I’ve been stitching away for a few weeks in between other things. I’m experimenting with different ways to stitch with and round the various rusty bits and pieces that find their way into my pockets on a daily basis – a kind of rust journal. It starts out white and I’m enjoying the crispness of white on white, but it will change.
These ones are being trapped and stitched round. They will then go outside in the weather to see what marks the rust will make on the cloth and thread they’re embedded within.
This is a different piece, one that is now living in the garden and has started to develop marks.
This time last week I had just returned from a long weekend on the North Norfolk coast. I was leading a study weekend with 8 Fold, a group of textile artists who are all regulars at the Committed to Cloth studio in Surrey. We had a wonderfully stimulating and creative time and the location provided rich inspiration in terms of landscape and our beach-combing (extreme scavenging at times!). I have long wanted to visit this part of the world, partly having glimpsed elements of it through the work of Polly Binns and Debbie Lyddon.
We were blessed with the most beautiful blue skies and bright winter sunshine, giving long shadows and the perfect conditions for photography. It was very cold so our cliff-top cottage was a necessary sanctuary to warm up and the kitchen table became the focus of all sorts of experiments and explorations in rust printing, embossing, weaving, stitching, drawing… and eating, but not all at the same time! It was great to spend time with such experienced artists whose curiosity and delight in exploring place and material matched my own.
Needless to say, many photos were taken, and there is a selection here if you want to see more. Although the temperature wasn’t very conducive to sitting around drawing I made the most of the recent cliff falls and used the varying tones of the clay to help record my experience. As ever, there is much to process and explore as a result of this weekend and I know I’ll be feeding off it for a long time.
Yesterday I finished off my extended pavement piece and sent it off with other work to the Mall Galleries in London. It will be on show as part of Designer Crafts from Friday 10th to Sunday 19th january. Pavement is over 2 metres long and hangs down the wall and out onto the floor (or plinth as galleries don’t generally allow things draping on the floor).
As with my previous Pavement Pieces, this includes rust prints and collagraph prints, all using street-combed items and the layers are hand stitched. I’ve been plugging away at this one for two or three months so it is good to see it finally finished. I look forward to seeing it in the gallery when I’m there on 19th for my stint as a steward.
In addition to the gallery exhibition there will be a ‘Shop within the show’ where there will be items for sale that can be taken away rather than waiting for the end of the exhibition. I’ve sent a range of mounted small Pavement Pieces and some new Printed Fragments and these will be in the shop.
The Tide Marks exhibition features a range of works on paper and cloth as well as some small tapestry weave pieces. This is the first time that I’ve shown weave as part of an exhibition. Weave is very much a part of my practice but I tend to use it as a way of collecting things together, part of my process rather than the finished work. I have often used tapestry weave to bring found items together, partly as a way of exploring the possibilities of the material and getting to know it. You really understand a fibre when you spend time with it, manipulating and seeing how far you can push it. Weave requires tension. Some things just can’t cope with this, whereas others can surprise in how they withstand it.
These small woven fragments all have a found metal object embedded within them. These metal marks form a line, like a line of debris left by the tide. They are dark marks within light weave but their mark spreads into the weave as sea water has worked on the metal and taken it into the fibre around. You can see a little sequence of images taken when these were first introduced to sea water here.
These pieces are like a collection of random objects found along that tide line: scraps of things, some rounded, some tattered, some pleasing in shape and compact enough to sit pleasingly in the hand or pocket, some more ungainly. The quality of the weave differs: some is tight and affected by the shape of the embedded object, some is more loose, imperfect. They undulate in response to the forces that have been exerted on them. These are imaginary items: one could almost imagine they’d been woven by mermaids.
I’ve been working on some small textile pieces that are part of the series of works called Gifts from the Pavement. These compliment the paper based prints that formed the original exhibition. They are made in the same way, building up layers of rust print, collagraph print (both using found objects from the Saltaire streets) and stitch, but this time on silk.
These ones have just gone off to the framers and I have a little stack to work on through the holidays.
I took down my installation at The Bowery last weekend (with the help of my small assistant). It was potentially a rather sad day as the paper pieces that I’d collaged directly onto the wall were going to have to be scraped off. I didn’t know whether they would come off in salvageable pieces or if the whole thing would break up. I had resolved myself to this site specific piece (the paper extension to my linen Spurn Cloth #2) being an ephemeral work and likened it to the erosion and change that is happening constantly at Spurn, where the pieces were based on.
Someone suggested I should have filmed the process of putting the installation up, building up the collage on the wall – great idea, but I’d already put it up when they suggested it! So I decided to record the taking down instead. Here is the result, although the quality isn’t great it gives an idea of how the pieces surrounded you in the gallery (the first half is shots taken from the middle of the room looking round the walls and then it goes back the other way tracking the removal of the work and leaving an empty gallery again.
Hebden Bridge Rag Market are holding a summer exhibition on the theme ‘haberdashery’, with 20 artists work displayed in 20 shop windows during July. My book Forgotten Haberdashery is one of those 20. This features marks made by rusty pins from a rusty round tin, prints from scraps of lace and yarn, an old button, vintage silks and an abandoned needle. I’ve used rust prints, collagraph print, embossing, monoprint, screen print, chine colle, and stitch (gosh, that sounds a lot but the surfaces are actually quite subtly built up). I’m looking forward to hearing where it has ended up…
I taught the first in a run of workshops last Saturday at the lovely PASH north of York. This wonderful old flax mill is full of things in various states of rustiness and repair, so it was a perfect venue for a workshop focusing on making marks with rusty things. We had the luxury of a wealth of interesting items to use in our experiments as well as those that we’d brought along ourselves.
Here’s what we got up to:
This workshop is part of a celebration of different print techniques that is on at PASH until the end of June, called Passion for Print. This includes an exhibition of work from a number of artists working with print in different ways and a series of workshops too.
I’ve been playing about with old envelopes and have made a series of small note books using them. I’ve always loved the patterns you get on the inside of many envelopes and often keep them ‘just in case’ they might be of use. Now I’ve found a way of using them and giving them another life. I’ve enjoyed playing with some of the printed marks on them, deliberately including bits of text, stamps and those little windows that allow you to see the address on the letter inside.
I’m reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees at the moment. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a fan of nature writing and there is a pile of such books permanently on my bed-side table, either waiting to be read or ready for me to dip back into a favourite section. There is a chapter where Deakin describes visiting the artist Margaret Mellis, which I read the other day. Because he is focusing on trees and wood he is particularly interested in Margaret’s use of driftwood for her sculptures or assemblages. He also describes her drawings made on opened out envelopes and he makes an observation that really struck a chord with me:
Letters, like driftwood and ideas, arrive out of the blue. They are gifts. The envelopes, like the driftwood, had a former life, and would generally be discarded. Mellis gives them new status and a function. Ingeniously reusing an envelope, or driftwood, to make a picture is, in the context of environmental politics, a deliberately frugal act. Both were once trees, and what would otherwise have been wasted is turned to good use. (p 188).
The phrase ‘a deliberately frugal act‘ has stayed with me since I read it as I know that many of the decisions I make both in my life in general and in my artistic practice are just that. I am excited by the possibilities of the found or discarded object and see it as a challenge to make use of them. If by doing so I can reduce the consumption of new materials that is another challenge met. This doesn’t mean I won’t use new materials but I am always considering carefully how and when I do.
I’m currently preparing for a series of workshops over the next month introducing people to printing and dyeing with rust. I am gathering collected rusty things as well as a range of materials on which to make our rusty marks. Fittingly, the first of these workshops next weekend will be held in a salvage yard. I’ll let you know what we find and how we get on. If you fancy making some notes on the back of an envelope then the little books are available here.
I’ve been working quietly away at my exhibition for Saltaire Arts Trail. This time next week the event will be in full swing and the ‘village’ of Saltaire will be buzzing with people of all ages, inspired energy and a plethora of different art experiences for visitors to sample. One of these will be my exhibition Gifts from the Pavement, in one of two pop-up galleries on Victoria Road.
I posted a while ago about finding my ‘gifts’, the result of a kind of ‘beach-combing’ or pavement combing. Farley & Roberts (see post on Edgelands) refer to this kind of collecting of objects: “This is not beachcombing, but edgecombing” (p154). Saltaire, a World Heritage Site, can’t really be classed as an edgeland; it’s far too loved and looked after. However, the discarded or ignored details that I’ve explored here are generally over-looked, so there is an edgelands quality to them.
My collection of ‘combed’ textures, marks and shapes found on the streets of Saltaire has been transformed into a series of long prints or sections of a path, which will form the main part of the exhibition. As with other recent print-based work these are built up from various layers of different print techniques and texture: There are rust prints from found metal objects; collagraph prints, some made with found items and some from paper but inspired by the textures and patterns found on the street (drain covers, worked stone etc.); mono-prints using some of the natural items I found (leaves and seed heads); screen prints featuring scraps of found text; hand stitch adding a further layer of texture to the surface and finally a layer of subtle texture, almost like a rubbing, that makes the surface even more pavement-like. There are areas of intense activity as well as quieter sections. This reflects the ‘activity’ on the streets: some stretches were rich in points of interest, others much ‘cleaner’.
In the run-up to the Arts Trail the Saltaire Tourist Information Centre has some ‘Pavement Pieces’ prints (like little fragments of the main ones) and cards. I still don’t know exactly how the long prints will actually come together in the exhibition space until I get in there later in the week. This is slightly nerve-racking but exciting too. The book I’ve published to go with the exhibition is due for delivery on Monday and until I see it in print I won’t know if it really has worked how I hoped. Although the work is all made there are unknowns and challenges for the week ahead.