Events

EXHIBITIONS REVIEW

As lockdown lifts our artists are beginning to get out and about and are visiting exhibitions. Maria Walker made a trip into London recently and has picked out some highlights from her visits to galleries on the Southbank and Bermondsey.

The Hayward Gallery

I started my day at the Hayward Gallery where you get to see two exhibitions for your entrance fee. These exhibitions are on until the 25th July.

Matthew Barney : Redoubt

This exhibition is the artist’s first solo presentation of work in the UK for over a decade and features a series of imposing and intricate structures cast from fallen trees from the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, as well as over 40 engraved and electroplated copper plates and a feature length film (which can also be viewed at home from the link in your ticket). Although the film, which weaves together the story of the mythical huntress Diana, cosmology and modern American political narratives, underpins the physical artwork, I was able to appreciate physical artworks without having watched the whole film.

As a textile artist I tend to view exhibitions through a ‘textile filter’ so for me the stars of the show were the imposing life-sized sculptures of fallen pine trunks, which had been cast in shades of silver, bronze and gold and were arranged around the galleries. The detail on these gigantic tree trunks was intricate and beautiful. This had been carved by the artist, creating patterns evoking lace and the camouflage garments worn by the characters in the film.

The beauty of the trunk contrasted sharply with the way they were supported by and combined with machine-made industrial elements so that they suggested weapons and rifle stands. All this made for a very beguiling exhibition.

Igshaan Adams: Kicking Dust

This smaller exhibition at the Hayward provided a complete contrast in atmosphere as most of the room was an immersive installation consisting of ephemeral cloud-like structures made from wire, suspended over a vast woven and embellished dreamscape.

Adams’ cross-disciplinary practice combines aspects of weaving, sculpture and installation whilst exploring concerns related to race, religion and sexuality. He draws on the material and formal iconographies of Islam and his intricate textile works also reference the socio-political histories of creole communities.
Each work, and the exhibition as a whole, is composed of multiple patterns. These explore the potential of woven material to reflect the multiplicities of Adams’ own identity and of broader cultural interchange.

Throughout the exhibition, Adams builds on this sense of movement and journeying. Visitors encounter pathways through the gallery created by the placement of weavings on the floor.
The pathways resemble tectonic forms, like the nature of the weave itself. They evoke ‘desire lines’, paths that pedestrians take intuitively rather than following set routes. For Adams, desire paths are human traces in a terrain that represent both freedom and transgression. This sense of ‘desire’ comes across strongly in Adams’ practice as he seeks to liberate himself from homogenous constructs of identity.

Tate Modern

Cecilia Vicuna:  Quipu Womb

I have wanted to see this piece of work for a long time. Reminded when I noticed a recent photo of it posted on social media, I decided to make a detour to see it.

This vast ‘visual poem in space’ is made from over 50 large strands of unspun wool, dyed red and knotted, which flow to the ground through a metal ring.
The work references menstrual blood as well as the energies, flows and cycles of nature.

White Cube, Bermondsey

Bronwyn Katz: I turn myself into a star and visit my loved ones

As an artist who has used bedsprings in my work I had to visit the exhibition by Bronwyn Katz.
The South African artist’s sculptures deal with materiality, narrative and social history and she works with found materials.

In this exhibition her large-scale sculptures consist of deconstructed metal bedframes: the exposed bedsprings are combined with metal and plastic scourers to create a brightly-coloured, patterned and textural surface but they also hint at her own cultural identity.

Bermondsey Project Space

Reconnecting: Sustainability First Arts Prize 2020

My final stop of the day was to visit the Bermondsey Project Space, where the Sustainability First Art Prize 2020 was having its delayed Private View.  My friend, Estelle Woolley, had been awarded Highly Commended for her ‘Pandemic Nature Masks’ so I went along with her. She was very pleased to see her work was being displayed in the window of the Gallery and it was good to attend my first Private View for nearly two years.  Perhaps things are getting back to normal.

CYANOTYPE PRINTING WORKSHOP

Rosaline Darby reports on an exciting workshop she organised for some members of Phoenix, despite the prospect of uncertain weather conditions.

It was disappointing not to be able to meet as a whole group at our usual venue in July, the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions having been delayed, particularly as we are raring to go with planning for our exhibition in October. However, Joan Bingley came to the rescue, offering her spacious and peaceful garden as a meeting venue, which was perfect for the Introduction to Cyanotype Printing workshop.

We began by coating samples of our own fabrics and paper in the light sensitive chemicals before leaving them in Joan’s airing cupboard, in the dark, to dry.

Then we placed plant material, feathers, lace and acetate stencils onto pieces of cotton, silk, watercolour paper and Chinese rice paper that I had prepared ahead of time. These were held in place with sheets of glass and laid out in the sun for the magic to happen.

Once fully exposed, the pieces had to be quickly and thoroughly rinsed in cold water to prevent any further reaction with the light.

Luckily, the rain held off long enough to allow them to dry.

Some exciting and satisfying results were achieved, several exploring our personal themes for the exhibition.

While the cyanotypes were drying, we even managed to fit in a very useful critique of three members’ work for the exhibition, so all in all a very satisfactory, spontaneous afternoon.

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTTA McPHERSON

Some of our members are just too modest to write a blog about themselves so Maria Walker decided that she would just have to interview them instead and
Robertta McPherson offered to go first.

Maria:  Can you tell me what initially captured your imagination about textile art and who were your early influences?

Robertta:  My passion for embroidery started in childhood. My grandmother and aunts were skilled at sewing, knitting and crochet and produced beautiful work.  They were amazingly patient with my attempts to learn from them. Later, I was fascinated by the historical embroidery found in museums, which illustrated the variety of techniques and textures found in examples of early Opus Anglicanum work, Tudor embroidery to Ayrshire whitework. My love of history continues to influence my work today.

Maria:  What was your route to becoming the artist you are today?

Robertta:  Seeking a creative balance whilst working in a male dominated environment led me to develop my knowledge. Courses at the Royal School of Needlework, City & Guilds Parts 1 & 2 and other part time courses gave me a sound grounding in design and techniques. (In those days the City & Guilds requirements included a thesis).

My love of history was combined with embroidery and research into Icelandic Embroidery.  Unfortunately it is lost now but my memories of a fascinating research project remain. The Icelandic Embassy and the facilities of the Victoria & Albert Museum library provided me with a wealth of material and I was able to view examples of Icelandic embroidery brought back by William Morris, now in the V&A collection.  In later years I visited the National Museum of Iceland and viewed further pieces of historic embroidery, and the church at H`olar.

An example of Icelandic embroidery – Detail of an Altar Frontal from the cathedral church of H`olar now on display in the National Museum of Iceland. The frontal was worked mid 16 th century in laid and couched work
in wool, linen and metal thread. The image is taken from a book on Traditional Embroidery.
by Elsa Gudj`onsson

It was during this time that I joined the Embroiderers’ Guild, and enrolled on some evening courses run by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).  After a teacher training course with the ILEA I taught a leisure class for adults for a short time.

On my retirement I renewed my teaching qualification for adult leisure classes. I enjoyed passing on my love of embroidery, covering a variety of traditional techniques and also a knowledge of historical embroideries, to my students.  Retirement also gave me the opportunity to undertake the Embroiderers’ Guild Development Scheme exploring fabric dyeing with the subject of ‘Arches and
Beyond’.

Batik Arches on felt and organdie dyed with indigo

Regular part time courses and Summer Schools at Missenden Abbey with Hilary Bower encouraged me to develop a more contemporary approach. The interaction with other textile artists stimulated exploration of other materials and methods used to translate a design. My delight in the tactile quality of hand embroidery was enhanced with the use of paint, monoprinting, applied papers and sheer fabrics. Athough I renewed my practice of machine embroidery it did not diminish my preference for hand stitching.

Maria:  Where does your inspiration for your art come from and do you use a sketchbook?

Robertta:  Throughout my journey a constant source of inspiration has been the natural world and the built environment.  Increasingly the exploration of history and the human footprint is a major focus in my work. I use a sketchbook to research and develop a theme with on-site sketching and photography a starting point.  Colour and texture are important elements in my work.

Drawing with a pipette

Maria:  What is your chosen technique and your favourite resources?

Robertta:  I generally work with a plain background, often of calico, with my design drawn and painted on with watercolour or inks. Layers of sheer materials or paper might be added with hand, and, occasional machine stitching. My favourite resources are needle and thread.

Fragment: A Medieval Missive 1 (Swan)

Fragment:  A Medieval Missive 2 (lion)

Maria:  Apart from Phoenix are you a member of any other groups?

Robertta:  I am a long term life member of the Embroiderers’ Guild, and I was a founder member and chairman of the Ealing Branch.  On it’s demise some years later I joined the London Branch.  Roles of chairman and committee member for the London Branch brought unexpected pleasure and increased contact with like-minded embroiderers.

When I left London, last year, I joined the Galloway Branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild. However Lockdown happened and the group held its meetings on zoom. Now, sadly, with the changes at the Embroiderers’ Guild it will no longer be a branch of the guild, but the plan is to continue as a Stitch Group.

My membership of Phoenix Contemporary Textiles is a constant source of pleasure. Despite moving from London I have been able to maintain my membership and plan to travel to meetings regularly.  It has expanded my knowledge of new materials, printing methods and kept me abreast of current thinking, taking my work in new directions.  I still use traditional techniques and perhaps I am too representational in my work.  However interaction with more contemporary artists is encouraging me to develop further.  Working to themed exhibitions has widened my interest in unexpected topics and fed into my love of research.  A past exhibition theme of “Women by Women” led me to research the artist, Winifred Nicholson. Her still-life paintings frequently featured domestic
objects and flowers. Thus my own work involved objects I had inherited from my grandmother and father – teapot and ginger jar etc.

The Ginger Jar


Freesias with my Grandmother’s teapot

Maria:  Do you have a website and Social media accounts?

Robertta:  I do not have a personal website.  However as a member of Phoenix my background and work can be seen in their website.  During Lockdown my knowledge and use of social media has increased. I have found WhatsApp and Zoom a lifeline during this last year. I now post some work on Instagram and have found it a useful source of contact with other textile artists.

@roberttamcpherson

Maria:  What do you think is your most successful piece of work?

Robertta:  I find this a very difficult question to answer. My most successful piece of work is always the one which I have just finished and feel completely happy with.

Maria:  What are you currently working on?

Robertta:  Currently I am working on pieces for the SeenUnseen exhibition. I have started with the human footprint during Neolithic times and the feature of stone circles in this area, developing the circle motif forward to tree circles, natural and manmade, in modern times.

Maria:  How have you found life in Lockdown ?

Robertta:  I have struggled throughout the past year of the pandemic.  Creativity and motivation have been in short supply. With the encouragement and support of Phoenix members I did have occasional bursts of interest in sketching.  The group projects also helped and, at last, I have started stitching again.

Experimenting with markmaking using seaweed

THAMES MUDLARKING PROJECT

Kate Davis reports on her project, which relates to a group venture about mudlarking on the foreshore of the River Thames, near the OXO tower in London.

Most of the items found were affected by being in the water and gritty sand for some time.
They included a variety of materials such as metals, wires, nails, building ceramics;  and domestic pottery, shells, oyster shells, stone, flint stones, pitch, fishermen’s implements, bones, and the plastic detritus of modern day.

However, with some imagination the findings can be related to the lives of Londoners of the past. Over the centuries artefacts have been lost in one way or another, then eventually found by someone scouring the the tidal mud.

Relics from Anglo Saxon, Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian times and through the century up to the present day. Evidence of these can be researched at the
Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands and the British Museum.

How did these pieces relate to the owner?
What part in someone’s life did they play?

When was this part of a roof tile made?
Where was it made?
Who bought this roof tile?
Who placed it in position on the roof?

Handling my finds from the river reminded me of my collection of pottery shards found when digging in a garden in North Buckinghamshire. These pieces were also part of peoples’ lives, as those in the Thames, and they also were found by chance and could have been buried in the ground for evermore.

The connection of the past draws one in and makes one more aware of previous generations. The finds have tactile qualities and represent design styles common at certain  times in history.

SKETCHBOOKS – PART TWO

This second and final part of Lynne Butt’s series on Sketchbooks demonstrates how integral it is to make notes as a progression of ideas, whatever your medium:

“My spiral book, size 21cmx29.7cm, is more a record folder than a sketchbook containing drawings and photos of work in progress, as I prefer to work up my pieces in my mind, and use pen and paper only to add ideas of improvement.

The zigzag shape is a sharp change of direction from the straight line, long or short in time; the acute angles defined by these changes vary in intensity creating abstract geometric patterns. I chose the zigzag subject for it represents the accidents in the timeline of the year 2020, created by the repeated lockdowns.”
Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé

“If asked, ‘Do you keep a sketchbook?’, then I would have to say no. I do however have many ways in which I hold and record my thoughts, ideas and makings. “

“The most important is probably the internal ‘sketchbook’ I carry around in my head. Accessible at any time to no one but myself, it is the place where I ruminate, discuss and imagine. I spend a lot of time thinking.”

“Many thoughts do not ever become reality, others are explored further to become real objects. It is then that I inhabit a book; generally, with a black cover, spine ribbon and elastic band to keep it secure. On the spine I stick a small label in Dymo tape, using the manual machine inherited from my Father. Often the books are labelled on a specific subject, but more recently I have included a general book labelled EMPTY HEAD BOOK, a place for anything I need to download from my head, that doesn’t yet have a place to be. The books contain a great deal of writing, the more I write the more I see the value of it. There are diagrams too, this is my drawing, capturing something I am thinking or making. And whilst making I record details, things that I need to remember, revisit and revise.”

“As most of my work is 3D, it becomes part of a ‘sketchbox’. I like labels. Often I annotate samples with luggage labels, with comments about materials, techniques and personal notes too. I keep most samples, there is always something to be learnt from everything I make, even if I am not satisfied with it. The failures become seeds for new ideas, areas of development or further exploration.”
Mary Crabb

“I love sketchbooks and keeping them is fundamental to my practice. I always have several on the go in different sizes and formats or dedicated to particular themes and I enjoy making my own to suit particular requirements.

One little book,  that is dedicated to very quick sketches capturing the behaviour and character of my garden birds, is on my work table ready for action at all times.

I also use sketchbooks as project journals, working through ideas, recording processes, and noting down things that I might want to pursue at a future point. I often find that going back through one of these books helps to get me out of times when I feel stuck or undecided about which direction to take.”
Rosaline Darby

“Finding the perfect sketchbook is quite a challenge, which is why I always have a few on the go at one time and I probably have far too many. I always have a very small sketchbook in my bag when I go out for sketching and note taking and larger ones for home.

“The quality of the paper is important, smooth paper for drawing and coloured pencil work, heavier paper for gouache, watercolour and mixed media, my preference for bright colours sees me searching out books with white paper although it is not so important for ink drawings.

“I use sketchbooks for technique experiments, trying out new art materials, colour samples and just doodling with ink, pencil or paint.”
Lynne Butt

“I was going to say I didn’t use sketchbooks much until recently. But I realise that I have always used ‘ideas’ books. Probably not very carefully thought out and often just a collection of images that I had collected on the ‘topic’. Perhaps even just shoved into a basket rather than collected into an actual book. Some of these developed as what could be called ‘scrapbooks’ ….. how do you define the difference between sketchbook and scrapbook??

“I also had a few books of ‘techniques’, trying out things like gesso, image transfer, laminated paper. Not that in my mind they were ‘proper’ sketchbooks .. whatever that means!

“I was always someone I labelled as ‘can’t draw’ so the idea of sketchbooks seemed to be beyond me. But, with encouragement from fellow artists, both in Phoenix and other groups I have become more confident about making attempts at drawing and also realising that I could use washes of colour or patterns or stamps or stencils etc to ‘make marks’ and that not everything needed to look perfect or be realistic. Someone once told me that you should never have a ring bound sketchbook as it is too easy to tear out pages and that to develop ideas and confidence you should never pull out the page even if you think it is a disaster!

“So in the last few years I have become an avid fan of the sketchbook. Sometimes still topic based others a great mix of ideas to try, odd watercolours, little sketches, bit of collage etc etc.

“What I really enjoy is sketch booking my travels. At this very moment the idea of travel seems a bit of a dim and distant memory so it is good to have my sketchbooks to leaf through as a reminder. I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries and in 2019 even had an extended stay in Italy for 3 months …. that has resulted in 7 sketchbooks …. so far!! These involve drawing ‘on site’ plus lots of photographs to help me sketch later.”
Linda Walsh

“Writing this has prompted me to hunt out my old sketchbooks and I was surprised that I have at least fifty. My books contain records of subjects I found of interest at the time. As well as sketches, they include a mix of project notes, cuttings, design and colour way ideas, and fabric and stitch samples. Holiday sketches and those of children and grandchildren bring back memories of people and places.

“In 2020 during the first lockdown due to Covid 19, I decided to devote a very personal sketchbook to the wild flowers seen on our early morning walks in the local countryside. This theme was chosen in relation to halting global warming and preservation of bio-diversity. Much pleasure was obtained from studying the flowers and plants along our route. The structures needed close observation, the shapes of petals and leaves often very subtle. This became a book where I instinctively explored different techniques, mainly going back to drawing which I found to be a mindful experience. My book turned into an ‘album’ of more careful drawings and the development of unexpected styles.

“Keep an open mind and see where it leads you…………”
Kate Davis

It seems there are many alternatives for sketchbooks –
Note book,
Diary,
Journal,
Internal sketchbook i.e. Head
EMPTY HEAD BOOK (my favourite)
Sketchbox
Scrapbooks
Project journals
Aide memoire
Box file
Sketch and ideas box
Camera
Tablet
Phone
Album

SKETCHBOOKS – PART ONE

Lynne Butt brings to life her love of sketchbooks, along with her fellow Phoenix artists:

Sketchbooks…..An indispensable tool for artists

A finished piece of art grows from a sketchbook.

They are the place where the seeds of ideas are stored, where they germinate and grow.

Sketchbooks take many forms…..books, boxes, pin-boards, loose papers gathered together, iPads, cameras and….HEADS!

To have access to the inner workings of the artist, the process of making art, the germ of an idea, the very beginning of a work of art is a great privilege.

Phoenix members allow us a peak into these precious objects.

“For years I have kept sketchbooks with different objectives. Some bring back memories of places I have visited, containing sketches, photos, tickets, etc.; some record information and notes from exhibitions and courses I attended; others explore and develop designs or file research material.

“Regular sketching sessions, with friends at Kew Gardens gave me a topic for one of my Brooklyn Sketchbooks. Outings with Urban Sketchers took me to areas of London not visited for many years. A collaborative exercise with a friend produced a fascinating fold-out sketchbook. Whereas the Phoenix Sketchbook Project was an interesting challenge, each month’s topic set by a different member.

“In my textile sketchbooks I document the process of developing my work. Each provides a diary for a specific theme to explore ideas, note background research, enter samples of potential materials, stitches, colour and techniques. The collated information is useful reference for the future.”
Robertta McPherson

“Along with the images I put hand written notes of how things had been done and lists of key-words that described the work or how I felt about it. I wrote about what worked and what didn’t and why for future reference. Materials such as threads and glue were put to the test and I added samples to the journal. Starting half way through the empty book with images of her work. The idea was to have plenty of room to more forward with ideas as they developed, and backwards to record the work that had led up to that point.

“I recorded the sychronicity of a visit to the Anthony Gormley exhibition where he had worked on a huge scale to create a grid which fitted in with the work I was doing to produce ‘moire’ or interference patterns in my work and how they changed when you move round them.”
Alison Hird-Beecroft

Alison also uses apps such as Picassa and Picsart’ to produce collages.

Scrapbook cum journal for the upcoming Phoenix exhibition Seen/Unseen

“I used to create very scrappy disorganised sketchbooks as a hasty record of my thought processes and working. Now I try to be neater, so that the book becomes more of a work of art itself. I start with a ‘spider diagram’, then my research, and finally all the samples of ideas and techniques in drawing and stitched fabric.

“This process is ongoing – I don’t decorate the whole page with contrived attractive backgrounds, so the neat version can look too plain and lacking in artistry. The main purpose of researching a current theme could be lost in a highly decorated sketchbook.”
Jo Coombes

“I always make one for an exhibition, even if some of the entries are retrospective. Our visitors seem to love looking at them as much as the finished work”.   Jo Coombes

“The closest to a conventional sketchbook is the type used on my travels.  Always a size to tuck into a large pocket or small backpack, preferably with a ring binding so pages can be fully open for ease of use.  On my travels, drawings are supplemented by found objects and souvenirs so they include leaves, pressed flowers, feathers, boarding passes and museum entry tickets, sometimes even attempts to record my reaction to sounds as well as sights”.

“In my textile work, the ‘sketchbook’ is both a box file into which I throw cuttings, samples and notes of ideas for later sifting AND the camera on my mobile telephone, which has now replaced printed photos from a pocket camera.”
Joan Bingley

“I have used sketchbooks throughout my textile practise. They serve various purposes. Sometimes I record the entire process; thoughts and experiments and at other times simply use them as reference. In this instance I collect images, articles, interesting website information and references to other textile artists. I tend to have a “sketchbook” at hand as an aide memoire/journal, noting ideas for future projects, new processes and techniques to try; suppliers, tips and tools.”
Maggie Barber

“Sketchbooks, story and mood boards are an integral part of my design process, without which my ideas would amount to nothing. However, my departure from a “conventional sketchbook” started when my time constraints limited the number of physical activities achievable for me within the deadlines I set myself.  Furthermore, the scale of my constructions changed as I began to take part in exhibitions; I needed to fill more expansive space, 3D prototypes became more ambitious and were more or less “flattened” when placed in a book; so my sketchbooks became more “sketch- and ideas-boxes”!!

“Nowadays, I tend to record on my iPhone much of my thought processes, images (even those created on paper) and store them in a folder for either reference or later retrieval.  Eventually they will be stored on an external hard drive.”
Joan Glasgow

“Even though I don’t use a sketchbook in a conventional way, I have realised looking back over the years I have constantly kept a note/sketchbook.

I fill my books with ideas, information and things I need to do. At times these books can seem more like a diary, containing my inner most thoughts.

Poetry, song lyrics, I really didn’t quite understand how important they are to my practice. What to do with them after I am gone?”
Jude Kingshott

“Like everyone else, for the  many years while I was studying art and embroidery at educational institutions I was ‘forced’ to keep a sketchbook (or creative journal as it was sometimes called). We were encouraged to document our creative processes and journeys in these books which were then marked by our tutors and these marks contributed to our overall grades. The result was I spent an awful lot of time on these sketchbooks and I personally felt they had an adverse effect on my creative flow as I was always looking backward rather than forward; so when I finished all my studies I stopped keeping a sketchbook.

“Over time sketchbooks have crept back into my art practice but in a very different manner. Now they are just for me, no one else is going to look at them unless I allow it. So you are very privileged I am sharing some of them on this blog.

“The first type of sketchbook to creep back into my practice were the ones I keep for a specific sketching project, such as those I used when I embarked on a project of documenting my vintage cutlery collection. Originating from Sheffield, cutlery plays a significant part in my childhood memories so this documentation project was part of my creative research on objects and the emotional attachment we have to them.  In this case the use of a sketchbook was important and I thought of it as an art object in itself.

“Secondly I always have a notebook on the go, in which I write down ideas I have as they occur, things I read in books, quick sketches and things I find. I don’t think of it as a ‘sketchbook’ its just somewhere to jot down my thoughts. I try to start a new notebook when I embark on a new project (to try to impose a discipline on my otherwise unruly mind) but it never really works as my thoughts are circular and overlapping. I am often working on a few ideas at the same time which all intertwine so to be honest the linear structure of a notebook isn’t really ideal but I have not found anything better.  I do lots of writing in my notebook as that’s the way my mind works – I can’t remember what I have read unless I write it down!  I also kept this notebook when I was researching emotive objects and you can see it is very messy and was done purely for my own use. I carried this book around with me all the time, at workshops, at museums and even on holiday.”
Maria Walker

To be continued ……

FEATURED ARTIST – MARIA WALKER

Maria Walker takes inspiration from the everyday events of the past.

THE LIGHTFOOT LETTERS 

This story begins with a bundle of old letters I found one rainy Sunday afternoon in an antique centre in Cheshire in 2009.  I had originally intended to cut up the letters to use in the mixed media collages I was making at the time, but when I started to read them – somewhat guiltily at first – I realised that I had discovered a real treasure trove of social history and my scissors were not allowed anywhere near them.

The letters were dated from 1923 and 1924 and had all been written to Frances Lightfoot who was at that time living away with her aunt. All the members of her large family, who lived in Widnes in Cheshire, wrote letters to her, and between them they recount what everyday life was like for a working class family at this time. Mostly the letters were written by Frances’ mother, Ada Lightfoot, who kept Frances informed of all the local gossip, the antics of her younger brothers and sisters, and the ordeal of doing the washing. Other letters contained stories of trips to the dentist, ice skating on frozen ponds, Christmas parties at school, killing pigs, mending boots and the general election.

These letters provided me with inspiration for my textile art, which is inspired by memory and everyday life, and I started to create narrative-based artwork that told the stories I found hidden in these letters. I was particularly inspired by Ada’s numerous accounts of the minutiae of everyday life,  For example, the arduous task of doing the laundry and keeping her children clothed and warm. I wanted to bear witness to what this family had gone through in the 1920s through my textile-based practice so I started to create digital collages from the scans of the letters, incorporating lines from the letters, images from my own personal photographic archive and items such as buttons, lace and stamps from the period. For example, in ‘Nice Frock’ I used a photograph of my mum when she was three in 1926, to represent Dorothy Lightfoot, of whom Ada writes “she is delighted with the photograph of her with the nice frock”

Nice Frock

The text itself became an integral feature of my artwork as it gave voice to the universal concerns of the working class woman that Ada was writing about in her letters.  I felt that through the act of embroidering Ada’s words onto garments I was able to reinforce their impact and make them relevant for today.

Ada’s Corset

Corset detail

Doing the family’s washing in the harsh winter weather took up most of Ada’s week, sometimes her son Peter would stay off school to help put the clothes through the mangle. ‘The Washing Gets Me Down’ is a digital collage in which the overall worn by one of the women is made from scans of the words written by Ada in her letters to Frances and was inspired by Ada’s references to the ordeal of doing the laundry, which took her the best part of a week. For this work I used an image of my husband’s grandmothers, one of whom he tells me,  was never seen without an overall.

The Washing Gets Me Down

The next chapter of this story took place while I was working as an Artist in Residence at an event for creative writers and by chance I met a poet called Angela Topping.  As I talked about the letters and the family who wrote them, Angela realised that I was talking about her own family and the letters had been written by Angela’s grandparents to her Aunt Frances. There were even a couple of letters written by Angela’s father who was about 10 at the time.  We later decided to collaborate and started to plan an exhibition that would be a fusion of textile art and poetry, and that is exactly what we did.

I was particularly interested in the lives of ordinary working class women and used memories of my own grandmother to explore the theme of a ‘woman’s work is never done’. She was a very industrious woman and in her life she ran a bakery, an off licence and finally a boarding house in Blackpool. I used images of her to create a design, which I printed onto a tea towel and embroidered the names of household chores around the side.

A woman’s work is never done

I also used an old photograph of her working on her sewing machine to create the work ‘Make me a Dress’, using the technique of reverse applique. As the work progressed words from Angela’s poetry became intertwined with my textiles.

Make me a Dress

Ada’s accounts of the hardship of doing the laundry resonated with me so much that I decided to explore this theme further and created an installation called Ada’s washing line, each garment recounting a particular aspect of Ada’s story. I
made children’s garments using vintage fabric and designs I found in pattern cutting books from the 1920s. I added text found in Ada’s letters by stitching and cutting into the garment.

Ada’s Washing Line

Garment Detail

Garment Cutwork

Lettering detail

I was also interested in the objects the family would have used and how these objects also have a story to tell. I often juxtapose objects with my embroidery to create installations which reinforce the narratives I recount. In Ada’s ‘Ironing Board’ I used a vintage children’s ironing board and embroidered the lines from Ada’s letter telling Frances of how she had cut her thumb and how painful it was when she had to do the ironing.

Ironing Board

The poverty of the Lightfoot family was apparent in the letters and they did not have any precious objects to pass down. My stitched textile collage ‘No Heirlooms’ reflects this through collage, free machine embroidered drawings and text from one of Angela’s poems.

No heirlooms

Inspired by the paper-cut artwork of Rob Ryan I developed a technique of creating lines of text through cutwork in my installation ‘Lean into the Wind’, which was inspired by the poem Angela wrote about her father skating on a frozen pond.

Lean into the wind

Cutwork in progress

Another exciting aspect of our collaboration was that I was now able to use Angela’s images of her family in my artwork.  Imagine my excitement when I was able to re-unite a photograph of each of the family members with their actual words they had written all those years ago. The words “I’d rather have a Spoon” came directly from a letter written by the father Peter when he recounts that he was going to a hotpot supper and complained that he would have to use a knife and fork but would rather have a spoon. I loved this letter so much that I had it enlarged and printed onto canvas to hang on the wall in the gallery.

I’d rather have a Spoon

Peter’s Letter

I have now made over sixty pieces of artwork and the Lightfoot Letters exhibition has been exhibited widely across the UK. There is not enough space here to talk about every piece of work but you can see more on my website.

Maria Walker

Website:  www.mariawalker.co.uk

FEATURED ARTIST – JOAN BINGLEY

TEXTILE RETROSPECTIVE BY JOAN BINGLEY

Past and Present – Finding Connections from Nature

One’s present often echoes one’s past.

Looking at samples of textile work completed over my lifetime, I find that subjects, colours and techniques recur and perhaps a paraphrase of Wordsworth’s “The child is father of the man” should be coined to describe how aspects of my teenage textile efforts have been echoed in much later work.

Assisi work for my teenage dressing table

While I have experimented with a wide range of techniques, I find that I return again and again to the mathematics of counted thread work, to the interplay of light provided by work with metallic threads and to methods that add texture to 2D pieces.

 

Much use of precise laid work in my traditional crewel work piece for a Certificate course at the Royal School of Needlework.

My interests lie mainly in the natural world especially birds, the sea and things seen in detail under the microscope; this is reflected in my textile work. The colour palette I use and the subjects of my work are often those of nature.

Using a variety of ways of working, I select techniques to reflect the subject matter I am working on as can be seen in the following images of my previous work.

Gannets

This portrayal of birds by the sea, with greens and blues on canvas, is typical of my work. This used an image from a bird watching holiday, my most frequent choice of colours and a wide variety of canvas work stitches. The stitch choice, especially the fluffy wool of the chick in velvet stitch, adds texture. This dates from a time when gannet nests used mainly seaweed and far less colourful plastic than they sadly do now.

Irish strand

Drawings based on memories of seaside holidays in my native Ireland and aided by calendar pictures provided the basis for this piece.  A mixture of hand and machine embroidery, an impression of 3D is achieved both by couching textured threads and mounting the embroidery proud on a silk-covered backing.

Antarctica

On visits to the southern continent, I have taken thousands of photos of ice and attempted many sketches. No textile can fully reproduce the play of light on iceberg, glacier or icy sea, but I keep trying to share my love of these awe-inspiring ice scapes.

Birds’ feet:  Detail from one of a series of hangings exploring the patterns produced by birds’ feet and footprints, when I was challenged to produce larger-scale work than I usually make for an exhibition in a spacious gallery.

Secretary bird – heavily padded metalwork for the insignia of my profession of Chartered Secretary.

An ordination stole for a friend, wings of a dove

The dove of peace was the symbol of choice by the recipient who was moving from a military role to that of priest. The work used traditional goldwork techniques with a modern twist.

Continuing to use images of birds, my work gradually moved from static representations of form to more dynamic interpretations. A range of images of flocks of birds in flight sparked thoughts of frightened birds under threat. Images of swirling flocks escaping raptors led on to the many seen and unseen threats now reducing both the volumes and variety of wildlife.

Birds under threat –inspiring current work in progress

The blades of wind turbines, force fields from power lines, changing insect movements due to climate change, increased use of pesticides and other agricultural changes, the noise and light from human settlements are all impacting on our wildlife.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More birds threatened

Many of the impacts on birds and the whole of our planet result from human actions, so that the current age is now called the Anthropocene epoch. My current work is exploring the interactions of people and birds.

By Joan Bingley

MAKING MARKS – PART FOUR

Here we reach the fourth and final part of Maria Walker’s captivating series on mark-making.

“Mark making is the broad term used to include all marks that are made visible as a manifestation of applied or gestural energy”.

The Tate

Over the past three blogs we have explored marks made through writing, using tools found in your home and in the natural world. In this final blog we will expand the definition of mark-making to look at a variety of other art disciplines and techniques where mark-making definitely has a role to play.  The featured artists in this final blog are using marking-making in three-dimensional art, photography, ecoprinting, printmaking, stitch and as a way recording bodily movements.

There is nothing more gestural than using your body to make marks.
Joan Glasgow has used charcoal to record the movements of her body during a performed extract and interpretation of the Taiji Quan choreographed movements/steps or ‘short form’. She is documenting her movements as a way of  exploring her mindfulness, which form the basis of her new work for Phoenix’s  ‘SeenUnseen’e xhibition which will take place in October 2021.

Mary Crabb is an artist maker whose practice is essentially three-dimensional and is well known for her contemporary basketry. Mark-making isn’t a term that automatically springs to mind when thinking about her practice, but marks can also be three dimensional.

“I am experimenting with the marks made by a thread on a warp, by making a sample in hemp thread on a cotton warp. The basketmaker in me of course wanted to twine, reverse twine and then counter twine. Then I started wrapping warps. Such possibilities to transfer some tapestry weaving techniques to the surface of a twined basket! “

Alison Hird also makes three-dimensional art, and creates her woven sculptures using sticks and thread. She then uses her sculptures to experiment with light and photography to capture the marks (shadows) made by her sculptures and move her work into an extra dimension.

“Here are some of my experiments with sunlight coming through a window into a dark room and casting long shadows of a threaded structure. I have then used functions on my camera phone to sharpen and enhance the image and even make some of it melt away so it appears more like pencil or pastel marks.”

Printmaking and ecoprinting are also forms of mark-making although the marks are transferred onto the surface using secondary processes.

Rosaline Darby incises marks into her lino-block and adds shapes and texture to her collograph plates with the intention of transferring her design onto paper and fabric using a printing press. Here she experiments with the range of possible marks using various lino-carving tools. Marks have been made in mount board and in PVA glue to produce this collograph plate and the additional stitch marks have been added to the resulting print.

Jude Kingshott is well known for her ecoprinting and she is the first to admit that she’s addicted to it. Jude transfers beautiful prints from leaves onto paper and cloth using the ecoprinting process, alchemy and a bit of magic. Here are prints from some of her favourite leaves: Tree of Heaven, Liquid Amber and Smoke Bush.

Joan Glasgow combines sketches and computer imaging from photographs, which have been printed on organza and overlaid with a block print to create a layered and complex set of marks in the following two images.

As ‘textile- inspired’ artists one of the main ways we make marks is by using stitch into cloth or paper and of course stitches can be made by hand or the sewing machine, with thread or without.  The following artists demonstrate how they use stitch to create marks on fabric.

Joan Bingley uses handstitching to create bold marks on embroidery canvas.

For Maggie Barber mark-making is fundamental to her work as a textile artist and she has always been intrigued by fine detail which invites the viewer to look closely at the marks she makes. Maggie is influenced by calligraphy, text, alphabets, modern and ancient scripts, and she searches for words and phrases that she can repeat over and over, writing in all directions, sometimes layering the text using different tools giving depth to the work.
“Drawing (or in my case, doodling); experimenting with dyes; printing, discharging colour, layering imagery or making marks with stitch all add to the complexity of my mark making.”

Linda Walsh has been experimenting with making controlled marks using an unthreaded sewing machine.

Maria Walker has used free machine embroidery onto a wadding fabric to try to reproduce some of the marks she created in her drawing of an old map using gesso and pen and ink. The decision to use a ‘difficult’ base fabric to sew on was deliberate in order to try to produce ‘messy’ and irregular stitching to reflect her original drawing which was done using gesso, ink and a feather quill.

We hope you have enjoyed this look at the joys of mark-making and that we might have inspired you to have a go yourself, because the motto of mark-making is “anything goes”.

MAKING MARKS – PART THREE

Maria Walker  continues her epic mark making series, capitalising on the natural world’s ability to continually inspire us.

Natural Talent
 
 
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

Our previous blog demonstrated the variety of marks that can be made from humble household tools and kitchen appliances. In this blog we now look at how the natural world provides a multitude of inspiration and tools for the artist.  Using natural materials to reconnect with this playfulness, our featured artists showcase the potential of natural materials in their work.

Alison Hird has been making leaf rubbings to connect with her childhood but has given it an artistic twist by using translucent fabric and plastic netting.

Jo Coombes and Linda Walsh have embraced the spirit of experimentation with open arms and have set themselves the added challenge of drawing an object using the object itself.

Jo has done some sketches of a teasel using a teasel and also a feather with a feather.

Linda Walsh has drawn a buddleia using only a buddleia

Robertta McPherson has also discovered the joys of experimenting with nature’s bounty found on her regular walks in the woods and along the coast.  She found that using natural materials has allowed her to create a variety of interesting marks, although some have turned out to be more successful than others.

“Pieces of twig, pine needles and seaweed became my pencils, although they proved more difficult to control.”

Kate Davis has always had a love of the natural world and this comes through in her artwork. In this piece of work she has made marks on water colour paper using plant life, sticks, brushes, a piece of perspex and a pipette.  She says that the sculptural positioning of the paper was a happy accident that happened when she was trying to dry the paper.

Rosaline Darby has used mark-making techniques to create her current work, which is about the unreliability and fluidity of memory: how memories are often composed of a series of vivid glimpses of the past, which are shuffled and re-ordered with each revisiting and overlaid with new images, piecing and patching to make something unique for each person.

“I have been using the device of a regularly repeated and familiar walk to illustrate this in various ways. This mark-making reflects the experience of that walk in autumn, with the first layer of watercolour applied with a brush representing the atmosphere and colours; light shining through leaves and movement along the paths. This is overlaid with drawings, executed with a long stick dipped in walnut ink to reduce the control over the marks made, representing details that catch the eye, burning themselves onto the retina and creating memories of the place and time”.

…… to be continued ……