Saturday, 9 November 2019

Stretching and pushing out of my comfort zone

Instead of the usual E.A.S.T meeting today we invited artist, Vinny Stapley to take the group through some design exercises.  We arrived at the hall at Braintree District Museum to find Vinny putting together a still life - dried foliage, exotic vegetables and interesting lighting.

We began with some warm up exercises.  Using charcoal, first we had to draw with our non-dominant hand.  We had about 8 minutes to make our drawing.

Then we had to draw without looking at our paper - I really struggled not to look, and did not take a photo of this exercise.  Our final warm up exercise was to put our paper on the floor and then draw with our charcoal attached to a very long stick.

We had time for a group critique before our next exercise.

Then we moved on to working in colour - in a section Vinny called the 'magic roundabout'.  For each 'station' Vinny placed a different type of media.  Each activity was timed - about 5 or 8 minutes for each.  Then we moved to the seat on our left and picked up the next media.  As we moved along we also moved around the central still life - so our view changed.  We were supposed to capture moments - and think about what was being left out.

Sometimes I built on an image I had already started - sometimes I tried something completely new.  A different fruit perhaps - but I kept coming back to the dried teasels and what I think was cow parsley.

Then we used some card windows to pick out sections - something we could develop.  

For the final session of the day we worked in groups to create a 3-dimensional response to the central still life.  Again we were time limited and had to use materials that were to hand. I worked with Felicity and Libby to create this response to the pumpkin and cow parsley florets, with a 'box' (made from paper) - a juxtaposition of the natural and man made.  The title of the workshop was 'organic subversive' and we felt that this would also be the title for our finished 'sculpture'.  Oh - and we decided to add a little humour as Libby's glasses were just the perfect colour.

The importance of lighting was discussed as we looked at the sculptures by the others in the group.

All in all it was a really interesting day.  I was really pushed to do work I haven't done for ages - in particular drawing, but also using natural objects for inspiration and working with some new types of media.  There were quite a few pieces that I was very pleased with, and I think can be developed further.  I am also wondering if I can combine anything from today with the work from the workshop I did with Diane Bates.  

Watch this space!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Stepping into the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is one of those galleries I have been meaning to visit for years - it took a display of exquisite shoes to get me there.  It was only by chance that I learned of the 'An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection' display in its last week so I caught it on its penultimate day.

Blahnik has apparently used the collection to inspire his work - and now his shoes were displayed as art themselves.  

It seemed particularly fitting to have a display of pink shoes alongside Jean-Honore Fragonard's 'The Swing' (1768) - the girl in the painting having thrown her own pink slipper into the air.

And a particular favourite was this 'strawberry' shoe.

Though this delightful exhibition has now finished - I will definitely return to the Wallace Collection to view its masterpieces on display.


Sunday, 11 August 2019

Dior - inspired by history

Visiting the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A Museum this week, I did not expect to see anything related to the eighteenth century.  So it was a pleasant surprise to have a whole room dedicated to historical inspirations.

These images are just a glimpse of some of the Dior creations from just one room of this exhibition.

I think what these photographs just cannot do justice to is the beadwork and embroidery - all created by hand and a testament to the skill of the unnamed craftsmen and women who make each of these items unique.

Attention to detail includes the stand for the perfume bottles:

The exhibition itself is not just about Christian Dior (1905-1957), although a section about him begins the display.  Instead is is about the fashion house he created.  After his early death in 1957 this couture business has had five other artistic directors responsible for its women's wear - Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferro, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri.  The designs of all these also featured in the show.  

Beginning with the 'New Look' as well as historical inspirations there are pieces inspired by travel and by nature.  The nature room not only has some beautiful clothing but the paper flower decorations provided a real 'wow' factor on their own.

Another room (almost entirely in white) refers to the physical making of the clothes by displaying toiles - the 'mock ups' that help develop the structure of the work.  Another favourite was the diorama dedicated to accessories and ancillary elements - design work, photography, perfume, miniature costumes, etc.  The ballroom at the end is a spectacular finale - not just for the clothes but for the display itself.  

The exhibition continues until 1st September 2019 - but access now is limited to those who already have a ticket, members and a few tickets on the day.

For more about this fabulous exhibition it is worth visiting the V&A website which includes this clip giving a glimpse of how the exhibition was put together -

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Power of Stitch at Braintree Museum

E.A.S.T's latest exhibition, Power of Stitch, is now open at Braintree District Musuem (until Saturday 29 June 2019).  My own contribution is a body of work called 'A chain of events' which refers to three stories related to the technique of tambour work - a chain stitch made with a hook rather than a needle.

I became interested in the history of tambour embroidery when I discovered a number of girls at the eighteenth century Foundling Hospital being apprenticed to embroiderers from the mid-1760s.  The embroidery masters (they were mostly male) were also sometimes identified as tambour workers.  When I tried to learn more about the technique's history in Britain all I found was that it arrived in England in the mid-1760s.  Prior to that it has a long history in China and India where it has been used for centuries.

Looking through newspaper archives from the eighteenth century the first person I found who advertised tambour work (then called broder au tambour) was a Mme Catherine Pignerolle.  The newspapers, from February 1765, include several advertisements by Mme Pignerolle teaching skills and selling items worked using this particular technique.  There were others teaching and selling tambour needles, but Mme Pignerolle seemed to be one of the most regular in the press.  When she died in 1773 it took three days to sell all her possessions.  I wondered did tambour work make her rich?  Her story is represented by this piece of work.

To represent 30 foundling girls (and one boy) who were apprenticed to the same embroiderer I created 30 hearts.  Each one has the name of one of the children, their number (all foundling children also had a number), the year they were admitted/born and the year they were apprenticed.  One side of each heart has a little 'window' showing a foundling token - identifying notes, objects and fabrics.  On the other side I used cottons that are reproductions of 18th century textiles.  These fabrics had been a gift from a friend.  I wanted to use these because these girls, unlike many of the foundlings, might have been supported by this friendship network.  

My last piece of work relates to another tambour related story from the newspapers.  That of Frances Glover and Elizabeth Wheeler who, aged 20, were found in the New River, London in 1780.  The report states that they were unable to find work (as tambourers) and it was thought this might have been the reason why they threw themselves in the river.  By now this date there were increasingly stories of tambour workers being sweated in workhouses - demand was high and competition meant selling cheap.  Did tambour work make them poor?  These girls are remembered in my third piece of work.

As well as tambour embroidery, one of the other main themes of this work has been the representation of time.  It is one of the reasons I have used photographic images - as a means to capture time.  

To find out more about the other artists whose work is on display visit the E.A.S.T website - HERE.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Coram's coat

In Coram, next to the Foundling Museum, they have a reproduction of Thomas Coram's coat on display in their entrance hall.  Coram is the children's charity that developed from the eighteenth-century London Foundling Hospital.   The coat on display is based on the one in William Hogarth's famous portrait of Coram, which you can also see on display at the Museum.  The coat was made by Ninya Mikhaila of The Tudor Tailor; you might also know her from BBC's Stitch in Time programme. 

As well as the coat there is a reproduction of Coram's hat, and a short film giving an insight into how the coat was made. 

The coat also gives an insight into what Coram's coat looks like from the back - obviously something you cannot see in the painting.

If you are visiting the Foundling Museum on a week day, the Coram display is free to visit.  The coat may not be on show for much longer as the charity are developing a new display for the summer.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Textiles - from really ancient to the latest trends

This was a week when I managed to see textiles, (especially embroidery), from two very different time periods - some dating from the late fourth to early third century BC; others from 2017.

The really ancient textiles were part of the British Museum's exhibition of the Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia.  This was an exhibition that included everything from mummified remains, fabulous pieces of goldwork and even a bag for some really old cheese - so a pretty varied exhibition. 

With no written language, these nomadic people are only known through the objects they left with their burials.  However because of the freezing temperatures of Siberia much that would not normally survive for such an ancient culture, has.  I had read there would be some textiles but had not realised how much there would be - or that there would be some really quite fine embroidery.

The early part of the exhibition focused on a large quantity of gold objects - these were in themselves quite remarkable.  The Scythians were keen on animal motifs and this was also reflected in some of the felt pieces on display - including a felt swan and a horse's headpiece resplendent with a goat and bird on top.  Another textile highlight was a shoe decorated with beads and metalwork.  There was also quite a lot of applique work and a really delicate piece of embroidery - now not much more than a collection of chain stitches in the shape of a winged horse.

Definitely an exhibition worth visiting if you have a love of ancient embroidery and/or felt work.  It continues until 14 January 2018.

Then yesterday I visited a very different exhibition showcaseing a whole range of contemporary textiles - the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London.  From beginners to accomplished artists everyone was catered for.  I had missed the show for two years running and so it was nice to get back to see some of the variety of work on display.

For me the highlights were the exhibitions - I particularly liked Studio 21's Sewing Machine Project, pieces of which are illustrated here.  This group used the sewing machine as their starting point - looking at it both for its aesthetic values (visual, aural and tactile) and its history (personal, cultural, political and social). 

(Above) Amarjeet Nandhra looked at ideas of manufacturing and piece work 
(also known as the bundle system) - The shirt on your back.

(Above) Mary Morris used monoprints based on her sketchbook drawings for this piece
called On Line

(Above) Debbie Lyddon's Fold used strips of fabric folded and "stitched" with wire to consider the relentless mechanical movement of the sewing machine.  This photo does not do Debbie's work justice and I strongly recommend a visit to her own website/blog.

I was also interested in the work of the group Hue who used as their starting point the text of Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways.  Macfarlane looked at pathways and landscapes shaped by ancient people and he worked with Hue as they made their textile pieces.  I thought this was a really interesting collaboration.  It is only recently I have learned about Macfarlane's work - first through Jenny Langley, in my own textile group EAST.  She had also been inspired by this author's work in our exhibition Following a Thread earlier this year.  In addition, next year Macfarlane's work will feature in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum.  I definitely need to put his books on my "to do" reading list.

Other highlights for me in the show included the work of Jo Beattie, Haf Weighton, Hilary Hollingworth, Lynda Monk and Diana Harrison.  As well as being inspired by some very talented artists, and do a bit of textile shopping, it was also nice to catch up with like minded friends.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Lost and Found

It's a funny thing - at the beginning of this week I felt a bit lost.  All that intense thinking and writing and editing for my final dissertation - then it is handed in and all I have to do is wait.

Instead I can now focus on my EAST textile art work (above).  I can also prepare for the Being Human Festival 2017 running from 17 to 25 November 2017.  Organised by the School of Advanced Study, University of London I am part of just one of a hundreds of events relative to studies in the humanities.  Talks, workshops, guided walks, exhibitions are held all over the country and this year, internationally too.  The theme for this year is Lost and Found

So on Saturday 18 November you will find me involved in Finding Through Feeling, at the Foundling Museum, London.  There will be a handling session allowing visitors to engage with some replicas of foundling tokens and 18th century infant clothing.  Such activities are held regularly now at the museum - usually the last Saturday of the month.  It is always fascinating being part of the conversations that come out of these events.

Looking through the festival brochure I found some other events that seem to have some textile/craft/token related elements -

Also on Saturday 18 November at the British Museum, the London Metropolitan Archives are running a day of talks, weaving and object handling related to the Somali object display.

On Monday 20 November, Queen Mary University of London's Centre for the History of the Emotions are running an event at the Royal College of Nursing looking at the power of objects.  There will be puppetry workshops, emotional talismans and displays of healing objects.

On Thursday 23 November the University of the Arts London are hosting an event at the Museum of London looking at living in the city.  The event looks at how fashion connects people and place and includes a T-shirt design workshop as a way of recognising the importance of community within the city.

Also on Thursday 23 November the Royal College of Art are investigating bereavement and mental health issues through textiles.

Further afield in Newcastle Upon Tyne there is The Great Knitting Workshop: Picking up Dropped Stitches looking at the history of knitting - also on Thursday 23 November.  This is being run by Northumbria University at The Literary and Philosophical Society Library.

The whole festival runs between 17 and 25 November and although there are paper versions of the brochure it is also possible to view on line - for more information.  Some events have to be booked in advance and the website should have the links.