Artists Interview

Just a reminder that each week we will feature a different TSG member, so if you haven’t seen our first two interviews, scroll down to read Siân Martin and Mandy Pattullo’s response. This week our conversation is  with Penny Burnfield  

Penny Burnfield 

Sometimes it is good to change direction.  The Insights Project has made me  review my work and has led to new ideas.

Recently my art work has had its origin in outside sources: for example, an exhibition in a museum of clothing, the title of a proposed show, or a curator’s brief.  I have enjoyed this approach, it has challenged me and has broadened my artistic practice.  But I wondered how my work might evolve if the title, brief or venue was entirely my personal choice.

My twin passions are art and gardening.  I have the good fortune to live in the Hampshire countryside – 50 years ago I moved, with my husband, into a small cottage with an acre attached.  The house was nearly derelict, and the land was a jungle of weeds and household rubbish. Gradually it has developed into a garden and now it is open to the public with the National Gardens Scheme.  It is a very long-term work-in-progress.

My very first piece of embroidery designed by myself, was a picture of my garden, but that was 40 years ago. Since then I have avoided using the garden as source material, although it is a popular subject for textile artists.  Perhaps that very popularity was the cause of my anxiety – how could I find my own voice?

It takes me time to see a way forward.  I gather ideas in a note book, a sort of brainstorming – this takes the place of a sketchbook. Slowly my thoughts coalesce. I spent time in the garden, absorbing the ‘spirit of the place’, and made a collection of things I found there, both natural and man-made.  These, together countless old samples and scraps, have developed into a series of collages and assemblages, which give me further inspiration.

There is a saying that the way to make better art is to keep making art – I just needed to ‘just go for it’.  I wanted to capture the feelings and emotions evoked by the garden – and the way to find my voice was to see what emerged.

My starting point was to look at what was already in my studio, and see what I could do with it.  I had a bag full of silk organza, space-dyed in shades of green and brown, which I had used as a background for an installation in a Biology Museum.  I also had a large cardboard box full of green yarns and a collection of brightly coloured silk threads

I experimented with overlapping the pieces of organza and stitching them together.  They looked beautiful with light shining through.  I found that the stitching needed to be minimal and long strips of fabric with an irregular lower edge worked well.  I’m attempting to capture the tranquility of the morning light, but it will need something more – just a little bright colour to set again the green?

And in the past I have enjoyed making free-form tapestry weaving. I have used the box of yarn to make a small square using a wide variety of embroidery and knitting yarns.  There is a gap left in the weaving – for something more exuberant to spill out perhaps?  I am working on how to do this  – making samples – whilst continuing to collect ideas in my notebook and to make collages.

This is an exciting change of direction for me.  Bringing my two passions together will hopefully enrich both.  I am looking forward to seeing what develops.

Collage using handmade papers with onion skins and Phormium tenax root

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