walking, collecting, making

Holkham bay

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.

Holkham Bay razor shell tide line

 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.

Alice Fox beach finds (Sherringham)

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.

Alice Fox drawing with cliff-fallen clay

light and line

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.