Noble Fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Nobles Fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Janet Haigh’s ‘The Daphne Tree’, left, and Kirsten Hill-Nixon’s hand felted lion pictures, right, in the Noble Fibres exhibition

I organised and curated this textiles exhibition at Heart Space Studios, Bristol. The show opened as part of the Westbury Park Arts Festival in June.

This exhibition presents humorous, contemplative and academic interpretations of ‘Noble Fibres’ in a variety of textile materials by local artists and Heart Space tutors. Each artist’s definition has in common the assumption that Noble Fibres are natural, pure and even raw materials; this encompasses wool, felt and leather. Wool subtly references Shaun the Sheep, who is out and about in Bristol this summer, including on Coldharbour Road.

One of Kirsten Hill-Nixon's hand felted lion pictures

One of Kirsten Hill-Nixon’s hand felted lion pictures

Metals and cottons can also count as Noble Fibres, as they are not just limited to animal-based substances. However, a prominent motif running through this exhibition is the use and behaviour of animals. This is dealt with in a range of ways, from exploring their function as sources for harvesting the Fibres to their threatening interactions with Noble materials (think of the coat-eating clothes moth!).

Intriguingly, Nobel Fibres have also been taken to mean regal nobility and luxury, which several artists have explored through the use of historically royal colours and symbols, including the symbolic potential of animals.

The textile pieces collectively accentuate the process of making and the notion of ‘noble’ as an honest state of mind and approach to working. Due to this, several of the artworks are experimentations or samples rather than finished products.

Stephanie Wooster's moodpboard for knitting samples

Stephanie Wooster’s mood board for knitting samples

Sustainable craft also forms part of this code of good practice, which is pertinent considering this is Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. The emphasis on honesty is integral to the ethos of Heart Space Studios, which supports making meaningful things ‘with hand, heart and eye’.

Nobles fibres exhibition at Heart Space Studios

Long view of the exhibition at Heart Space Studios, Bristol

Ilsa Fatt's fabric woven necklace, inspired by the Snow Queen, a regal fairytale character

Ilsa Fatt’s fabric woven necklace, inspired by the Snow Queen, a regal fairytale character

Knitted bosoms by Avril Best, in celebration of ‘Knitted Knockers UK’, a group of volunteers who make artificial 100% cotton breasts free of charge for women who have had mastectomies.

Knitted bosoms by Avril Best, in celebration of ‘Knitted Knockers UK’, a group of volunteers who make artificial 100% cotton breasts free of charge for women who have had mastectomies

The Art of Textiles: Thinking about Matisse

Henri Matisse, ‘Harmony in Red’, 1908. Oil on canvas, 180 x 220 cm.

Matisse collected textiles throughout his life and had generations of weavers in his family. He wanted his work to be decorative and for it to redefine the ‘decorative’ as a positive phenomenon. Painting women and their domestic interiors in a radical way provided him with just the opportunity to explore and expound this.

Surprisingly, loose blue textile-inspired patterns dominate Matisse’s rich painting despite it being called Harmony in Red. They are expressive and organic, mirroring the rising shapes of the fruit bowl and its pot plant. It is as though they are growing out of the floor and claiming the table and walls. These patterns are wild and joyful, suggestive of potential creativity and spirit within the house. The trees framed to the left of the painting appear contained and groomed in comparison.

Despite the overall emphasis on pattern, the woman’s clothes are intriguingly plain. Her blue top compliments but in no way detracts from the blue designs. The angle of her bent head and stooped body leads the eye away from her and towards the patterns at the painting’s centre. She is very much a part of the still life and does not demand a stronger presence. Could she be a maid, or a careful mistress of the house?

In tension with the interior’s patterned promise of creativity, this subdued image of the woman could suggest that her housework – almost literally – consumes her. On the other hand, this blue harmony between her and her surroundings suggests she is at one with her home. In this way, Matisse is keen for us to see that decorative art can have a story and a weight to it. Like all genres of great artistic masterpieces, it shows you a tale just as much as it keeps you asking questions.

Matisse has been clever with this painting. It is heavily ornamented and yet not detailed, so verges towards the abstract. The table merges with the wall, the fruit seem like an extension of the random patterning and the chair is definitely missing a leg. Is it a window or a painting that occupies the left-hand side of the wall? The overall flatness and diminished perspective makes this a difficult question to answer. Pattern, colour and line come first.

The decorative is given a mind of its own; it is not about conforming, but about creativity, expression and the joy in pure colour and design. And let us not forget, the painting cries, that women have a positive – if often overlooked – place within the decorative and textiles businesses.

 

 

 

A celebration of spring at Heart Space Studios’ latest exhibition

I organised and curated the exhibition, Spring Love, at Heart Space Studios. My thoughts about the themes of the exhibition and individual textiles on display are published in a Trebuchet Magazine article and posted below.

Heart Space Studios is a lively and unusual gem in North Bristol with a variety of textiles classes on offer. Peyote stitch beaded jewellery, pincushion hearts and beautiful paper cut pictures are held alongside weekend corset-making classes. Artists from Bristol and Bath lead these workshops and collaborate with the Studios on a variety of events or regular textile clubs, including a popular ‘Knit & Stitch’ club.

Janet Haigh, the founder of the Studios, is an ex-Senior Research Fellow at UWE, Bristol, and was involved with developing textile techniques for vitreous enamel and other materials. She has also written various books on crazy patchwork and embroidery design, and likes to concentrate on drawing and stitching by hand. As a consequence the workshops are detailed and thorough, with a focus on good design.

Susi Bancroft's Kantha stitched works

Susi Bancroft’s Kantha stitched works

Celebrating the arrival of spring, Heart Space Studios’ current exhibition (until 7 April) is appropriately entitled ‘Spring Love’. Supporting the making of meaningful things ‘with hand, heart and eye’ the exhibition puts an eclectic array of textile art on display, including fresh pastel coloured corsets and bold enamel hearts. Heart Space explores ‘love’ from many angles including making craft with love, and the love of materials and techniques.  Continue reading

Some thoughts on historic Pin Cushion Hearts

Victorian pin heart cushionsI’ve recently returned from a Pin Cushion Heart making course at Heartspace Studios in Bristol, after seeing some of these objects dating back to the Victorian era for the first time this year. Two of which were in Tate Britain’s exhibition on Folk Art, which I reviewed for Trebuchet Magazine.

I find pin cushion hearts both attractive with their heavily beaded patterning and slightly grotesque, mainly because they have often ‘weathered’ over time and become stained or dirty. Making one myself seemed a good way to understand the significance and possible roles of these double-edged objects, and so to appreciate them more.

Recreated solider's pin heartThe cushions are stuffed with either sawdust or sand, which, if not machine-made, involves quite a lot of force and patience. I added lavender to my sawdust, which could be smelt every time I pushed a pin into the cushion during the decorating stage. It takes a lot of sawdust to make the cushion firm and full, and because it compacts, it takes a lot more than you think you need. The sawdust is stuffed through a long slit down the centre front of the heart. When the heart is sufficiently sturdy and can withstand the pressure of pins (a floppy cushion will result in the pins falling out), it can be sewn up with diagonal stitches that crosshatch each other. This ends up looking like a harrowing scar down the heart’s middle. So although the hearts feel strong, there is a sense of fragility and even violence at their centre.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: The 2nd magazine

Through Our Hands magazine issue 2Through Our Hands, an online platform for contemporary quilts, art and craft, has just published the second issue of their magazine with beautiful illustrations of artists’ work. The editorial team includes Annabel Rainbow, Laura Kemshall and Linda Kemshall.

My blog post about the arrival of their first magazine back in May will tell you more about the project’s background and contains a link to the first issue.

I have been invited to contribute a regular column and my latest article is about quilts in Tate Britain’s Folk Art exhibition on pages 51-56.

The link to the magazine is here.

 

 

British Folk Art at Tate Britain

This article is published in Trebuchet Magazine.

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Bellamy Quilt, 1890-1, by Herbert Bellamy and Charlotte Alice Springall

Gathering together the 200 items, including paintings, textiles and sculptures, for this British Folk Art exhibition took the curators to more galleries across the country than normal, Penelope Curtis admitted at the Press View. The staggering range of geographical locations adds to the spectacular diversity of artworks and objects on display, indicating the broad spectrum of art objects that make up ‘folk art’.

This genre is particularly undefined in Britain – indeed it is much more of a discipline in America – but instead of attempting to corner off definitions, the curators are keen for this show to be seen more as a “proposition” of folk art that is made up of objects that have histories in galleries. Thus, there are also particular viewing histories acknowledged by the exhibition; Curtis claimed that having the British Folk Art show on at the same time as the Kenneth Clark exhibition is appropriate because they both have a lot to do with taste. Notions of class and gender therefore echo throughout these two summer shows and introduce other important themes: that of surplus time and surplus materials, which together, point towards the making context as an ultimate concern.  Continue reading

Through Our Hands: New magazine on contemporary art & quilts

Through Our Hands magazine front coverThrough Our Hands is an online platform developed by Annabel Rainbow and Laura Kemshall promoting contemporary artists and makers, specialising in quilts. One of their aims is to help quilting gain a wider and refreshed recognition in the wider world. The project’s beginnings coincided with an exhibition on quilts, featuring Annabel’s work, at Leamington Spa Museum and Art Gallery in 2012, which I reviewed for The University of Warwick Student newspaper.

They have just launched their new, online quarterly magazine featuring artists’ work, interviews with makers, tips on quilting techniques and exhibition features. I was very pleased that Annabel asked me to contribute to the magazine with a piece on the Matisse exhibition in London.

The link to the magazine is here.

 

 

My review of the ‘Make It Slow’ exhibition in Scarborough is published in Crafts Magazine Jan/Feb 2014

photo copyI was delighted to see my review of the ‘Make It Slow’ exhibition at Woodend Gallery, Scarborough has been published in the Jan/Feb 2014 edition of Crafts Magazine. It has been given a whole page. Crafts is one of my favourite magazines, and one I have read for several years.

The exhibition consisted of a beautifully intricate display of textiles by some of the UK’s top makers. Emphasis was on sustainability of materials and in applying the ‘Slow philosophy’ to craft.

An online copy of the review can be found on the Crafts website, here

Quilt to Last

Published in The University of Warwick student newspaper, The Boar, in November 2012

The relationship between art and crafts is constantly debated and revised within the creative world. Leamington’s latest art exhibition at the Pump Rooms engages with this by presenting a great variety of quilts in terms of shape, size, subject matter, medium and stitching techniques in order to focus on the aesthetic, but also the political, nature of quilting and craftsmanship. This directs the viewer to approach the quilts as pieces of art, rather than functional items coming from an archaic crafting history. However, the craftsmanship and obvious crafting skill that goes into making one of these beautiful quilts is not ignored, as the exhibition includes a film on how quilts and patchwork pieces are made alongside displays of quilting fabric samples that visitors are encouraged to touch.

This exhibition, entitled Through Our Hands, includes work from ten top international quilt artists and teachers, which makes for a vibrant collection of techniques and modern subjects, and undermines traditional prejudices about quilting being a fussy, old fashioned, and predominantly functional craft. Though I feel they still play around with the ‘woman question’ attached to the creation and use of crafts – for a start, all the artists are female, and their work depicts mostly domestic or ‘familiar’ scenes. This however is not a criticism, because although the exhibition can be seen to (re)define quilting as a form of female expression, this focus on the domestic and the feminine ultimately serves to present everyday details as beautiful, something poets and artists alike have been doing for centuries. In addition, these familiar scenes are often pushed into an almost supernatural sphere, and ‘unpicked’ so as to focus on the potential of quilting for conveying, and experimenting with, shape, colour, form and feeling. Through Our Hands is definitely a successful stand for modernising quilting as an artistic form and process.  Continue reading