s happening based on their own experiences. (Note: the composition is the center of the white background)
Road to Nowhere, 9.5" x 28" Acrylic and Oil on wood panel
Concrete Beach, 16” x 20” Oil on Canvas
I’ve always loved swimming and spending time near pools, I find it peaceful, and it’s often where I like to be on vacations.
Visiting from New York, 15” x 19” Print, Signed and numbered edition of 20
Caddy in Carport ,36" x 48" Oil on Canvas
Scenes with dramatic light/shadows are generally more interesting to me. They are much more dynamic than scenes without a strong light source.
JoAnne, 50" x 72" Oil on Canvas
I like to be accurate in general when it comes to painting, but it’s especially important when painting cars, because fans of the specific car in the painting will know if it’s inaccurate, and that can take away from their enjoyment of the piece.
Heading East, 24" x 30" Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
Usually I paint larger pieces on canvas and smaller ones on wood panel. Larger paintings on wood can get quite heavy.
Long Division, 16" x 16" Oil on Panel
I prefer the aesthetic of the past to current scenes. I don’t feel the need to paint current scenes, because I’m experiencing these times first hand. Scenes from the past feel a bit more mysterious, and dreamlike.
January 67, 24 x 24"" Oil on Canvas
I think so. The pool scenes definitely echo experiences from my childhood, and the suburban scenes are rooted in my upbringing on Long Island, NY. My father was in the car business, so cars were discussed a lot in our household.
Impala, 40" x 40" Oil on Canvas
The images that I draw inspiration from are common to many of us. In looking through thousands of slides and photos you see themes that are present in many American lives. From birthday parties to family vacations, many of us have these shared experiences, and strongly relate to imagery of these scenes.
Rose, 24" x 18", Oil on Wood Panel
Jessica Brilli <firstname.lastname@example.org
On the residency programme, there were international potters and ceramic artists of all ages and stages of their careers, so I was exposed to many different creative styles and influences. Amongst the participants were production potters (who were used to throwing 50 + pots a day), sculptors, conceptual artists, tutors and recent graduates. We were all shown traditional Japanese making techniques by renown Japanese potters and encouraged to use the local materials, which proved to be quite a challenge for us! Although we were all taken out of our comfort zone, we were also able to develop our own work, which I was keen to do. I was already making work with quite an oriental aesthetic, so I continued to draw on those sources of inspiration, which were now really close at hand.
Flow, Sea green, Photo, Stuart Conway
I think the most significant and long lasting influence that the residency had on me was being in the company of successful ceramic artists and hearing and seeing how they made their living. This opened my eyes to the real possibility of starting a business as a potter and gave me the confidence to follow my creative instincts.
Within 2 weeks of returning to the UK, I had a part time job with the Crafts Council and had taken up a studio space in a group studio complex called Cockpit Arts in London. I stayed there for nearly 10 years before leaving London for rural Kent.
Like any society or association, there are many benefits of being part of the CPA, namely the mutual support and being part of a selected network of makers. However, it is also the opportunity to show work in the London gallery and see the work of other favourite potters at their shows. The CPA organise Ceramic Art London in March and The Oxford Ceramic Fair in October, which are both really good selling exhibitions with programmes of talks and demonstrations.
The Flow jugs first came in to being as part of an installation piece called ‘Cluster’, 2008, which was a series of 21 jugs in graduating sizes and tones made in raku. Some of the pieces had areas of subtle gilding on them and they progressed from pale to dark hues. The open jug shapes were very abstract at this stage and more about how they worked as part of the collective piece. However, there was such a good response to the form of the handless ‘Flow’ jugs that I then went on to make and sell them in pairs and trios. I later experimented with making them in stoneware so that they were a more functional piece and realised that there was great scope for experimenting with different interior and exterior colour
There are a total of 10 sizes of Flow jugs from the tiniest at just 5.5 x 5.5cm to the largest at 19 x 22 cm. I make them in raku (crackle glazes with alternating smoky / glazed interiors and exteriors) and also as functional jugs in stoneware with a white exterior and coloured interiors. I have recently started making the jugs in stoneware coloured clays in subtle tones of blues, greens, greys, black and white, all with a contrasting dark lustre interior. These are my latest obsession, as I love playing with the colour combinations and different groupings. I also really like the dramatic effect that the interior lustre has on the pieces.
Originally, the pieces were more of a sculptural form, so they were not really designed with function in mind. When I went to glaze the pieces by pouring and dipping the glaze, I realised that the extended spout was excellent for pouring. This is not always easily achieved in ceramics, so I was delighted that they worked so well.
Flow, Lustre, Cornflower and white pair 2020, Photo, Justin Sutcliffe
I like the idea of making pieces that are all a little bit different, which is one of the reasons that I am so drawn to raku firing where there is endless variation in the finish.
Revelations boxed set of tapered vessels, Photo, Stuart Conway
When I make the pieces in stoneware, I layer the glazes when I dip them, which gives interesting effects. By changing the order of the glaze layering, the results can be quite subtle and the gradients of colour are really beautiful. This is a bit like the effects of a Sea Mist on the horizon (hence the names Sea Mist, Night Mist and Horizon for the range). This technique works especially well on the Tapered Vessel range and can create eye catching groupings.
I was fast approaching my twentieth year of working with clay, so I felt that I needed to document two decades of ceramics and explaining a bit about the influences behind my pieces. I often sell my ceramics in sets or collections and wanted to use the book as a way of showing clients and gallery owners the range of work, my techniques and sources of inspiration. I have recently finshed the 6th edition of the book, bringing it up to date for 2020.
Revelations In Clay Book Cover, Photo, Stuart Conway
Working with Sam on the book was a fantastic experience and helped me to develop a new perspective on my work. It’s common for creative people to get too close to their subject and, as visual people, many artists find it difficult to effectively articulate the ideas behind their creations. However, by explaining it to another artist (Sam herself is a Fine Art graduate), there is a good opportunity for discussion and so many ideas to explore. Sam’s writing style was very fitting for my book and we worked closely together on all the text. As someone who often works alone, I really enjoyed having someone to bounce ideas off and to see her editing skills in action. I think we both got a lot out of the process.
Unfortunately, the May exhibition at Padstow Gallery (where I was due to show my ceramics with painters Claire Henley and Imogen Bone) has been postponed until further notice. It is such a shame for all of us, especially as May seems to be my best month for sales at the gallery!
To start with, the whole concept of the pandemic was overwhelming and all-consuming and it took a while to steer ourselves through it as a family.
I think I have now settled in to a new sense of ‘normal’ and I am lucky enough to be able to continue to work from home. However, saying that, home is not the quiet refuge it used to be during the week, as three of us now work away on our various different tasks!
The financial implications of being a self employed artist with no gallery shows, retail exhibitions or master classes for the foreseeable future is quite a worry. I am fortunate to be able to continue to work from my home studio but with few retail opportunities, there is less call for making pieces. I suppose that there has never been a better time to get on top of paperwork and business planning as well as trying to find new ways to generate an income!
Terrain, Trio, Photo, Stuart Conway
I have seen so much productivity and creativity on social media and it is strange to not have been a part of that so far. I have been busy working on a 6 week project that will be finished next week, so it will be interesting to see how having the creative space and time to play affects my work.
The stillness of time at home now (with no school run, meetings, courses, shows) has been surprisingly welcome. It has taken this lockdown for me to realise how many balls I had been juggling and how short I had been on creative time in the studio. Not having looming deadlines has always been something I have yearned for, so it will be interesting to see what I do with my time.
Detail of Droplet Framed Wall Vase, Photo, Justin Sutcliffe
The wall vases were designed in response to my love of nature and the idea of bringing garden flowers into the home setting. By displaying flowers on the wall rather than on a surface, they can have a great impact and can be used to dramatically change the way a space looks. The vases can be set at different heights within the wooden frames giving a flexible display and people have been really taken by this idea. Offering a variety of types of wood and coloured vases allows customers to have a bespoke set for their home.
Sycamore, Wall Vase, Photo, Peter Greenhalf
Wall vases droplets
Droplet Wall Vases July 2013 (4), Photo, Stuart Conway
The Droplet wall vases came into being when I wanted to translate the idea of the ‘Flow’ jug into a vase for the wall. I liked the way the different sizes related to each other and wanted to create a variation in scale and position. To do this, I gave an option to have either left or right facing droplets. They have been really popular and customers have been very creative about where they place them, combining colours and sizes to great effect. I love to see ceramics on the wall and the choice to be able to put flowers in just adds to the statement. I would love to see a large wall display of Droplets in a hotel foyer or in an architect designed home.
My current range of work is a combination of my original Tapered Vessels and containers and my Flow jugs and Droplets. The pieces started out as simple cylindrical forms as the best way to show off the intricate crackles and crazing of the raku firing. As I grew more confident and experiemental, I started to design fuller forms like the Flow Jugs and Droplets and started making larger containers and more sculptural vessels. Around this time, I was expanding on my stoneware range and experimenting with interesting glaze finishes. My art has always been focused around the idea of collections, sets and groupings so this theme has always run through my work. I also like to combine ceramics with wood, as in the framed wall vases and the containers with wooden lids or bases.
Raku Wall Vase (Walnut) , Photo, Peter Greenhalf
Cluster I, 2008. Raku and gilding, Photo, Stuart Conway
In 2013, I was commissioned by the Director of the Ceramic Art Museum, Ibaraki, Japan to make over 100 pieces as installations for the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea. It was the biggest project of this type that I had taken on and it was a fantastic opportunity to work on installations of this scale.
Cluster II, detail 2013,Photo, Stuart Conway
I had always wanted to develop my work in this way but needed the right space and context within which to show them. I spent many months on the pieces and the brief was flexible enough for me to experience plenty of creative freedom and a great sense of achievement. Cluster, II came about, as well as Lunar,
Lunar, Clear, Photo, Stuart Conway
and Ellipse installations and the work was really well received.
Ellipse, detail, Photo, Stuart Conway
I studied wood and ceramics at University so working with wood has always been in my creative sphere. After leaving University, the opportunity to work with wood was non-existent so I have always commissioned other wood turners and furniture makers to make my designs. It’s a really interesting professional relationship to build, as there is so much that we can learn from each other and the various making processes can offer inspiration for future designs.
The woodturning for my pieces is done by Tom Pockley who is also a member of the Sussex Guild. We have often talked about ideas whilst attending Sussex Guild shows and it is always really nice to work with another local craft person. He currently makes lids for my pots (and conversely, pots for my lids) in a range of walnut and ebonised oak.
Ebonised oak and raku pots, Photo, Stuart Conway
Having work on public show is good for getting feedback from the public and gallery owners and one of the best ways to showcase new work. Seeing the work in considered groupings within a neutral gallery space allows the artist to have a different perspective. Often work is made and then stored away without much time for reflection, so the opportunity to see pieces in a new light is great for the continued development of the work.
Where Land Meets Sea II, Photo, Stuart Conway
My studio is in my garden in Kent. It could do with being quite a bit bigger these days, as storage is an ongoing issue for me, but it is great to not have to worry about paying high rents any more!
Are there several aspects of your studio life that continue to give you overwhelming joy?
I simply enjoy making things with my hands and the touch of clay at it’s various stages from wet through to leather hard, dry and fired. I just get so much pleasure from it and it can almost send me into a meditative state as I work. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I am finishing pieces, glazing or polishing work, I enjoy it all. There is such satisfaction from making something from seemingly nothing, just a bit of mud and minerals!
North Downs, Detail, Photo, Stuart Conway
You use several methods of clay firing, discuss the different techniques and why you use these differing techniques (with images)
I am probably best known for my raku ware. Raku is a low temperature smoke firing technique. Glazed pieces are fired outdoors in a gas fired kiln and taken rapidly up to 1000 degrees Celsius. At this point, the kiln is opened and the pieces are removed using tongs and heatproof gloves and quickly plunged into metal containers filled with sawdust. The sawdust burns the unglazed areas black with smoke and delineates the crackles in the glaze with intricate and random smoky lines. It is a really distinctive effect and no two pieces are exactly the same.
Stoneware firing is, by contrast, a very high firing technique. I use an electric kiln to fire pieces to 1260 degrees Celsius and there can be some lovely glaze effects at this temperature. Stoneware pieces are watertight and functional whereas raku pieces are purely decorative due to the crackle glazes not being watertight.
Ever since early childhood I have had a fascination with boxes and containers. My grandparents had a set of Russian dolls that I was allowed to carefully play with, as well a Japanese tea caddy and a pair of turned ebony and ivory boxes, all of which I now own. My love of containers most certainly came from those formative years. When I first visited Japan as a student in 1994, I was inspired by the wide range of traditional Japanese boxes and all the different functions they fulfill. I love the ritual of storing, collecting and organising things and this can be clearly seen in my work.
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The basket usually tells you what handle it needs by its intended fuction. Shopping baskets will usually have a handle which stretches from one side of the basket to the other. A thick willow rod is added as a handle bow. The willow is inserted into the basket alongside the handle bow, usually 5 rods on either side. The willow rods on one side are twisted around the handle bow to the other side. And then the willow rods from the opposite side are twisted, filling in the gaps that have been created.
The tips of the willow rods are then used to wrap the handle to the basket using a decorative finish.
Log baskets usually have two twisted handles on either side of the basket for strength. You can also create finger holes as an alternative but I don’t believe these are as strong as twisted handles.
Contemporary baskets usually have twisted handles using contorted willow or hazel. It’s also very interesting to use a piece of wood that has had a vine growing around it.
By weaving patterns.
There are very many different weaves that can be used on basketry and it’s good to practice those basic weaves to understand how they could be changed to have a fuller effect. For example a single French Rand using 24 weavers can be changed to a double French Rand using 48 rods at a time. This gives you a more striking pattern and also fills up the basket quicker. It is also more difficult so practice, practice, practice. There’s also a different way to use a French Rand that looks like a zig zag pattern. You switch between weaving to the right with all the rods and then to the left with all the rods and then to the right etc.
Double French Rand basket
Colour can also be used to enhance a pattern. So on a double French Rand you could have two different colours. With your two willow rods you have one that’s a stronger colour than the other and then repeat this with all 48 rods. The effect is really beautiful. I now grow 26 varieties of willow to get some fantastic colours.
I have recently completed a commission with my willow weaving friend Melanie Bastier who is a renowed willow sculptor. We created an 8 foot high willow brinker which is someone who would scythe the ditches and reens on the Gwent Levels. It will be situated at the Magor Marsh Nature Reserve on the Wales side of the Severn bridge. We were also featured on the BBC programme Countryfile which focused on the Gwent Levels.
The Cyntell is a traditional Welsh agricultural basket, which was used for a variety of purposes.
They were usually made by the farmers in winter, used throughout the year and replaced. In the 1980’s there was one person called D J Davies making the Cyntell. He taught a small number of people how to make the basket, one in particular, called Les Llewellyn has taught most of the members of the Welsh basketmakers South Wales group. It is a difficult basket to make as the frames are dried on a forma for up to a year. The ribs are created by splitting an inch thick willow rod into two, shaving it down and also dried on a forma
The double L in the word cyntell is prounounced by putting the tip of your tongue towards the front of the roof of your mouth and then blowing air out of the sides.
I developed my willow play den after a customer asked me to make one, which could be packed away. I used to have a Wendy house when I was a child and always loved playing in it. I wanted to create a play den using panels of willow that could be tied together, then in winter taken apart and packed away in a garage or shed so that it would be protected from the worst of the winter weather. This means that the life expectancy would increase from around 3-5 years to 8-10 years. The willow den can also be painted once or twice a year with boiled linseed oil mixed 50-50 with turps to increase the life.
Willow play den
The bark stars are naturally scented which unfortunately I don’t smell anymore as I’ve been working with willow for such a long time. I started making the willow bark stars last year for the first time and have only attempted two sizes of 7cm across and 10cm. The bark I have used is willow bark and is harvested from the willow in the middle of the year, in the UK, May or June, when the willow is in leaf. This means the bark is loose and can be easily peeled once a knife is run along the length of the willow rod. The pattern of the stars is traditional Scandinavian.
My classes cater for a wide range of people, those that are interested in basketry, that would like to have a go and those that want to make something for a specific purpose. I encourage beginners to try the round basket or a garden trug first. These are nice, straight forward baskets and you can go home with a finished basket and some knowledge. The most difficult baskets are square or rectangular basket and also the Cyntell. With every basket you learn new techniques and also ways to use the tools and formas to help you to produce the basket you want.
I attended the Royal Horticultural Society, RHS, Show in Cardiff to see the flowers and happened upon a willow flower weaving workshop. I was fascinated that you could take a bundle of willow rods and you could interweave the rods to make a flower to put into your garden. I attended course after course and became hooked. Within 6 months of attending the courses I planted around 2000 willow cuttings to get my own supply and choice of variety.
Willow is planted as a 30cm long bare root cutting during winter while the plant is dormant. It is then coppiced after one year’s growth once the leaves have dropped and the plant is dormant again.
There are different types of willow. Brown willow is any willow that has its bark left on. Buff willow has been boiled for 10 hours and then had its bark stripped. It turns a pinkish colour during the boiling process as the tannins stain the willow. White willow is produced by standing the freshly cut willow in a small amount of water until the rod starts to produce buds. The bark is then loose and is easily stripped away revealing the pure white colour of the rod beneath.
There are 300-400 varieties of willow though not all are suitable for basketry. Willow comes in a variety of colour and I am constantly finding different varieties to plant. I have brown, green, purple, black, cream, orange, yellow to name a few. The colour of the willow often changes as the willow dries and sometimes the dried colour can be completely different from the fresh colour. With some willows the colours changes if you dry the willow in the dark or in the light, this only happens with certain varieties though and something you learn as you go along.
I sell willow during the winter months so that the willow cuttings are dormant and ready to be planted. I sell them in packs of 10 willow cuttings as each plant will give you between 30-50 rods so you will get a small bundle of willow rods from 10 cuttings. Currently I only sell my willow cuttings in the UK as there are lots of rules and regulations around exporting live plants.
When we were designing our willow coffins we wanted them to be used for burial, cremation and also natural burial. For cremations we had to use a solid base as they will not accept woven bases. We make sure that we buy our plywood for the base from FSC certified sources. All the willow we use either comes from our own grown or willow growers in Somerset. This makes our willow coffins sustainable and friendly to the environment. We are passionate about creating high quality willow coffins using our experience of over 25 years of willow weaving. For the willow coffins I have a separate business called Lily Willow Coffins with my business partner, Melanie Bastier.
Ramblers Garden 2, Detail
I love starting each day with the sense of anticipation of where my creativity will lead me today, what adventures lay ahead. My textile art is about colour and movement, it is about the “good stuff in life”. Every layer and every stitch tell the story of joy and the magic that can be found in the everyday if we open our minds to the possibility.
Joy is a spontaneous emotion which is given, taken and shared. It brings great pleasure to our lives, it makes us smile.
Gum Blossoms, 40 cm x 55 cm, fabric and fibre
All, of the art that I create comes from the heart. It is organic and unstructured; it is moments captured in layers of fabric and fibre; it is my conversation with the viewer, I am sharing my joy and my passion for all that I make.
To breathe life into an art work with colour, movement texture and stitch is uplifting for me as an artist. I am not depicting reality, but I am sharing with you my song whose lyrics are the stitches which depict my memories of landscapes, music, food, dance, sunsets, gardens, cold droplets of water, salty skin and white cockatoos on the horizon. Each art work I create resonates my joy in leading a privileged life of being a maker.
This textile art work was created after a holiday with my 18-month-old granddaughter at the beach. In her language the beach became known as “bubbles” and the birds “toit toits”, the simplicity of these names and the joy of each spoken word was my inspiration.
Bubbles and Toit Toits, fabric and fibre
In this textile art work there are many layers of hand dyed silk fabric which has an amazing drape and lustre, these layers have been covered over with single piece of hand dyed silk organza. I have free motion stitched all these layers in bubble shapes and then cut back through the layers to reveal the texture and colours underneath giving the art work movement and depth. To stitch the random bubble shapes, I have used different coloured embroidery and metallic threads.
The amount of stitching around the outside of the bubble shape flattens this space and in doing so elevates the bubble shape. Some of the bubbles are cut out through all the layers creating a negative space which is then backed with a sheer organza, some bubbles are 3D shapes and are attached to the surface.
Bubbles and Toit Toits, fabric and fibre, detail
The tree trunk is raised higher than the background by using a thick polyester wadding. The trunk is made separately from the body of the art work. I have used a fabric that behaves like paper which has been embellished with many interesting textures and elements, then the background of the tree trunk without any embellishing was painted with fabric markers. The trunk was then attached to the body of the art work with many stitches and three-dimensional flower shapes stitched the branches.
The flowers are made, out of a variety of materials such as silk organza and silk velvet, they were stitched individually before attaching them to the branches.
The sky is one layer of silk fabric which has been stitched and cut back, some of the cut areas are left open and some have a backing behind them. I have also used small amounts of gold foil and gold paint in the sky.
The bottom of the picture is based around the earth and trees which are free motion embroidered, I have also has cut the tree foliage out and backed with a sheer silk organza.
Each “toit toit” was independently free motion stitched in lovely colours and then cut out and stitched to the background.
It is a completely organic art work with beautiful tattered soft edges which doesn’t give you an end or a beginning.
Wow! this question makes me think—do I control it? I absolutely love accidental effects, I do not consciously consider controlling my colour. Colour is intuitive for me. You just dive into it, love it, don’t fear it, don’t, procrastinate over it. Just get caught up in the wild splashes and exuberance of when colours flow together. I am self-taught and I have not attended any workshops in colour, but my tertiary education was in textile design where we did work with colourways, much to my frustration.
Poppies, 40cm x 55cm, fabric and fibre
I do not use a discipline or rule to control how I use colour. It’s just a sense of balance when I look at the art work. I am not afraid to experiment with colour, if it is iniquitous, I just add some new layers of fabric to cover it, cut it out or stitch over the top. When I teach, I ask the students not to procrastinate over colours just go with your gut feeling, don’t fall prisoner to colour rules. I do not intentionally control my colour, I am not aware of any actions that I take deliberately, but deeply ingrained there must be something subconsciously influencing how I use it.
How the piece stated?
The brief for this art work was a framed wall piece of 60 cm x 70 cm the subject is a garden. An art work that I hoped would speak to women in a breast cancer waiting room, one which will bring them calm, which will make them smile and which they can look at for long time spans and discover different features.
The ramblers garden 60 cm x 70 cm, fabric and fibre
The importance of this acquisition for a career.
The importance to my career was minimal, the importance to me as an artist and person is ongoing. I have had contact with women who have spent many hours in that waiting room finding calm and comfort in my art work and as an artist what more could you want.
I have owned a Bernina sewing machine since I was 21 years old and that is a long time now. I still own that, particular machine and she is beautiful, my grandmother who was a dress maker also owned a Bernina sewing machine.
They are fantastic machines, real workhorses; my sewing machines can run for 6 -8 hours a day though all thicknesses and terrains. I had used my three Berninas—all around 35 years—old through my career. About four years ago I linked up with Bernina and upgraded to a modern machine.
I tend fly under the radar of most corporate and textile entities. I do not enter quilt shows or belong to quilting groups, so Bernina had not heard of me and seemed really delighted when they did and saw my art works.
Beginnings, 45 cm x 70 cm, fabric and fibre
They are very much a family organisation and took me into their fold. I started writing blogs for their international webpage. In these blogs I shared with the reader how I use the machine and what possibilities there are. I did this through completing various projects. Although I enjoyed the experience of writing the blog it took many hours of my time which was increasingly becoming scarce. After around 12 months it was time to give it away.
In 2018 Bernina asked me to be their Guru. This was an amazing experience, travelling to shows in Brisbane and Sydney and my own home town Melbourne. What I gained from this involvement was meeting so many creative and interesting people. I talked and talked and demonstrated free motion embroidery on large art works, people were fascinated. In talking to people, I learnt that many, many people say they do not feel they are creative. I would disagree with them as I believe everybody is creative. it has endless forms. My relationship continues with Bernina and my art life revolves around my trusty machine.
As you can tell from the above answer a good sewing machine is essential, but it doesn’t need to be big and fancy. It needs purr through a big workload, it needs to put up with endless textures and expectations, it needs to go fast and smooth when my foot is down. I only know two speeds on my sewing machine which are flat out and stop.
Ability to free motion stitch—because that is what I do all day in my work room. Without that it would not be me.
Straight stitch—it is my most used stitch and without it I couldn’t draw with the needle.
Have a thread cutter—because I am very lazy with cutting of loose ends, this is a most spectacular function.
Making leaves, fabric and fibre
Here I won’t discuss the importance but I will share with you some words about the garden that I use in my book, this will help you understand their meaning to me.
Luscious clusters of colours, gentle poetic movement of painted wings, wings that sweep and dart, bodies that sparkle.
The Gardeners Place, 69 x79 cm, fabric and fibre
A music so perfect, so clear only you can hear it. The melody lingers long into the twilight hours. The garden is a place that always acknowledges a burst of vibrancy, which in turn ignites all the senses and brings new beginnings. Endearing and uplifting fragrances capture memories and weave through our soul, the scents that dance long into the evening air.
Uncontrolled reaching, fresh green buds, so fragile, so strong, tickling your arms with gentle tendrils. Wildly growing without caution or fear through cracks and dry rocks, river pebbles, relentless in their task to replenish. Tiny crystal dew drops holding the whole world in their globe, so unobtrusive, so gentle, the garden that is food and medicine for the soul.
I love the smiling daisies nodding in the noonday sun, finding solace in a place so pure and sweet. Humbled by nature which explodes with energy. Poppies open their petals and shower the world with their happy colour; blossoms shyly opening and trumpeting a new season. The joy of solace in our gardens at dawn or dusk, as watching the colours change, we witness its gentle presence, holding these moments in our thoughts.
The Garden Party, fabric and fibre, detail
Our souls are hungry for the beauty of the garden, and we plant our seeds with expectation and joy, waiting patiently for them to come to life and splash their colour throughout our day. Each plant in our garden is placed with love and surprises us with its journey. Romantic flowers growing, closely touching in the breeze, with large petals unfolding in sheer layers.
I love the dance of the garden when all the colours and textures come together, the wings of insects hum distinctly and sweetly, the sound of the birds, warbling and chattering dashes of colour. The garden is a continual evolution of blush and texture where daring flowers bloom and shy ones gingerly lift their heads to the sun. Where leaves unfold into interesting shapes and fall to create abstract designs along the path. The garden is fresh new life, regeneration and replenishing decay, a place of creativity and wonder.
Oh! I do love Old Cities. This passion came from visiting Spain, Switzerland and Austria but predominantly Spain. I am completely drawn to cobblestone alleyways. Old Doors which hold secrets, steps worn down by pilgrims’ feet, keys and padlocks, sounds of hoofs.
Alhambra 1, 30 cm x 40 cm, fabric and fibre
In this art work I have tried to capture in a collage technique a feeling of Old Cities. The doors, the keys, tapestries, weathered walls, stories that they hold and the beauty of Old Cities.
Old city doors 50cm x 30cm, fabric and fibre
Thinking of the colours and forms, it is not a depiction of any city in particular just snapshots captured in my mind.
Old city memories 35cm x 45cm, fabric and fibre
Leaves change their colour and shape depending on the light, shade, the angle and distance you are appraising them from, their movement. They change colour and shape when you pluck them from their stems, when you bruise them, when you feel their texture. I adore leaves and stitching them in many different ways and materials to add to my textile art works.
Twilring Leaves 80 cm x 40 cm, fabric and fibre
I often fashion the leaves with layers of fabric or fibre or both, producing these leaves to be a 3D element of the finished piece. Colour is in the eye of the beholder, yes leaves are mainly green but think of all those colours captured in Autumn leaves or leaves that fall to the ground in the hot sun. Think of the colours as they sparkle in the sunlight or the marks left by a caterpillar munching on them. The colours I use in my leaves vary depending on the body of the art work and my love of colour.
Just two things thats hard. They have taught me more life’s lessons than textile lessons.
That you never know the stories that people carry, both sad and happy they are willing to share. I love to listen.
That a group of creatives in a room for a number of days are supportive, compassionate, humorous and great fun.
Creative stitch is enormously important to me during the coronavirus. It is my normality, my routine, it keeps me present in the moment, it stills my mind.
I have many followers on FaceBook who look forward to my posts, they say that they bring them joy, a little bit of magic, which is so important right now.
Spring, 35cm x 50cm, fabric and fibre
I have set up a FaceBook group for people who create and feel isolated and it is so wonderful to see these people from all around the world enjoying each other’s company and supporting each other through stitch and conversation.
I still look forward every day to filling the day with making and will continue to do this. It may be at a slower pace than what it has been in the past. The galleries I supply are no longer open and the exhibitions I have prepared for in various places around the world and Australia are now cancelled, so are most of my teaching engagements for the year. I have to believe we will come out of this and the world will need more than before beautiful things to make people smile and feel happy.
It was during the early years of when Monterey Bay Aquarium was first opened, and I saw Pacific Sea Nettle Jellyfish floating in front of a brilliant blue background. I instantly thought about how translucent jellyfish are, the same as glass. The idea continued to grow from there. I experimented from 1989 till about 1994, constantly playing with it, then putting it aside for a bit, but always being drawn back. With the final motivation of the Monterey Bay Aquarium contacting me to create a jellyfish art glass piece to coincide with the opening of their new exhibit called, “Jellies Living Art” I was finally happy with and created what would be my first full production jellyfish piece, Moon Jellyfish.
Moon Jellyfish Seascape
We make our jellyfish in numerous different shapes and styles. First we make the standard upright shape in which they range from 4 ½” tall and 2 ½” wide to 15” tall and 7” wide. Then we also make the jellyfish in a double form which have two jellyfish intertwined over a sea bottom base that are usually 10” tall to 5“ wide. Lastly, we make the side swimmer jellyfish that depicts a single jellyfish swimming over a reef of urchins and sea anemones. in a round shape that we do in both a standard size of 4 ½” and a larger size of 6”. All of the above are encased in clear but we also make all the same pieces mentioned above in our seascape series, in which a background of mottled blues and greens are incorporated into the design. This gives people two different display options in each jellyfish style.
The jellyfish were never meant to be authentic replica of a jellyfish. I took the various qualities of the jellyfish that liked, looked at various kinds that exist in the world, but put my own artistic vision on them.
Kokopelli is known as a fertility deity, an extremely popular cultural icon by many Native American tribes in the Southwestern United States.
We portray him in both his more widely known typical humpbacked flute player form and but also in one that we call backpack Kokopelli that has a more spiralled “back”.
Petroglyph Paperweight – Kokopelli
Initially I started with more traditional European drawings, then eventually I moved towards doing more American based images. My focus shifted from astrological depictions of Native American lore and graduated to more popular images of their culture. During the 1970’s and 80’s I was producing a lot of these images for The Nature Company, a chain that would eventually changeover to be the Discovery Stores in the early 2000’s, so the more easily recognizable images of the Native American society did well in those stores. This made it so I produced more of those images over time.
That design, plus all our other petroglyph designs, are done on a brown toned background, mostly to give the impression of the image being truly carved in rock. That being said I have done them in red, in more multicolored pieces, as well as, in grey tones to give the impression of stone. I have been doing this series since the late 1970’s, in various forms, and have tried a wide variety of different colors and textures.
In the Hohokam, Yuman and Ancestral Puebloans (those around the four corners area) peoples.
All, of our work goes out with a registration card, that gives a brief description of us and has a place for registration number and title of the piece. We also include a biography that give a general history and description of most of the work we create.
Though I do use some modern equipment, mostly the century old traditions of glassblowing are still used. For the most part similar tools, styling techniques and methods are still part of how I produce my work. My designs have always tended to feel more, free formed, which works well for all my style, especially in certain vase creations, like my floral designs as an example. Floral forms in real life are already unique and fluid, so the fact that I don't use molds and that what you see in my work is just constant manual manipulation of the glass, in its molten, pliable state while it is being blown out, really suits that design. Basically, since each piece is hand formed, no piece is ever exactly the same, just like flowers in the world.
Wild Iris Flask
Physically, opaque colors are more unruly. Combination of different consistency of expansion and contraction of the colors makes it more malleable to use. That is the challenge to find colors that are workable together, this is part of the design process.
Satava Studio, front entrance
I have a crew of glassblowers that work with me in the hot shop, helping me to create my art glass, a cold work manager that grinds, polishes and finishes the pieces and a office/gallery staff that helps to sell and distribute my pieces all over the world.
We display much of our work both on and off light bases. The art glass that works best with them are our standard jellyfish shape, as well as, our petroglyph rocks and paperweights. They all are incredibly suited for being displayed with light coming from underneath.
Bamboo Lid #361
I am always interested in incorporating bamboo into my glass (my studio is surrounded with it and I have always been fascinated by it), as well as, Asian forms. This design was a perfect combination of both of those. Even though I did this series for a short time, it does show how certain aspects of my designs are taken and then morphed into other designs.
Red Nautilus Lidded Basket
Whereas the nautilus shell had been used in stand alone vases before this design, then I added the feature of the bamboo lid, then after this design I took the bamboo lid part and incorporated it into a different design that flowed with the lid that was more indicative to the bamboo itself with a base that had bamboo leaves imprint on it with a fumed color. This is just a nice example how design elements from different pieces end up in other designs and are then interpreted a different way.
The Challenge. I like the challenge of figuring out a new series or design. Experimenting. It is a slow process, you have to wait to see the results for a day or two, and then make the next change, then continuing through this cycle ever watching the piece evolve. In the early years I had Friday as an experiment day to play with new ideas. With this freedom I could see what new and interesting concept would come up.
The Success. Obviously seeing the end piece, the final reward of the process above. Also success in that I have been able to do a career I love and live the life I have, I count myself in that way, as being very successful.
Talisman has all three of these ingredients within the piece. The idea of telling stories is very important to me, taking everyday objects and creating tales. Within art, anything is possible: scale, materiality and time don’t matter.
The diversity of materials and application of different mediums within my work gives me the opportunity and freedom to choose an application which best suits the story.
Although the outcomes are often diverse, they all have common human connections, resulting in artworks that are in fact close to us in our everyday lives.
Within my work animals and humans coexist on the same level, they come with their own stories and inspire new ones, highlighting the connection and tenderness we have with nature.
The garments are often unwearable, by reinventing, combining, observing and retelling their tales gives them a new sense of life, place, preservation and resilience. Whilst a lot of my garments are made from scratch, the piece Ward originally was a child’s vintage nightgown, and so it came with its own history and absorbed stories.
Within this piece I wanted to explore old wife’s tales, stories and sayings that are passed down through generations. By stitching these into the lining of the garment somehow imbues the wearer with inherent safety.
In contrast Telling Tales which consists of approximately 13,000 nails individually placed and rusted, again echoing nature as it resembles fur. This piece is about materiality transformation and alchemy of materials. The process of making is also fundamental; the time it takes to make transcends the piece and encourages the viewer to also take time to observe and make connections with the work, holding the viewer’s gaze, involving and including them in the dialogue, questioning the maker’s intention, interpretation of the wearer and how one would feel owning or wearing this garment. This aims to encourage storytelling and engagement with the piece.
Dance, particularly ballet, has always been something that has been important to me probably, more subliminally than literally — the silent storytelling and the use of costume to tell a story. The clothes and the shoes worn, particularly to practice in, are often fragile and worn, representing the dances that have gone before.
Often the pieces lead themselves. A piece which is intrinsically about the making process and its place living beside us in the world often becomes more object based and three dimensional. Whereas the more two-dimensional image-based work is out of time, and an observation and recollection of something that has happened.
For me detail in the work allows the slowing down of time, opening, up a quiet, calmed dialogue through discovery and placement, and locating evidence of human intervention within the work for the viewer. For me as an artist, the handmade quality of my practice means I too spend time with the process; this is very important to me, and things happen on this journey that feed into the work, or into other pieces.
I tend to use the colours the objects own, and if I do intervene, it tends to be natural colours, or dyes. By the nature in which I make work the pieces often have their own marks which occur during the making process, and the older garments that I have reused have come with their own stains, scars, marks and patches. Adding too much colour seems to distract from what is already there and takes away from the integrity of the piece.
Shoes as a garment seem to hold and condense a person’s identity, like a genie in a bottle. The space inside the shoe is as important as the outside; a place which holds the person and often takes on their form. They evidence a person’s experience journeys, walks and dances. Interventions and recreations allow for interpretation and the re-telling of these stories.
The materials I tend to use are every day accessible objects. I predominantly work with natural materials, for example the garments I make tend to be cottons, linens, etc, and where possible second hand. These objects are often found or sourced naturally. Mainly they are kept in my studio, but also on shelves, windowsills, boxes, cupboards and wherever there’s a space!
Find It, Bind It
There is no real cataloging I tend to know that somewhere is the item I need, even if it may take time to find it, but inevitably I will unearth something good along the way.
The work tends to be displayed in glass wall-mounted deep box frames, as the artworks are often delicate, and fragile; it also allows for control of the space that they inhabit. This form of presentation also nods towards museum cases, artefacts and collections, placing the piece out of time, again slowing down the observation and discovery of the work.
Fundamentally, I must be moved by something or someone, and want to translate that into a piece of work, hopefully with integrity. The medium and way of expressing these ideas allows for interpretation and translation.
The beauty of art is that anything is possible. A place for objects to coexist in a world in which they wouldn’t normally meet. It allows for a range of possibilities and stories; using the ordinary and creating tales to make it magical — a space where anything where anything can happen.
Although I had good results with the figurative, I was not fully satisfied. I distinguished myself for quality and execution, but it seemed to me that I was proceeding in a field that had already been followed and used by most. After attending a Master Class with Linda Colsh, I had the lighting to find my way. Abstract and minimalism gave me the possibility of creative freedom not tied to any form of expression or messages. My passion for colour, the search for balance between shapes, space and chromaticity, led me to the results of a chromatic dynamism with a strong visual impact. I managed to find my style.
I had a six-year seamstress school education. In which I learned and practised all the techniques of tailoring. I combined these techniques with Patchwork. Knowing the textures of the fabrics, I can model and combine my shapes with a piecing cured to the minimum terms. It's a personal challenge, and I don't accept flaws. Rather I do the work again. Deepening my knowledge of the weft and the warp of the fabric allows me to dare more and more complicated shapes. But this involves hours and hours of study and practice.
The florist was a child's wish. I was born with a needle in my hand. Thanks to the family, I lived among the fabrics, and I immediately learned to sew and embroider. When I had to choose my profession, the love of sewing prevailed and I started training as a seamstress. I was fortunate to have a beautiful garden full of flowers. I learned to know them and appreciate all their species.
Their colours and elegant shapes fascinated me. I collected them and created harmonious compositions that decorated our home. Maybe that's why my ease of colour matching comes out and allows me to find the right shades when I dye my fabrics.
I did some works working in series with the theory of colours, for example, warm, cold, primary, secondary etc. I matched them quickly without using the colour wheel. It is probably a gift received from my flowers.
In 2017 I had my first personal exhibition in the Luberon. I had a huge room available, so I presented my evolution from figurative to abstract works. In Luberon, the shows are in various villages, and it is difficult for artists to visit the other one.
We organize ourselves with the visits before the opening and one morning among the various artists I met and showed my work to Chantal Guillermet. Back home, I receive an email from her asking me if I was interested in being part of the international group of fifteen by fifteen. We met then in Birmingham at F.O.Q., where I also met other group members, and then my collaboration began with them.
The challenges we discuss and choose, sometimes become very demanding: you find yourself faced with white canvas syndrome, without ideas. But then you realize that even if you don't like the theme, your artistic disposition wakes up and leads you to create unpredictable subjects. It's nice to discover with the revelations how the others interpreted the same topic. I like working in series, developing the same theme in various aspects and techniques. Freedom of choice allowed me to use processes that I would never have dared, and in some cases, I am surprised at myself.
My turn towards the abstract and minimalism lead me both with the time of study and realization to no more prolonged use other techniques, materials and subjects. I miss this a little, and I found my relief valve with the work with Fifteen by Fifteen group. Here I can use and deepen the techniques learned in the various courses I followed with international artists. There is always something to learn.
Being part of an international group is essential for personal development both from the human and artistic side. You have other visions and opinions that can help you evolve and maybe find solutions. Besides, group work teaches discipline, respect for time and deliveries. The distance keeps you in touch with the media, but it's nice to meet at the festivals and get to know each other in person. All fifteen will be difficult, but who knows one day it could happen maybe with a big exhibition. Time will tell.
When there is an opportunity, we exhibit our works together. But we can't all be there. One or two take care of organizing the exhibition in their country. We make shipments and then the organizer takes care of installation and presentation. We have exhibited in Mexico City, Suzdal in Russia and the next one in the Netherlands.
I am preparing an important personal exhibition of ten large format pieces. The theme always concerns the study of bark but under a particular aspect. Unfortunately, we are currently subjected to the Covid-19 problem, and I don't know if it will go through. We have cancelled several exhibitions, and we don't see how evolution will be. Since I work on large formats and my piecing technique takes a long time, I have, to carefully divide, the exhibitions and my work.
Deep Blue detail
I love nature. I am lucky enough to live in a village surrounded by woods. I like to observe trees and their bark, how they change depending on the light and the weather. I take numerous pictures. I enlarge the details then I draw sketches until I find abstract shapes that inspire me to create a new design. Then I proceed on to the study of colours. Once, the right spatial and chromatic balance has been found. I move on to textile execution. First, I dye the fabrics with Procion MX creating all the necessary shades. Then I begin the work of assembling the top. All is in piecing technique, absolutely No appliqué. Then I end with the quilting and the finishes for hanging.
Patchwork is a micro world. It is not yet recognized as an art. If we talk about patchwork, everyone imagines the traditional and does not know all the aspects that textile can create. Here in Switzerland, there are few possibilities, and if you want to emerge, you have to go abroad. There are valid artists here too, but the opportunities are few. So you start to travel, visit the various festivals and create a small space for yourself. Take part in competitions and start exhibiting. I like human contact. In this, my teaching profession helps me a lot, and I put myself at complete disposal to explain my work to visitors. I had a couple of interviews on specialized magazines, and my name started to turn. Before I had to search, now I am contacted, and this makes me very happy. My work is understood and appreciated. When I exhibit I always bring new quilts, I don't find it right for the people that travel, to be in front of the same ones. It also requires respect for the public.
On the technical side, I am a nullity, as far as social media is concerned I am lucky that my husband takes care of it.
My first works had the size of 50x70cm. Then I decided to work on larger surfaces to highlight and enhance my piecing work. The largest ones reach 150x 195cm. I can't go further because I don't have a machine log arm and quilting becomes very demanding and tiring.
My quilting is deliberately simple, generally with close vertical lines using variegated cotton threads according to the colours of the top. That is to highlight the shapes, give depth and movement to enhance the design.
Is your art your only source of income?
Indeed, as my work reveals the reality of the tragic reality of ‘Man’. My works of art really don’t harmonize with the decor of the average house ... This, is why I resort to another world to live. My main income is from graphic art, that I have practiced for years. I have found that art that tricks the politician and only gets the artist into trouble.
Le Viel Homme, Solitaire, Oil on canvas, 2017
Your current work is of people against imposing backgrounds. Comment.
This current body of work comes and has inhabited my space, and now fills it. It has Invaded my art is confronting too!
The purpose of this work is to initiate an awareness. Beginning with a question, that starts from the intimate. I hope it will lead the viewer to question the place of man, in his dignity, to stand, to resist. A “worn body” opens the way to a striking presence. It’s sometimes a "lonely" character that reminds me of the darkness of modern life.
Woman with Trolley, Oil on canvas, 70 x 90cm, 2019
My realistic vision is at the heart of the work. Showing the relationships between a number, of concepts, to highlight the features that are absent while attempted to get close to reality.
I want to give a clearer picture of everyday reality within the recesses of work.
Take two paintings one of an old person and one a young person, discuss the complexities of each.
The body of my works is an iconic sign which depicts in its meanings and its semantic dimensions traits of oppression, persecution, symbolic crime and dream confiscation. ... An embarrassing image which reflects the internal alienation which eats away our common aesthetic.
Letter À Ma Fille, Oil on canvas - 100 X 70cm 2017
Between a painting inhabited by a young body and the other by an old man dragging with his last steps towards dusk. Understanding the sequence of life and its turning points. Sometimes reflect its truth, full of happiness, sometimes its truth filled with pain. Alas, now I find myself both standing and perplexed in front of these two contradictory situations. The beginning and the end of life. I mean to represent them not only in the juvenile face of a child, but also in those who have already dealt with temporal austerity. For me, this natural growth or this a journey.
The Weight of Temp, Oil on canvas, 70 x 90cm, 2019
Take a very close look at one painting and explain technically how you have achieved it.
Worn Body, Oil on canvas, 90 x 100cm, 2019
My way of doing art is quite strange, contrary to what I hear about artists. I paint in silence. I don't like hearing any musical sound or anything else that would distort my dexterity during this action. My visual memory is enough to take me deeper into the subject, to the point that I wander outside of my time. I remember the miserable people established here and there on the sidewalks. Their face which, refers to a melancholy facial expression and the curvature of their silhouette gives me a venue which is reflected in the movements of my brush. Reflecting my deep disillusionment with this being (Man). the one who has been marginalized by materialist civilization.
I love painting with oil colors. Since I do not like to draw with insignificance, the colors take time to dry well. This which me to amalgamate colours. Technically and aesthetically.
Autumn Light, Oil on canvas, 100 x 140cm, 2017
Can you give us an inside look into the art world of Algeria?
In reality, the Algerian experience of the arts is still rudimentary. There is the question of failure, non-mastery and the inability to adapt to new artistic trends.
Many, Algerian visual artists - with a few exceptions - have revealed marked weakness and an obvious inability to surpass Western artistic trends that emanating from the quintessence of European art that has prevailed for more than four centuries.
Recently you won an international award with Mondial Art Academy.
How has this changed your current art practice?
Yes, I was awarded the overall gold medal and a silver medal in contemporary figuration at the international competition for art professionals, organized by Mondial Art Academia of France. This reward came in time, just when I was experiencing disappointment. These awards came like a ray of sunshine, urging me to continue my artistic path and my story with colors.
The Absurb, Oil on canvas, 100 x 90cm, 2019
Why do you enter art competitions?
I use competitions as a benchmark to position my art, to assess the technical and philosophical maturity of my work. This, is why, it makes sense that to me that I should test myself.
Why would you recommend art competitions to young artists?
Younger people should participate in international competitions, to know their artistic level compared to what is happening outside their studio and more broadly their country. The competitions are also a space where all the currents and techniques of artistic expression meet. It is not necessarily to claim and win any title but to give you balance.
What have you learnt from this process?
This competition made me more confident about the artistic work that I do, which is a creed for me.
How did you decide on a painting to enter?
In fact, all, of my paintings that I love are rooted in the depths of my soul, and I randomly presented this painting to the contest.
Discuss your art training expand on one or two aspects that continue to be very important, still.
I plan to put my own artistic touches full of emotion. To represent art born from my deepest pain and human suffering, which is able to cause in me a real disappointment when I meet the eyes of vulnerable people. I owe this to my visual memory. Images of vagabond people in a pitiful state that I come across during my travels in the alleys of the metropolises which literally dehumanized them.
Facebook / kebieche.abdelhalim
I’ve been embroidering into photographs since 2011. Initially, I was interested in combining a traditional, analogue process with the visual language of digital imaging. I was also interested in returning to the physicality of the photograph and the notion of the photograph as object- something that becomes increasingly lost in the digital age. Through experimentation, I started sewing in a manner that aesthetically appeared as pixelization. As much of my work deals with issues related to personal and collective memory, I started thinking about the relationship between forgetting and digital file corruption- particularly given how photographs are strongly tied to and ultimately often replace memory.
A long time ago, I was working on a series of landscapes using small squares of carpet remnants which also created a pixelated effect. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think the embroidered photographs came from my original experiments using carpet remnants.
The process has developed into three different bodies of work. One series consists of images taken in Berlin and follows the path of the former Berlin Wall in the city center and the outer suburbs.
Yard and Remaining Wall Panel, Hermsdorf, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 5.5x6.75 inches, 2019
The second series is based on snapshots and personal photographs taken at various times throughout my life and organized by location.
New Jersey III, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 6.25 x 7.5 inches, 2011
The third series, which I am currently working on, is based on found class photos.
Group I, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 7x9 inches, 2016
‘New Jersey III’ please expand on the addition of colour through each small cross stitch section.
This piece is from the series, Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten. In this series, cross stitch embroidery has been sewn directly into family photographs.
Disneyland I, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 7x5 inches, 2013
The images are broken down and reformed through the embroidery into a hand-sewn pixel structure. As areas of the image are concealed by the embroidery, small, seemingly trivial details emerge while the larger picture and context are erased. I am interested in the disjunct between actual experience and photographic representation and photography’s ability to supplant memory. By borrowing the visual language of digital imaging with an analog process, a connection is made between forgetting and digital file corruption. The tactility of the pieces also references the growing trend of photos remaining primarily digital- stored on cell phones and hard drives, but rarely printed out into a tangible object.
New Jersey XVI, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 4.5x6 inches, 2016
This series draws largely on family photographs and was taken of me by my mother- probably around 1979 or 1980. The colors of the thread were selected to match the colors in the photograph- predominately white for the snow and reds and browns for the coat and the bricks in the house in the background.
In general, I try to place the sewn pixelated areas in the areas that would normally be the most important parts of the image, or where one’s eye would typically gravitate towards first- people’s faces, important details, etc. In this way, these areas become erased, and the viewer is forced to only look at the unimportant details of the image- such as wallpaper or other small details. I wanted the embroidery to block the viewer- both by being slightly raised above the picture plane and also by covering the faces of the figures or main vantage points- the areas that one would normally look at first in a photograph.
I also wanted to cover the faces of the individuals to make the themes of memory and nostalgia more universal for the viewer. Since everyone’s photo albums show the same kind of scenes, I wanted the viewer to be able to insert themselves into the images or relate them to their own photo albums. At the same time, I wanted the images to also be a bit unsettling psychologically.
When did you begin to increase, the amount of stitch on each photograph? How large are some of your photographs?
I started drastically increasing the amount of embroidery on each piece with the Berlin series. The images in Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten are relatively small as I wanted them to maintain the intimate experience of looking at a family photograph. They are roughly about 25% larger than the original photograph, ranging in size from 4x6 to 9x12 inches. In the Berlin series, the sizes range much more widely. The number of stitches is always the same, so the size of the image itself varies based on how much detail I want to maintain in the embroidered sections. When pieces are smaller, the Wall becomes a bit more abstract while in larger pieces, the embroidered areas show the detail of what is behind the surface of the embroidery. The largest piece, Brandenburg Gate, is 14x16” has over 17,000 stitches, but I knew I wanted this piece to be large so that the embroidery maintain the detail of the tourists taking photographs and cyclists, giving the impression of them being almost suspended in the Wall.
Former Guard Tower Off Puschkinallee, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 11.25x14 inches, 2013
The smallest piece in the series is 2 x 3.5 inches. The series Reunion based on class photographs are consistent in size, 14.5 x 21.5 inches.
Are all the photographs yours, especially some of the earlier work?
The photographs in the Berlin series are all my own and were taken in 2012 and 2013 and were taken with a medium format film camera. The images in Time Spent that Might Otherwise Be Forgotten, are a combination of family photographs and my own photographs. As this piece serves as an archive and photo diary of memories throughout my life, the early images in which I am a child were taken by family members while the landscapes and later snapshots were taken by me. There is a class photograph in this series which was my brother’s class photo, but the class photos in the Reunion series are found photographs.
Can you take us through you work, Berlin 2012 – Present?
There are a total of 43 images in the completed Berlin series..
I did not initially go to Berlin with the intention of doing this project. I went to the city for several months beginning in January 2012 for an artist residency. I initially intended to continue the series I was working on that was based on family photographs,I realized the issues I was working on around memory could be extended to the collective memory of the Wall. By re-inserting the Berlin Wall through embroidery, a pixelated view of what is behind the wall is seen, creating the effect of an almost ghost-like trace in the landscape. While I was in Berlin, I was especially interested in the ways that the wall still felt very present even when it is no longer there.
Mauer Park, Hand Sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 8.5x11 inches, 2012
I was 13 when the Wall fell and have a very clear memory of watching it on television. However, once I came to Berlin, I realized how much I didn’t know about it, and wanted to learn more. I hadn’t realized how big the Wall was (roughly 100 miles) and how deep it extended into the suburbs and forests- or even that it was a ring that completely isolated West Berlin from the rest of West Germany. I also became very interested in trying to find subtle clues that remained in the landscape even when the Wall was no longer there- small patches of trees that were smaller than others nearby, open plots of land, new construction, architectural discrepancies in some of the suburban neighborhoods, old street lamps facing the wrong way, etc.
Engeldamm, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 4x5 inches, 2019
Following the path of the wall also provided me with an opportunity to get out of the city center and explore parts of the city and surrounding areas I would not have otherwise gone.
House, Former Wall Area Near Lichterfelde-Süd, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 5x7 inches, 2017
The path of the Wall was not very difficult to follow. I primarily used an app of the Berlin Wall which was released by the Zentrum für Zeithistoriche Forschung Potsdam, the Bundezentrale für Politische Bilding and Deutschlandradio. The app shows the overlay of where the inner and outer wall had been over a GPS Google Map. There is a paved bicycle path that roughly follows approximate path of the Wall. I generally biked on this path, but then used the app to get to the border in places were the bicycle path veered away from the precise border.
Checkpoint Charlie, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 7x9 inches, 2015
In the city center, the path of the Wall is largely marked with paved stones indicating where it had been. The city center is so built up, making it difficult to imagine the Wall having divided very vibrant neighborhoods in the relatively recent past. However, on the outskirts of the city center, particularly near Neikölln or Alt-Treptow or Plänterwald there were empty tracts of land or construction sites which provided an indication of where the Wall had been. In Hermsdorf, I saw really dramatic changes in the architecture of suburban neighborhoods indicating the newer homes which had been built in the areas that opened up after the Wall fell.
Brandenburg Gate, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 14x16 inches, 2015
After working on this project what have been some amazing stories others have shared with you?
Unfortunately, have not been able to speak to many Berliners who lived through the Wall about the project. My great grandparents immigrated to the US in the 1890s, and although I have German ancestry on both sides of my family, I unfortunately do not speak German, so I was not able to speak with as many locals as I would have wanted- particularly in the East. Also, many of the locals whom I met where more recent transplants to the city and did not have the experience of having grown up surrounded by the Wall. I am hoping to have the opportunity to show the work in Berlin sometime in the future as I would really love to hear the perspectives of people in the local population.
Discuss the digital aspect of your work.
The film or photographs and scanned and I am sewing into Archival Ink Jet Prints.
By borrowing the visual language of digital imaging with an analog process, a connection is made between forgetting and digital file corruption. The tactility of the pieces also references the growing trend of photos remaining primarily digital- stored on cell phones and hard drives, but rarely printed out into a tangible object.
When do you know how to stop stitching so that the two mediums are still independent while still connected?
Reichstag, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 9.5x12 inches, 2019
This is something I’ve been experimenting with. It is important to me that the two medium are independent from one another to a certain extent, but have been experimenting on how much of the photograph needs to be present for it to still be photographic. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a new project. In the image, House, Former Wall Area Near Lichterfelde-Süd, the image is mostly embroidered with just a bit of the rooftop visible. But I’ve been thinking about what if only the sky or a particular colour was visible through the stitching. In other images, such as Heidelberger Staße, the wall is only slightly visible in the frame.
Heidelberger STraße, Hand Sewn ARchival Ink Jet Print, 4x5 inches, 2019
How many prints do you make of each image?
The pieces are created in an edition of three with 2 artist proofs. Because each work is hand embroidered, there are minor variations between each edition, but they are essentially identical.
Discuss the importance of history to your artistic practice.
Photography is of course an important part of understanding history and maintaining records. It is also a way for a viewer to emotionally connect to the past in a way that would be difficult to do through just the written word. However, it is a deeply flawed mechanism for truly understanding the past given how subjective and how easy it has always been to manipulate photography well before the advent of Photoshop.
In a museum or an archive, narratives about the past are created based on the artifacts that remain. Therefore, stories are created based on fragments and empty spaces are filled in through speculation. Historical photographs are the same in many ways. Particularly because not as many survive- fewer were taken and the negatives or prints have been lost through the years. Those that survive become puzzle pieces to a past that needs to be filled in.
Places are always changing and evolving and, while photographs leave out lots of information, it is a useful tool to preserve what something physically looked like in the past. I was reminded of this when finishing the Berlin series. I was trying to find the original locations of the photographs when I was giving them titles. In some cases, I knew the general area where the photo was taken but had forgotten the street name. I looked at google maps and satellite views to find the locations where I had shot the images and, in several cases, was surprised to see that places that had been empty lots or fields when I took the photographs in 2012 and 2013 now were filled with new construction.
I think in some ways, Photography plays an even more important role today in preserving history. As photography becomes an even more democratic medium with camera phones putting the ability to document the world in the hands of so many people, digital imaging allowing for an unlimited amount of images to be taken, and social media giving everyone a platform to place their images in the public realm, every event has a multitude of image makers, both professional and amateur, documenting history and allowing it be simultaneously seen from multiple vantage points.
History also has the ability to change the meaning of photographs. The Berlin Wall is a symbol of injustice, lack of freedom and inhumanity. When I started this project in 2012, Barrack Obama was the president and I never would have imagined how delicate and fragile our democracy would now feel just seven years later. Just as the meaning of photographs change over time based on the cultural or historic moment, sadly, the implications and meanings of this project have changed for me in ways I didn’t expect given the current moment.
What has drawn you to Elementary School class photos?
Most recently, I have been working on a series of hand-embroidered photographs based on found elementary school class pictures from the 1970s. This project continues my interest in the relationship between photography and memory and grew out of an earlier project- while working on the series Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten, I included a class photograph of my brother’s elementary school class.
But while looking at the image, I was struck by the psychologically unsettling nature of the photograph, but also the uniformity- how the students were all posed in a very particular and formal way. I started collecting class photographs from around the country and became interested in how not matter where the school was located- across various states, both rural and urban communities, the poses were always identical.
Bogert School ( Class Three) Hand sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 14.5 x 21.5” 2019
In the class photographs, the faces of the students, or what would normally be the main focal points of the image, are obscured with cross-stitch embroidery made to resemble the digital pixel structure of the image. By obscuring what would typically be the most important parts of the image, otherwise overlooked details are brought into focus such as body language and other embodiments of social convention. I am interested exploring these details to reveal not only the relationships between the various figures, but also how, even at a very young age, children were taught and instructed to pose in particular ways, often based on gender. I am interested in this time period not only because it is my own generation, but also because it is the last generation to have a childhood unclouded by digital technology. I’ve been interested in how our relationship to photographs has changed in the digital age. These class pictures were taken before camera phones and digital cameras and at a time when having one’s class picture taken was a more formal occasion- something that has been lost due to the ubiquitous nature of digital photography- making participants more conscious of the photograph as a vehicle for impression management.
Main Street (Class One) Hand sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 14.5 x 21.5” 2018
I then began the series I am currently working on now, Reunion, based on these photographs.
Paradise School (Class One) Hand sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 14.5 x 21.5” 2018
I married a French man in 2014 and moved to Paris. It was unexpected but life changing.
I see my current artwork as a continuative narrative, inspired by place and materiality.
‘State of Ruin’ Series 2, Large 23cm Medium18cm
I have lived in Australia most of my life and worked in ceramics since the age of 18 years. I taught ceramics at RMIT University, Melbourne for over 15 years, and explored a wide range of techniques and materials during this period of time, including porcelain.
Initially I made architectural ceramics – large wall murals, tiles and ‘architecture inspired’ wall sculptures. I travelled to Europe when I was 18, and this had a great impact on me – the ancient buildings in particular, and this became the research for my art practice and master’s degree (1992-95). In 1999 I moved to the rural countryside of Victoria and developed ‘organic inspired’ artwork, incorporating found objects into my work and developing large-scale mixed media installations. This became the core of my research and PhD (2007-14), “the Nature of Things: the re-interpretation of the still life genre in the 21st century”, which focused on mixed media installation art & ecology. See website www.sallycleary.com
State of Ruin is a continuation of my PhD research examining the Still Life Genre in the 21st century. At the core of this research lies a warning about the demise of ecology and humanity. The vessel forms in this series are architectural, but often represent landscapes in a state of ruin, and therefore a metaphor for the state of our planet.
‘State of Ruin’ Series 2, 2018, 35 x 17cm
Most of the works are hand-built using porcelain paper-clay slabs. This clay is a very versatile material, allowing the walls to be very thin and translucent after firing.
Initially the pieces are made flat and the porcelain in cut up and reconstructed like a patchwork. The slabs are also textured, either by hand or with textured moulds. I use a black pigment to stain the works, which is also fired.
The two series evolved quite naturally, however I wanted to take away the function of the pieces as being utilised as vases, rather viewed as sculptural pieces. By removing the bases and adding holes to the work in series 2, the works took on a new dimension.
State of Ruin, 2&3, 2017, 26 x 12cm
I was also able to add light to the work. After travelling to Africa in 2019, I began to add textures inspired by the haphazard constructions and often unfinished or abandoned buildings I had seen in West Africa.
As the artworks developed, I began to view them more & more as an installation of multiple pieces. Although many of the pieces were inspired by landscape, particularly series 1, I see the works as a still life narrative of an abandoned city in a state of ruin – perhaps after an ecological disaster such as Chernobyl, or a place that is no longer inhabited – where human life has ceased to exist, as in past civilisations. I enjoy positioning my work on the floor, to create floor installations. This also adds to the illusion.
State of Ruin, 2018, Group
When I construct these artworks, I am imagining each object as a place – usually constructed in my imagination. Series one was inspired largely by a journey into the salt desert of Bolivia, and the Atacama Desert in Chile.
When I view the finished work, I am trying to engage the viewer with the sensation that they are interacting with this fictitious landscape or an architectural ruin on some level. Perhaps a place they have visited in another space/place in time.
The still life genre creates the illusion of entering a private intimate stage. The detail within the objects is important to draw the viewer into the space. The meaning / symbolism behind the objects is not always clear, but I try to pique the interest of the viewer to investigate the objects further.
I see Still Life in the 21st century as a warning of the consequences of capitalism: greed and vanity (which traditionally in the 17th century was its underlying intension). Today I think the message is the same and can also be read as a warning of environmental / ecological devastation in the 21st century.
State of Ruin, Series 2, 2019,22 x 14 x 11cm
White Vases, 28 x 19 x 9 cm
The vases / vessel forms for me represent a very pure form, which have a strong tradition in ceramics. On one hand they can be functional – to hold flowers, emit light. On the other-hand they can be viewed as purely sculptural forms – minimal & restful forms, allowing the viewer to stay still in their presence. As a circular form, you are invited to view the object from all sides to read the complete artwork. When I photograph the work, it is obvious how much each piece changes when photographed from a different angle or positioned next to another piece. I am not sure that the vase / vessel form is important – however the process of making something flat 2D, & then turning it something 3 dimensional, is a current obsession for me, and as a series of works it almost seems infinite.
White vases, 2019, 33 x 9cm
The porcelain is very white and needs no colour. To bring out the texture in the work I add black stain, so the works (not always) are black & white. I have recently started adding colour into the porcelain, so this is the next direction for me - but I love the purity of the white porcelain.
Grey Vases, 2019, 31 x 12cms
Teaching ceramics has always been a pleasure for me…interacting with students who are willing to learn about ceramic materials and forms. As a teacher I tried to encourage the individual creativity of each student, and not impose a particular style. The two aspects that are most memorable from this time were teaching students in Hong Kong over a 15-year period. This was immensely rewarding as the students seemed very uninhibited and free in their creativity with ceramics, as opposed to Australian students who had inherited a British / Japanese tradition passed down through their lecturers. The second aspect for me was being engaged with research and understanding that research can form a vital role in understanding one’s own artwork, and the various directions art research can take someone on their own personal journey.
I vary rarely follow trends – thus I am always out of time in a sense. I have always followed my intuition and desire to create my own personal style – even if it is not fashionable. I like to be an anarchist…to provoke if possible. The most important thing for me is to have meaning in my work – not to be purely decorative. If my work can attract attention for be reactive (not necessarily attractive), then I am happy with this achievement.
I started collecting found objects when I moved to rural Victoria and commenced my PhD in 2007. I think everyone is a collector; we all have collections of one sort and another. My collections of found objects are usually organic, and needed to be preserved, and later arranged in Still Life compositions and installations. Inspired initially by an ancient Greek mosaic “The Unswept Floor” 3rd century BC, this ancient artwork has become a reoccurring theme in my work.
Recollections, detail, Nests 5
It is a metaphor for the things we take for granted, that are often overlooked. During this period, I also made collections of porcelain detritus – small handmade organic forms which I had incorporated into my installations. I collected furniture and boxes to display my collections – a contemporary “Wunderkammer” or cabinet of curiosities.
Temple, 1994, 40 x 40cms
I am always frustrated by politics, especially when it comes to dismissing the environment for political and capital gain. Our ecology is so fragile, and I fear losing its battle against our political systems. I see this as a blight on humanity.
My two recent installations are exhibition proposals – which have unfortunately never been exhibited. I believe there is a fear in the art-world in general of being politically motivated. Asia’s food bowl is a collection of 200 empty porcelain bowls in the form of Australia’s coastline – It represents Australia’s unrealistic political/capitalistic dream to feed Asia.
Asian Food Bowl, 2018, 5 x 300 x 500cms
Frackoff is a depiction of the fragile nature of the environment – small fragile pieces of white organic objects resting on plastic grass sprayed with oil. It is my way of telling our politicians to stop coal seam fracking, which is highly polluting and destructive to the environment – but somehow keeps popping up on the political agendas of many countries, including Australia. I see both these installations as still life artworks. The hand-made bowls in Asia’s Food Bowl are not fired and will break down to become earth again. The handmade organic forms & plastic grass in Frackoff will last forever – once ephemeral, now eternal. I think of myself as an environmentalist – and as such must be proactive. Art is a great vehicle for reaching people, making them take notice.
Frackoff, 2018, 5 x 100 x 400cm
I use many mediums to create my artworks because I don’t like to be recognized as a ceramicist per se. The more I began to incorporate mixed media into my artworks, which is a bit of a taboo in ceramic circles, the more I enjoyed the different processes and outcomes – the idea is quintessential for me – not the material.
Silent River, Installation with Sound, Project Space – Spare Room, Melbourne, Australia
Working thematically allows me a freedom to work organically, in a non-constructed way of thinking. I enjoy working with photography , and mixed media as much as working in ceramics, but ceramics is a material that always challenges me, and intrigues me – the alchemy of earth, fire, air and water. “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Elliot.
My work would most accurately be described as mixed media. My staple materials are beeswax, oil and natural pigment, but I have also been known to use ink, charcoal and even bitumen. I use the beeswax in its molten form (encaustic), taking advantage of its fluidity and textural qualities.
Australia is a gigantic continent, with vast expanses of terrain that can only really be fully appreciated from a great height. Of course, I can’t speak for others but, looking at the Western Australian landscape in this way enables me to take in the entirety of the landscape.
Our dry country
The colour of the landscape and its seasons directly influence my work. The dynamism of weather and climate also impact greatly. ‘Mudpies’, was created in the centre of what is still the most devastating drought Australia has seen. For me, burnt umber tones against a promising deep, Payne’s Grey sky do the drama justice.
Mud Pies, 165 X 142 CM, Oil, wax and pigment on board (2019)
Our green country
‘Emotionscape’, was painted entirely form memory. I am lucky enough to live in an agricultural area which provides me with an endless stream of inspiration throughout the year. From my studio I can see an expanse of hills, paddocks and tree lines which peter out into the distance. With heavy rainfall around wintertime, the great southern offers plenty of opportunities to play with the blues and greens to prevalent during that time of the year.
Emotionscapes, 100 X 100 cm Oil, wax and pigment on board (2019)
I am fascinated with the contrast between the organised structure seen in agricultural landscapes and the rugged, chaos of the natural bushland. I also very much enjoy the opportunities that these lines give me to explore perspective. With the mediums I use also being fluid and organic in nature, I enjoy the visual tension the straight lines create.
Mount Barker is a small town 363 kilometres (226 mi) south-east of Perth in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. My home and studio are perched on a hill (Mount Barker Hill) with 50 kilometres of uninterrupted views across the agricultural landscape to Albany. It was only after I moved to the location 10 years ago that I began painting works in aerial perspective. At first it wasn’t a conscious shift but now I am very aware that my daily view has led me in the direction that I am currently painting.
For me drawing and meditation are one and the same. Drawing, especially if it is challenging, requires concentration, which enables me to quiet my busy mind and find a focus which blocks out irrelevant thoughts and sounds, much like meditation.
Since I practice both drawing and meditation daily, I am, able to sustain focus for quite a long period of time and I feel recharged at the completion of the drawing.
I always refer back to the rule of thirds, depending on what I am wanting to focus on. Sometimes it’s the sky, so the horizon line is very low and other times it’s the land, so my horizon line is either very high or non-existent, like in my aerial works. Placing the horizon line along either the top third line or the bottom, ensures a balanced composition and enables a viewer to interact with it more naturally. Using the rule of thirds works with an inherently natural way of viewing rather than working against it.
As previously mentioned, I use my beeswax in its molten form. This technique is known as Encaustic. Encaustic painting involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments have been added. I then apply the liquid, coloured wax to my plywood panel. A lyricism inhabits the act of building up and carving back the wax; a dance between control and unpredictability, revealing a sculptural quality. I am inspired by the way we sculpt our environment and encaustic is a fabulous medium to explore this element.
Tasmanian Homestead Commission (2019)
This artwork was created for a client in Campbell town in Tasmania, have never been to Tasmania but was instantly drawn to the drone photo sent to me as inspiration for a painting. It is very different to create a landscape that I haven’t personally experienced so in this case my main objective was accuracy and a bright colour palette.
Mullewa, WA Farm Commission (2019)
I created this artwork for a friend with whom I had connected through our shared love of the landscape. Having grown up in the wheatbelt of Western Australia, my friend wanted a memento and a reminder of her childhood to be hung in her current home in York, WA. I was sent a few drone images to work from and after discussions about what she wanted; I began creating the work. The very different component of this commission was that the image provided to me was not taken during the dry, harvest of the canola, but rather when the fields were green and had not yet flowered. I had the challenge of using the landforms and painting the landscape in a completely different season. I enjoyed the whole process and felt it gave me more freedom to create something quite unique.
I enjoy the quiet and solitude of my remote little studio and I can’t say I have ever felt lonely. My work requires focus and it is also quite physically demanding so I have little time to chat with others or worry about what is going on in the outside world. I have worked in shared studio spaces before and I found it very disruptive to my process. Because my work has such an emotional component, I feel that solitude is required to fully express myself.
My formal art training started in 1998 at the Carine College of TAFE, where I studied an Advanced Certificate in Art and Design. This was a broad course which gave me the opportunity to dabble in many different mediums. Even back then, drawing and painting were my preferred mediums and I continued to develop my interest in subsequent years. I went on to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Painting, at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. Since graduating in 2000 I have been committed to regular practice, eventually embarking on a professional painting career after my children were born in 2006. I spent 5 years after graduating in the Pilbara which really ignited my love of the landscape. I have been obsessed with it since!
With all eyes on the weather in Australia, it was inevitable that I would explore the theme in my work. I have always painted seasonally, being directly inspired by the landscape at the time of painting. I have many friends around rural Australia who have struggled terribly with the drought and wanted to bring some rain into everyone’s lives, something everyone (including me) was yearning for. I love the misty atmospheric quality of rain on our parched landscape.
An everyday fascination with the agricultural landscape was the main inspiration for this body of work which I titled, ‘7 Days’. Living in the Great Southern landscape of WA, I am always subconsciously gathering the shapes, flashes of colour and composition of the agricultural patterns that surround me. I wanted the focus to be on the sky and how the light effected the yellow canola field.
Packing my work takes time and care, especially since I live so far away from my galleries and clients. I personally pack my works, making my own boxes and arranging freight all over Australia. Firstly, I wrap the work in brown paper, then add corner protectors and bubble wrap. I don’t like to just wrap my work in bubble wrap as it can mark the surface of my work. I then custom make a box from recycled glass boxes. I arrange freight through the local Star track depot who can ship Australia Wide. To ensure works arrive safely and to protect my client’s interests, I always purchase insurance for my works and provide tracking updates. Thankfully I haven’t had any big issues and works arrive safely in the hands of their new owners.