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Artist interview

This week we are excited to have one of our newest members Polly Pollock talk about her fascinating practice.

Polly Pollock – Nests Group (detail )

I’ve been looking at several ongoing themes in my work over the past few years around homemaking and nurture, protection, damage and repair.  I combine basketry and stitched textile techniques and work mainly with dyed paper yarns – I often use gentle ‘eco’ dyes which give soft and muted colour palettes.  I like to add in scraps of other materials eg thread, string and yarns, raffia etc. often using up scraps of left-over materials from other pieces of work.  I try to ensure in small ways to avoid contributing to the mounting levels of waste in the world today.

“Nests” are rounded basketry forms with subtle changes in colour, texture and form. Like a family, or community of weaver birds, these intimate, protective nest forms cluster together relating to each other, yet have individual strength to stand independently.

Recent ‘Nests’ are more complex and densely layered. The inclusion of knotted strands (referencing Quipus, ancient Andean accounting devices made from knotted yarns) represent recording and holding onto many positive moments within what at times are the seemingly impossible complexities of family relationships. These knotted strands also suggest the beautiful accents of colour and textures of lichens found on twigs birds collect to build their nests.

“Once in a While” is another ongoing project, which began from thinking about damage and repair. I include many paper yarns left over from making ‘Nests’ to make these pieces, forming threads of connectivity between these two distinct yet closely linked projects.

Seemingly random, each small piece explores weave and stitch, tensions and textures within a defined space. In addition the irregular ‘warp’ structures, and sometimes fragmented yet intricate weaving, suggests damage and wounds, but also becomes darning and repair. As well as symbolising the sometimes fragile internal functionings of home and family, within a chaotic external world, the individual pieces can stand alone; equally, when these pieces are displayed in a regular grid-like structure a sense of order and calm can be created.  

It was very exciting to have “Once in a While” selected for the Vlieseline Fine Art Textiles Award.

I continue to explore these themes, and am beginning to investigate other basketry and textile techniques, but still making small “hand’ size forms which stand alone, or cluster together groups

Polly Pollock – Once in a While

Artists Interview

We are nearly at  the end of our artists interviews, this being the penultimate one, with Amarjeet Nandhra. Hopefully you have enjoyed these posts and  they have allowed you to gain a brief insight into the way TSG members think and work.

Amarjeet Nandhra
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
The Insight project was more about recording the way we work rather than responding to a set brief. So there was a sense of freedom to follow my own pathway.  Exploring  my  Indian heritage plays an important role in my work and for this project I continued to develop these ideas .  Even when addressing a given topic, it is important that I find my voice and explore an angle that works for me, yet also fulfils the brief.

My research into the traditional Phulkari cloths from the Punjab, inspired this work. These magnificent cloths, with their striking colours and shimmering stitch, captivated me. However it wasn’t purely the seductive colours that enticed me, but also how the cloth was used to document everyday life. I wanted to understand what the stylised patterns meant, what the the colours represented and to unravel the stories behind these ancestral maps.

Using this research , I was inspired to create  my own interpretation of a fabric map; documenting my life  and my social relationships.  Just as the women did many years ago.

Although this work is a continuation and development of  previous work, there was however, one big change…my  use of colour. The  glorious  colour combinations within these cloths, filled me with joy and I became very excited at the thought of using colour again. In the past, my work used a very limited colour palette, lots of black, well I guess that is still present.

The use of black for me represents a strong powerful force, a bold statement …here I am. Yet it often has negative connotations;  black mark, blackmail, black sheep.  Life at the moment has thrown a spotlight on issues that I have grappled with for many years.  Sometimes the weight of the anger and injustice becomes unbearable and the need to retreat to the  comforting and soothing world of cloth, colour and stitch beckons.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I really enjoy the initial stages, getting consumed with  the research, experimenting  and sampling. The buzz of creating new ideas, the excitement and that feeling when your play takes you to a space that feels rights. An idea that leads you to a place that you hadn’t even imagined.

In the early stages, I want to explore all my ideas and have a tendency to add everything but the kitchen sink!  There is a sense that I might lose out and the one idea that got away was the perfect one! The words I often repeat to myself are…pare back, select what is most important.

I sometimes find that I lose interest when I have reached a conclusion to my experiments and that producing the finished item can become  a little mechanical.

Once I have completed the work I rarely have any attachment to the piece and am ready to move on.  I am never fully satisfied with the end outcome, wondering if I should have done something different. Some past pieces do get reworked and added to. I suppose that’s the nature of the game, to continue and strive to make that perfect piece!

Amarjeet Nandhra – Phulkari sample

Artists Interview

Artists can be inspired by many things, nature , surroundings , memories and emotions .  Sometimes a place that you experience a close connection to can be the source of continued exploration. In this weeks conversation  Gwen talks about walking along the coast shoreline  and  how it is a multi-sensory experience, with constantly changing sounds, sights and smells.

Gwen Hedley
I was born and raised by the sea, so the coast is where I feel I most at home. Once again, I live very close to the sea, and can regularly amble along the beach.

Walking on the shoreline is a multi-sensory experience, with constantly changing sounds, sights and smells.  I am an inveterate collector of bits of ‘stuff’ that have been endlessly battered by tidal movements, some becoming my working materials, as I observe transformations brought about by natural forces. Drawings of marked and scarred surfaces, along with jotted working notes, form the basis for abstract designs

My work for Insights is a continuation and development of my on-going ideas and working processes. I tend not to have fixed ideas regarding resolved pieces of work, preferring to follow a path that allows for spontaneous diversions and side-tracks that can lead to unanticipated destinations.

I initially intended to concentrate solely upon the change and transformation of metal surfaces.  My first work, ‘Material Change: Sculpture’ was concerned with the effects of repetitive immersion of cast iron in the sea, and I had planned to further develop emerging ideas and designs.  However……..finding a child’s disintegrated leather shoe had a profound effect upon me, and I felt compelled to take my work in a new direction, that gave rise to ‘Material Change: Shoe’. This side-track led me to do a broad definition search on ‘flotsam and jetsam’ that gave disturbing results and deeper meaning to my work.   The shoe, along with scraps of distressed fabric became an analogy for distressed people; this notion is expanded upon in Insights.

Hitherto, I have transferred colour and design onto cloth and paper by painting, dyeing or block printing. I had just started learning to use a press for collagraph intaglio printing, so this project was a good opportunity to try new ways of working, by developing observational drawings in an alternative way, and further drawing into them with stitch.  Theory is one thing, and practice is another – it was, and continues to be a steep learning curve.  I was not aiming for perfect traditional prints, which was just as well !

For the work based on cast iron, materials were stained and marked by steeping them with rusting metals, in bowls of sea water for a few days. I then began printing on the different weights of cloth and paper and exploring chine collé  techniques.  Prints were moved about until a satisfactory composition emerged, providing the basis for further drawing with simple stitch.  ‘Material Change; Shoe’ was created in a similar way, but without staining.

I have since embarked upon experimental Cyanotype prints, incorporating scraps of found cloth, and stitch. Trials are at an early stage – success is not guaranteed.

During lockdown, we have had glorious sunshine, and having used the salty sea to a to produce colour from rusting metals, I like the idea of harnessing the sun’s rays to activate applied chemicals to produce colour – a sort of sea and sun colouring fest…but we’ll see!

It’s good to try new approaches, and I enjoy exploring these printing processes, but am not sure where they will lead.   However, I do know that needle and thread will continue to be important elements – I still need the comforting rhythms and the tactility of hand-stitching to feel at one with the work.

Gwen Hedley

Artists Interview

Looking back to the past for inspiration can be a way to move your  work in a different direction. Researching techniques from the past, a  collection of  old textiles could provide the stimulus for new work. Working with these ideas to celebrate tradition, yet create a new relevant dialogue for modern times. Ann  shares how finding an old school exercise book of hers started a  new narrative.

Ann Wheeler
During this project have you looked at a new way of working?
Previously much of my work has been exploring traditional bobbin lacemaking techniques, to be used in a larger scale contemporary context.  I researched the history of lacemaking and the lives of the women who made the lace and found this was a story I wanted to tell. This project came about in a different way as the research was closer to home. However, the techniques I have used are completely different to my usual way of working.

On finding my old school needlework exercise book and also tray cloths worked by my mother just after the war, I again had a story to tell. The difference was it was the tactile feeling of the cloths and remembering those school days and how they are not always ‘the best days of our life’ that influenced me.

The embroidery on the tray cloths was often from the between the wars period, lots of crinoline ladies and ‘lazy daisy’ stitch. The school text book and my work in in school were all still looking back to the thirties, by being taught very defined needlework techniques. At the time this didn’t seem strange, but now thinking it through, so few books were produced during the war years that the fashions and styles illustrated tended to be pre war.

I cut up the cloths and pieced them together, not something I usually do. The joined pieces were then further enhanced with more hand stitching using stitches that were used at that time. To this I added ‘how to’ descriptions and images from advertising from the same period.

I enjoy integrating lettering in to my work and in this case chose to add some of the varied comments, not always very complimentary, made in my notebook by the needlework teacher.

What is your favourite part of the creative progress?
From the first idea or brief I find the research particularly interesting. As well as looking at visual images I find the interest is studying the subject and finding a story to tell in my way. Looking at art, poetry and particularly  social history. I always hope this is seen by the viewer but the important thing is that I have the background to the piece and this in turn will lead to more work on the same subject.

The next step is the sampling process, both as sketches and materials that will help me make the choices for the final piece. I try not to have preconceived ideas of the materials or techniques I will use and hope that the variety of samples and sketch book ideas will eventually show me a way though.

These sketches and ideas, as well as influencing the final piece give me pleasure in the working. This in turn gives time for thought before rushing into working the first idea that comes into your head.

Ann Wheeler

Artists Interview

What stops you finding a solution to that creative problem you have?  Is it fear of failure, lack of time, or you maybe you don’t know were to start?  Sometimes revisiting ideas that you began to explore  but never fully resolved , gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction. Even if the incubation period was fifteen years ago as Kay shares in her interview.

Kay Greenlees
Are the ideas /themes for this project ongoing or are they new?
Since finishing my work for Dis/rupt I had been looking forward to revisiting my sketchbooks and notebooks for some ‘old’ ideas that I had not had the time to make. There are several of these.  In particular I was looking forward to a specific idea that had been around for a long time and I started to think about this as we moved into the INSIGHTS project. I suppose that the idea could be considered both ongoing (the underpinning interests can be seen in all my work) and new, (I have never made anything like this before). It also rather depends on your definition of ‘ongoing’ and ‘new’. This work is new in that I have used a lot of stitch which I rarely do.

The idea sprang from a thought and some photography that I recorded in a notebook, which eventually I was able to date to 2005. This was a much longer time span than I realised but the idea was always with me and so I used it anyway. It is what I was going to try next, with or without INSIGHTS. Also, of use were the Oblique Strategies cards produced by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. By chance the card I drew endorsed the thought, although it could easily have challenged the idea or working method. I enjoy using these cards when I am in a playful mood and on this occasion my randomly drawn card read ‘use an old idea’.

Incubating an idea for some fifteen years may seem extreme. The textile work plays with the idea of stolen identity which I felt was still relevant to today. The topic hasn’t quite followed the route I thought it would take so there may be other pieces still to be discovered within the overall idea.

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice?
Writing is not unusual for me; I write quite a lot in my sketchbooks anyway. This is a private form of writing. It is usually reflective, personal and highly critical of what I have done as well as noting action plans and achievements (or not). In my sketchbooks I am writing for myself, trying to pin down thoughts and ideas but not sharing them. There are over twenty pages of sketchbook writing for the INSIGHTS project.

Nevertheless, writing for INSIGHTS was a challenge. I find all shared writing a challenge, but it is the challenge that makes it a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. I also find it a creative process, an alternative way of working on the same project. But writing for INSIGHTS is a public form of writing and a lot of thought has to go into describing the process of working from the idea(s) stage, through to transition and beginning to bring the work to fruition. It’s difficult to do because writing is temporal and in explaining a process it tends to make it flow in a linear manner, whereas the artistic experience may be much more of a stop/start, re-visit, re-view, start again process. Creativity can be elusive.

Kay Greenlees

Artists Interview

As artists we spend quite a bit of time observing the world around us and responding to these events.  We have to look no further than the current situations we are faced with ; racial injustice, a pandemic and climate change just to mention a few.  What ever your subject, it is an opportunity  to engage with creative solutions to raise awareness, create change and even trigger action.  This week  Shelley talks about her continued  investigation and response to problems encountered  by the world’s coral reefs.

Shelley Rhodes
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new?
Having previously made work in response to coral bleaching due to rising sea temperatures, I have continued to investigate and respond to problems encountered with by the world’s coral reefs. Having been overwhelmed by the amount of discarded plastic I came across while beach combing, I began to wonder if it affects coral and of course it does.  It contributes to disease and it can become entangled around the delicate coral fingers causing them to break off. I gathered the discarded beach plastic and laid out my new collection. Some of the plastic resembled little sea creatures or vessels to contain tiny pieces of broken coral. As I arranged the fragments, they reminded me of extinct exhibits in a museum. How sad if our coral reefs become extinct and the only way to see coral in the future is displayed in boxes in a museum.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I love sampling, testing, trying things out and experimenting. I like to mix different media – asking myself ‘what would happen if…?’  In fact, once I have figured it all out and know where I am going, I quite often lose interest in completing the finished piece. This is why increasingly I work in small units – almost little test pieces, which I build together to create a new piece of work.

Generally, my work tends to be two dimensional but this new body of work involves little three-dimensional assemblages, so I am very much learning as I go along.  I have been using porcelain, paper clay, slip, plaster, paint, wax, varnish and wire. As I discover some things that work and some that don’t, I am reminded of a favourite quote of mine,

‘Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it?’  Frank Gehry

Shelley Rhodes

Artists Interview

In this weeks artist interview we share  Jan Millers thought provoking response to the questions.   

Jan Miller
Are the ideas  for this project ongoing or are they new ?
Making new work for a group project and exhibition with an agreed title or given brief  is not the same as following my own interests and ways of thinking and working. I make notes  (selecting  a suitable sketchbook is the first challenge, as if that matters to the outcome, yet somehow it does) to record lines of development … words, layouts, sequences, quotes … gathering information … a game of consequences.

In the case of Insights, TSG started the thought processes with a suggestion to look back at our individual previous work. This was invaluable to prompt a personal dialogue for me and start to recognise my own practice . There are many recurring themes and passions in my process. Do we always make the same piece of work? I don’t think so … but there is an identity unique to each individual maker, which may be more important to them than to the observer

What is your favourite part of the creative process ?
I really enjoy the sampling process: working new textile sketches with freedom without worrying about an end-product or to satisfy a brief. Spontaneity is important to me.

I have always enjoyed handling materials: I enjoy the touch, the feel, even the smell … I remember the fabric shop in Altrincham, its location in George Street opposite Woolworths, the few steps down and then the formaldehyde, burning our eyes, tickling our throats … I am not sure what part that played in the manufacture nor if it is even allowed today. For me cloth still reaches all the senses, but I do know the feel/handle gets better over time and use.

We each have our own ‘handwriting’ even in cloth and thread … though it may take someone else to recognise that individuality    read it and identify it. I enjoy the memory and story–telling held in each piece,  a hidden history that is personal and individual to each maker.

On my studio wall there are a few postcards that have retained their position … others come and go … I think these will always be markers of the most beautiful and influential images of textile process (wrapping, physicality of process, perfect folding) for me:

Bellini,  Presentazione di Gesu al tempio

Pablo Picasso, Woman Ironing

Robert Campin, A Woman

And that is not to ignore paintings of the Last Supper and the attention to the crisp folds of the  tablecloth.

If you have time, I would love to see your cards!

Jan in her studio

Artists Interview

As we adapt to the new normal, most of us have seen many changes to our lives and how we navigate creating may also have been impacted.  Artistic inspiration may  have eluded you  or maybe this period of time has given you more energy to devote to your practice. Our artist this week Julia faced many additional challenges and she discusses just how inventive she had to become. Sometimes we are forced into new ways of working and just have to embrace these moments.

Julia Triston
During this project have you looked at a new way of working ?
Working towards the Insights project has been quite an extraordinary experience for me. Like many fellow Textile Study Group members, I began this project in 2018, following our successful DIS/rupt exhibition tour.

I embarked upon this project with much enthusiasm, but in 2019 my work for Insights came to a complete halt as I packed up my home and studio in the north east of England and permanently moved to Denmark.

Temporarily homeless for a few months, with all my belongings in storage – and without my usual resources, materials and sewing machine to hand – this was an unsettling and challenging time. Whilst finding my way in a new country, navigating my way around a different language and looking for a permanent place to live and work, I had to find an innovative way to develop and continue my textile artworks for Insights.

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic compounded the situation, I borrowed a sewing machine from a new friend. I discovered charity shops where I could buy raw materials. I chanced upon a shop selling machine embroidery threads. And I found a city café that had a stock of free art magazines. At a temporary desk at a friend’s house, I was able to recommence my research, collaging, sampling and stitching and continue developing my pieces for Insights.

So, yes – having been pushed outside my comfort zone – I have certainly had to look at new ways of working for this project!

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
Each body of work I create does lead on from my last one, and there are connections and themes that run through all of my textile pieces. Underlying all my work is my interest in the memories of cloth; from discarded household linen to previously worn underwear, my raw materials are all second hand.

I am interested in creating conceptual textiles about identity and human rights issues which convey a political message through their narrative. Some of my works are explicit and shocking, which is the point. They are not designed to make comfortable viewing – they are statements designed to raise awareness. Although my themes continue, they are developing and becoming bolder and more thought provoking.

My current work investigates issues such as sexism, abuse and consent, and highlights campaigns supported by Amnesty International such as #LetsTalkAboutYes.

I start each new project with a sketchbook beginning by jotting down my thoughts and ideas about the exhibition title, then add primary visual research such as photographs, postcards, quotations and newspaper cuttings. Using this collected imagery I develop my themes through sketches, swatches, stitch samples and collage. Whatever I am making I have to be totally absorbed and immersed in the process; I need to believe in what I am doing and feel inspired and passionate about the statement and integrity my work will convey.

Julia Triston