I’ve admired the work of Polly Binns from a distance for quite some time. I’ve read about her work and practice. In particular, when I was preparing for my Spurn residency, I read her 1997 PhD thesis: Vision and Process in Textile Art. A Personal Response to a Particular Landscape Expressed through Textile Art. This was a very important text for me as Polly’s work is completely tied up with her experience of a coastal landscape where she used to live in north Norfolk. The way Polly describes her interaction with the landscape (repeated walks, concentrating on specific elements within the landscape, observing certain qualities) rings true with my own experience.
I feel a bit silly sometimes concentrating on the coast when I live about as far from the sea as you can in the British Isles… but it is with me all the time. I actually found during my residency that the periods of ‘immersion’ were so intense that removal from it was important too; a time to step back and reflect on what I’d seen and experienced. We develop different ways of working depending on circumstance. If I lived by the sea, and maybe I will again one day, I would work differently I’m sure. I also feel a bit insecure about the subtlety I seek in my work, that it can come across as being simple, not enough to it. I am often concentrating on a very detailed surface quality.
Last weekend I went to Barnsley to see the current exhibition Light and Line, work by Polly Binns and Anne Morrell. I have never before been moved to tears in an exhibition but on Saturday I was. I think it was actually such a relief to see this work of Polly’s, so different in real life from on the page of a book or a computer screen. I felt so reassured that what I am pursuing in my practice is the right thing to do. These cloths of Polly’s aren’t stretched; they don’t even have a batten – they are simply, almost brutally, pinned to the wall. They appear very simple but there is layer upon layer of stitch and paint, built up slowly and purposefully. The lines, textures, tones and three-dimensional elements are subtle, minimal in places and light plays an important part.
After the subtlety of Polly’s cloths I couldn’t quite deal with the intense colours in Anne Morrell’s work but her pieces that were without colour I liked very much.
I came away feeling inspired, reassured and humbled. I dug out my notes on Polly’s thesis and was reminded of the passages that I found particularly relevant:
My artistic production during this period did not result in work which was a faithful record of a particular landscape on a particular day, but something created out of images stored in my memory – a response to the experience of landscape.
Binns (1997), p43
Many speak of the process of making as central to the development of their work. It becomes image as well as process, a starting point for ideas as well as chief pleasure. This intimate relationship between eye, hand and material is what draws makers to the textile medium.
Duffey (1997) The Language of touch, 62 group catalogue, in Binns (1997), p12.