Category Archives: Research and reflection
Having completed my final assignment for part 5 I can now look back over the last 11 months to review how I have progressed. Towards the end of this final project I looked back at the work I did at the very start of the course. We started with making marks. Looking back now these marks look quite tentative and very contained in terms of size. I decided therefore to create a sketchbook of new marks. I was interested to see if my mark making had changed. I have tried to work in a freer way. I have taken a number of workshops as well as having used the course materials and have, I believe taken more risks than I would have done had I not been encouraged to do so by the course and especially by my tutor.
Starting with some very large and rapid sketches I developed a number of sheets based on a very simple still life and using a range of materials in black, white and grey. Working in this large format I was challenged to make as many different marks as possible.
I then set about editing and cutting out the most interesting parts of the large sketches. I ended up with a range of small sketches which I am already excited about and can see the possibilities for translation in to textiles. I will add this sketchbook in as an example of my other work along with my work for review to my tutor.
When I started the course I wrote a brief note on what I hoped this course would do for me. At the time of writing I wanted to be stretched more than I had doing craft based textiles course. I was keen from the outset to pursue a degree and stated at the time that I wanted to develop my skills in art and design and was inclined to move in a fine art direction. It was my ambition to complete the course within a year. I have done that and whilst the demands of more advanced courses will increase I feel more secure now that I can manage to complete and enjoy my course alongside my full time job. I am keen to work and mixed media and have done a bit of that this year but can the potential to explore this further in later course unit.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the course. My work has not always gone in the direction I thought it would and I enjoyed parts of the course I thought I would be less keen on. I think that is a very big positive.
Working to a large extent in isolation is a bit challenging in distance learning but I got a lot of support from the study visits I went on and making sure that I got to lots of exhibitions and read widely was a key part of helping me build a context for my work despite the distance element of the learning. I felt the further reading and exploration suggested by my tutor was really very valuable in that regard. One of the first questions my tutor asked me when we first spoke was ‘ who are the textile artists you are most influenced by’. This question had me stumped. I knew of some textile artists of course but was certainly not fluent in talking about their work, context and influence in the way that I able to do with painters or sculptors. Whilst I have still much to learn in this regard I am much more confident now and have really widened my knowledge and understanding of many textile artists. I look forward to continuing this aspect of my learning as well as developing my own skills and capacity to grapple with complex concepts in my work.
This exhibition has been running in Edinburgh from the 7th December 2013 and open until 15 June 2014. It is the final exhibition in a series of three on the Scottish Colourist. The two previous exhibitions have been on Cadell (2011) and Peploe (2012). Along with Hunter these four artists make up the group known as the Scottish Colourist. I had enjoyed the Cadell and Peploe exhibitions and was very much looking forward to this exhibition of the work by Fergusson. More information and some useful images are found here at the time of writing this post. http://www.nationalgalleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/the-scottish-colourists-series-jd-fergusson
Fergusson spent much of his life in France and at the time of developing his style and approach to painting he lived in Paris and was heavily influenced by the work of the Fauves and this is demonstrated in his use of colour and the flattening and outlining of the work done in this period – a contrast to his earlier work. This development of a palette developed in the sunshine of France alongside a lifelong exploration of pattern and form characterises both his work in France and the work he did subsequently when he returned to Scotland.
I have been familiar with the work of Fergusson and the other Scottish Colourists since I was a teenager studying art at school. Growing up near Edinburgh I had had the chance to see some of the paintings of Fergusson, Peploe and Cadell. This exhibition however, brought together an important body of work and allowed the viewer to understand a narrative about the development of the work of Ferguson but also a story and an interpretation of the artist as a person whose life spanned almost a century from 1874 to 1961.
I found the exhibition both instructive and energising. Despite a familiarity of the work of Fergusson the span and scope of the exhibition gave me a new understanding of the richness and energy of the work. I was most interested in looking at colour and the way Fergusson made marks which injected energy and rhythm in to his work. This is valuable of anyone studying art in any medium. As well as the paintings there were a number of sculptures by the artist which echoed the work he did in the art nouveau style.
I enjoyed all the work in the exhibition. For me, the paintings I wanted to keep returning to were two painting of Jean Maconochie (1902 and 1904) and a painting from 1951 Bathers: The Parasol (1951). The artist portrays Jean Maconochie as direct, independent and stylish. The direct gaze of the subject, the treatment of the textiles in the clothes and the relationship between the sitter and the artist make these compelling portraits. They also epitomise a time when strong women were taking a more active place in public society. This earlier work shows energy and confidence however it is in contrast to the later style and palette in Bathers: The Parasol. This painting of nude women is in sharp contrast to the fully clothed and heavily attired paining of Jean Maconochie dressed in Edwardian elegance. The palette in the earlier painting subdued and in the later shot through with red and green. In both however the female form is treated with directness and portrays strength and elegance. The earlier painting of Jean are restrained and in the later example energetic and dynamic. I liked both. I liked the earlier work and the later work and it was remarkable that to see the development of the style of this artist over much of the 20th century. For anyone not able to get to the exhibition the very good website by the BBC (Your painting) has printable images of several of the paintings in the exhibition including the Bathers and the portrait of Jean, along with many other works by Fergusson and can be found at
I intend to return to see the exhibition again before it ends in June as I would like to further consider the colour and composition of the works. There is a very good catalogue that contains many of the major works in the exhibition and has very good essays by Alice Stang (who curated all three of the colourist exhibitions), Elizabeth Cumming and Sheila McGregor.
This post is about an exhibition I did not go to. I had planned to visit for months, I had taken time off work and booked accommodation. I was excited- such a great concept. And, I was keen to see Salts Mill for the first time and understand the links and echoes between the memories and imprints of time there compared to New Lanark Mills in Scotland. New Lanark too is a world heritage site and shares much common history of wool and cloth. An unexpected and sudden illness of a family member prevented me from going. That had a happy ending but the exhibition was over.
I had watched the film on the website presented by Lesley Miller and I knew there was a book. I was planning to visit Yorkshire in November to see other exhibitions and shows. I wondered if I could piece together a sense of the exhibition from the film, the book and from standing in the spaces where the exhibition had been. Whilst certainly not the same as seeing the work first hand, it was a really interesting experience in itself. I watched the film several times, I bought the book when I got to Salts Mill and sat in the spaces where the exhibition had been held reading the words of the artists and the curators notes. I tried to reconstruct in my mind, the link between place and an artistic intervention. Those pieces now, like the very themes that many of the artists were responding too, had become a memory, soaked up by the building and now invisible save for the imprint in the exhibition book. And yet I got a sense of the exhibition. I was particularly drawn to this idea of cloth and memory and the setting of Salts Mill was, I felt, inspired. I was interested in all of the work of the artists involved. What surprised me most was the number of artists who responded to the immense space by producing small and detailed work …. or almost hidden work. I felt this was a really good response to bring the inner landscape of the mill down to the human scale of those who had worked there and had their lives shaped by the mill.
In particular I liked the work of Caroline Bartlett: installation of embroidered and constructed pieces suspended in the now stilled air of the spinning hall. I found it evocative and mysterious. The limited palette echoed the stone floors and walls of the hall.
I was also drawn to the work by Diana Harrison which, save for the use of dyeing and discharging, was unlike her usual distinctive style of heavily quilted pieces. I thought that her piece in this exhibition was not only an interesting concept but also sympathetic with the stone floors that remain the same as they were when the mill was in use.
The beautiful and almost impossibly painstaking work by Yoriko Yoneyama turned the discarded into the precious. More difficult to see the connection with the mill it nonetheless used the space to create a sense of water and beauty that took the idea of waste and spun it into something of value.
The theme set and the site specific nature of the exhibition was a testament to the strong curatorial influence of Lesley Miller. This ambitious and sure footed development of the idea by Dr Millar shows the curators hand. The concept not only created an interesting exhibition with artists from different cultures understanding two linked themes but also brought together art, craft and commerce in a very interesting way. I didn’t see the exhibition first hand but I feel that I learned a great deal from its legacy in term of thinking in a more conceptual way about my work. I would like to find the opportunity in my future studies / research to bring together some common links between Saltaire and New Lanark. Both build by industrialists who were reforming and had a vision of a new society. Both were concerned with the textile trade and both have an essential link with the water that powered them and ran through them. I am also very interested in the way that people’s lives are shaped by the work they do and feel sure I will be able to explore this too in my own work.
The quilt museum in York houses the collection of the Quilters Guild of the British Isles. The museum has held about 34 exhibitions since it opened in 2008. Usually there are two contrasting exhibitions on at a time. Exhibitions range from the display of quilts of historical significance in the guild collection to contemporary and art quilting which challenge the notion of what a quilt is. The museum has much to offer people interested in textiles and I try to get to York to see something twice a year. There were two exhibitions on when I visited in November. The main exhibition was titled, It’s All in the Making, and highlights the value of quilt research. The second was a travelling exhibition by the British Tapestry Group. The latter was very timely for me as I was undertaking part 4 of the course which focuses on tapestry weaving.
It’s All in the Making showcases just over 30 pieces. About half were items from the Quilters Guild collection and the others were from private individuals. There were a mixture of quilts and quilted items dating from 1718 to modern contemporary work. Normally I am most interested in contemporary work however the idea behind this exhibition was to align the pieces in the exhibition with analysis and research that had been carried out by the British Quilt Study Group. Built around 4 themes – the reasons for making – and highlighting the research brought an interesting dimension to the exhibition. A very good book accompanied the exhibition which was not only a catalogue of the work on display but also contained essays and detailed stories about the makers and motivation for pieces where that was known. The 4 categories of reasons for making were: making to earn money; making gifts or items of commemoration; making out of necessity; and creative making.
Examples of quilting to make a living included whole cloth quilts produced by professional quilters between the wars under the Rural Industries Bureau (RIB) and quilts by Pauline Burbridge and Lauren Shanley who are among the small number of artists and makers who have been able to make a professional career and receive acclaim for their work over decades. Included also was work by Diana Harrison whose work I admire for its intuitive approach and sculpted treatment of cloth. In the section on commemoration was work by Lynn Setterington who is well known for her public engagement textile projects.
Sitting together the theme of ‘why make’ worked well. Some of the pieces I had seen before but this brought a new perspective for me in thinking about motivation and drive in textile art and craft.
The exhibition of work by the British Tapestry group was also very interesting because I was in the middle of experimenting with yarns and developing skills in weaving. New to this particular set of textile skills I was interesting in the use of colour and the contrast between those weavers who working in a figurative way and those whose interpretation was more conceptual and abstract. The work that appealed to me most were more abstract. The tactile nature of the tapestries was also appealing and the ‘do not touch’ notices were difficult to obey. There were, however, some samples which were for handling which was a great opportunity for me to see the way in which different weights of yarn and different warp threads had been used.
By contrast with the conceptual art and installations of Amar Kanwar an exhibition by artist and designer Angie Lewin was on show in the same venue at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP). Well known for her distinctive prints of plants forms I was keen to see her work as my own theme for part 5 was on seeds and seed heads and these are part of the vocabulary of Lewin’s designs. The exhibition featured prints and watercolours of new work as well as new fabric and wallpaper designed especially for the sculpture park. Drawing inspiration from the park itself Lewin’s new work focussed on skeletal plant forms in the environment. There is a short video of Angie Lewin talking about working in the sculpture park and about her work at http://vimeo.com/80666652
I found the exhibition instructive and it was interesting to see the original drawings and watercolours alongside the printed fabrics and wall paper. I had bought a book of 1950’s designers work for wallpaper and textiles when I was at the V&A and was struck by the similarity in Lewin’s work to that period. Her use of powder blue, sage and lime greens and bubblegum pink was also an echo of that time.
I found it useful to look at her use of line to build up her drawings in layers and the complexity of the finished design which is also reminiscent of botanical book illustrations although Lewin does not seek to do botanically accurate drawings the delicacy of the colouring reminded me of Victorian plant illustrators.
The YSP website tells us the following about the artist: Angie Lewin studied BA (Hons) Fine Art Printmaking at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design (1983–1986), and postgraduate printmaking at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. After working in London as an illustrator Lewin studied horticulture and a move to Norfolk prompted a return to printmaking.
Inspired by both the cliff tops and salt marshes of the North Norfolk coast and the Scottish Highlands, Lewin’s work depicts these contrasting environments and their native flora in wood engraving, linocut, silkscreen, lithograph, watercolour and collage
I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of a trip to visit a number of exhibitions and to attend the knitting and stitching show in Harrowgate. It was a packed a trip with the widest range of art and craft events and a huge contrast in work. The visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park allowed me the opportunity to see, for the first time, the important sculptural work in the park. In addition there were two very different exhibitions featuring the work of Angie Lewin, and the work of Amar Kanwar. The range of work seen was so wide that I am doing three posts to cover the three areas. This first post is about the work of Amar Kanwar.
This immersive exhibition was highly compelling, very affecting and extremely thoughtful. That’s a lot of superlatives but it is fair to say that I found this one of the most engaging exhibitions I have attended. This was the first major UK exhibition of new work by Amar Kanwar. The exhibition, in all its components, centres on The Sovereign Forest and is an installation of books, film and organic material. It explores the impact of mining and other commercial and industrial ventures in the communities of Odisha in India. The work tells a narrative through film and installation that seeks to understand and expose the conflict between local communities in Odisha and the mining corporations and the Government. The local indigenous peoples and farmers strive, in the face of overwhelming odds, to protect their homes and land from assault. One of the most interesting aspects of the work was the involvement of local people in telling the narrative. Kanwar explores several questions as well as shining a light on the situation and the crimes that he perceives have been committed. Those questions include examining the role of the artist, how to understand crime which is state supported or carried out by corporations so powerful they cannot easily be challenged and whether art can be evidence in a public trial. In essence this is what he seeks to do: to put the industrial destruction of people, land and culture on trial.
At the heart of the exhibition is the film ‘Scene of the Crime’. It is a living memorial to those who have died, disappeared and been dispossesed. Moving and extraordinary it portrays the living landscape, from detailed examination of blades of grass to the sounds of industrial mining breaking stone and removing the soil. All that is featured in the film no longer exists. It stands as the public trial to the actions taking place: the loss of land, people and culture. The range of other material including film, photographs, books, personal testimonials and a love story is on a grand scale.
The exhibition also includes a specially commissioned outdoor sound garden where the narrative is linked to the Sculpture Park environment through ‘listening benches’.
I found this a very affecting exhibition. The themes have stayed with me and can be seen as universal themes; not just in the modern developing world but also looking back in time to the impact of industrialisation and commerce in our own country. Haunting and shocking – the role of the artist in telling the story is a powerful one. Kanwar immerses himself in his conceptual projects over long periods of time which bring an authenticity to the work. It was this that I took away from the exhibition in thinking about my own work for the future. Moving from the superficial to building an understanding, a version and a narrative about my own work is the most challenging aspect of studying art. It is also one of the most interesting.
As ever I found my tutor feedback on part very helpful. It was very encouraging and positive however there are also pointers to develop my work further and good advice for personal develop . For this assignment, one of the key areas for further development suggested by my tutor was : I would encourage you to include visual notes of your responses as you develop your ideas, for example as above with the series of samples which included Chairman Mao. Looking back at my work I appreciated that I was so focussed on moving from source and inspirational material to finished weaving sample I had neglected to show, visually, the process I went through. For some samples I did have some rough working sketches in a note book but had not included these in the material submitted. In other samples I had simply worked from the image on to the weaving sample. Never having done work of this type before I think I was very focussed on developing the skills and didn’t capture the process. I went back to the work therefore and tried to recapture the thought process and decisions I had made. I think the colour decisions were quite well demonstrated in the material I put together for tutor review but my tutor was quite right, what decisions had I made about composition, form and shape in moving from my source material to the woven samples? So whilst it was rather post hoc I did a little work recording the process and sketching out what I believe were my decisions at the time and have added these to my development work.
I had tried to read quite a lot about weaving whilst doing this part of the course but I had been concentrating on technique. Reflecting on what my tutor had said I wondered if I could find out more about how weavers work and further develop my skills. I was beginning to think that I could include some weaving in my final project so I researched workshops being taught by weavers in Scotland and signed up for a number of workshops. I went to a workshop with Fiona Hutchison, a tapestry weaver in Edinburgh, whose work I admired and had a day learning more about the basics of weaving and the techniques which could be used to create the kind of marks and shapes that could be used in my own work. I also plan to attend a further weekend workshop with her looking at how to develop sketches and marks for weaving, the workshop is aimed at practising textile artists and those who had a little experience.
Also during January and February I have been attending evening workshops with Cally Booker, a Dundee based weaver who produces beautiful cloth on the loom. This course teaches the basics of weaving on a table loom and goes on to enable participants to develop their own ideas from sources and create an original piece. The process is very similar that being taught on my OCA course and has been really useful. A Creative Approach course notes point out that it is not practical at this stage to introduce students to weaving on the loom and focusses on tapestry weaving but I found it very interesting to understand the difference and similarity between tapestry weaving and weaving cloth on a loom. I have used what I learned in this in developing some of my ideas in my theme book and have added my woven samples of basic weaving patterns to my part 4 work.
What was interesting for me to reflect on in looking at the process and the work of these two textile artists was the extent to which you can see the process as well as the product of their work. Moving from inspiration and source material to finished product each works in a different way. But both move through a process of ideas, design, testing samples, refining and finally working on the finished piece. Websites for the two artists can be seen at:
I plan to do a separate post reflecting on what I have learned and produced as a result of these workshops later.
I always look forward to reading the section at the end of my tutor report on further reading and viewing. In this feedback my tutor suggested look at the work of Polly Binns and its relationship to landscape. She also invited me to consider the work of Audrey Walker and Liz Harding and to reflect on the influence of the weaving of Annie Albers. She also recommended reading ‘Thinking Through Craft’ by Glen Adamson.
I had looked at Audrey Walker’s work earlier in the course and revisited by notes and the sources I had found at the time. It was really instructive to go back to that again. As I progress in my own development its clear that I can bring something new to the understanding and appreciation of earlier research as I develop more skills and knowledge. It prompted me to go back and look again at the exhibition notes and photographs I had taken of the 62 Group exhibition last year including the work of Audrey Walker. I was really excited to see the work of Polly Binns and Anne Morrel from the exhibition last year entitled light and line. Although unable to go I had read a number of reports and blogs about the exhibition and was really interested in the themes of mark making and memory drawn from the landscape that seemed to run through the work.
It was very useful to be prompted to look at the work of Annie Albers. A very well know textile artist I looked again the work she did in designing her work. The Museum of Modern Art in New York holds a number of her drawings and colour sketches for woven pieces. I was really interested in that and how she had been influenced by her studies at the Bauhaus in the production of abstract designs. I was also very interested in the way she pioneered the use of unusual materials in her weaving. I will certainly go on to find out more about and research further all of the artists above. I am awaiting the delivery of the Glen Adamson book which will certainly take further my thinking about the relationship between art and craft which was the subject of short research and reflection point in block 4.
This research point is an investigation in to the work of the textile artist. There are two main areas of focus. The first is to explore the hypothesis that textile art is a relative newcomer to the art scene. The course material notes that it emerged in the 1960s and has been dominated by women moving from Fine Art in to textiles. The research notes below set out some of the ways in which the work of the textile artist differs from that of the designer and designer-maker or craftsperson.
The second part of the research was to focus on the work of two textile artist whose work I find inspiring. The course notes call for research on two artists however I wanted to look at two UK artists: Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn and as they work very closely together. I also wanted to look at the work of the Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell. I had the opportunity to see each of these artist work on two or more occasions in the last year while I have been studying this course unit so I am able to draw on my own first hand observations as well as written and internet research.
Part 1: The work of the textile artist compared to the work of the textile craft person or designer – maker
What cross over is there in terms of approach, how ideas are used and the textile processes and skills used?
The question of what is art and what is craft is not only much debated, it has been long debated. It is a huge subject and these notes for this research point can not address either the breadth or the depth of the debate. What I hope to note here are the main points in the datable and the implications of that for those working in and studying textiles.
The source I found most helpful on this research point was The Textile Book by Colin Gale and Jasbir Kaur. In a series chapters about the craftsperson, the designer maker and the textile artist they set out the debate, examine the key ‘technical ‘ difference and focus on the nuances and the philosophical underpinning that make this a difficult, sometime confusing and often contested question. I found the arguments they made helpful though the grey areas of course remain grey. What was most helpful, and this is reflected in a number of the articles I read on this subject was the analysis that if we move the debate away from what is superior: art or craft, and focus on the integrity that the work brings then it becomes less about good or bad and more about quality and allows for artists and craftspeople to move back and forward along the continuum. The distinction between artist and craftsperson or designer maker is not understood in the same way around the world. The basis for the Western view of what is craft and what is art was articulated by Kant when he divided the arts in to mechanical and aesthetical areas. This has largely persisted in the description of art in general and is at the heart of the debate about when the use of textiles is art and when it is a craft based pursuit.
The very endeavour to describe the differences between crafts, designing / making and art is of itself and attempt to categorise. Ironically the nature of conceptual art itself if often to challenge and oppose categorisation and this further complicated the debate. Both textile Art and textile Craft and indeed the product of some designer makers usually encompass works made wholly or partly of textiles, fabrics, fibres, threads, yarns, and mixed media. All can include one or more of a variety of techniques including collage, appliqué, patchwork, quilting, embroidery, tapestry weaving, knitting, felting, dyeing, painting, in combination and with other mixed media. Gale and Kaur argue that some of the categorisation of craft and art comes about because of the perceived fiscal or aesthetic value of both the product and the process. Views on what is, and what is not Art or Craft seem also to vary in cultures and different periods in time.
Some of the key properties of textile and art and craft could be described as follows.
• has positive aesthetic properties – it is more concerned with the aesthetic or the concept than the making. In other words – it is about some idea or concept
• is original and creative
• is complex and conveys meaning, ideas, emotions or a standpoint. It makes a statement and it communicated that meaning to the viewer
• it fits in to the art world paradigm, in other words it is seen to be art by the art establishment.
• a craft product is seen to be ‘ about’ its material, structure and
• relies on having been produced by a person with skills. The makers hand is an important aspect of the finished artefact
• often has a basis in or refers to a tradition and ‘speaks the language’ of that tradition.
• is not mass-produced and its appeal is the uniqueness of the object
• Can be useful either in terms of its utility or for its decorative properties
That said works of art and textile craft objects often exhibit aspects that appear in both lists. Both can demonstrate a high degree of skill; both can be complex and creative. However the textile craft works may exhibit originality and creativity, but their basis is in tradition. Textile Art works generally requires a more originality and creativity and indeed can subvert, reinvent or oppose tradition. Textile craft work need not have a utility however textile art works do not attempt to be utilitarian other than to provoke thought and response. A key feature that characterises textile art seems to be the central process of creativity and innovation and having ‘something to say’ or a concept to describe or struggle with.
Part 2: Focussing on three textile artist
Dorothy Caldwell describes her work as ‘a map of land and memory’ . She states that she is interested in the landmarks that give a sense of place and how humans mark and visualize the land. Her work describes her own personal landmarks and she is very interested in portraying a sense of place. Another key feature in the work of Caldwell is that she draws from traditional textile techniques and uses practices like darning and mending not only as part of her mark making but also to convey a sense of repair and reconstruction that links cloth to the marks that generations leave on the land. This sense of both the geographical and the historical reflects rich connections between generations and indeed long periods of human existence. Often working on a very large scale, Caldwell uses concept, line and technique to describe the human condition in relation to the land.
Dorothy Caldwell is a graduate of Tyler School of Art, in Philadelphia. She is internationally renowned and she has travelled widely including working and teaching in India, Japan, and Australia. She has been influenced by the textile practices she has seen and experienced when on her travels and has had a particular focus on the integration of history, including textile practice into contemporary contexts and styles.
In the 1970s a new wave of textile artists were influencing how fibre and textiles were viewed. Whilst work using stitch or textile / fibre had in the past been described as ‘women’s work’ artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz and Ritzi Jacobi reshaped how textiles were used as part of fine art and sculpture, in the 1960s and 70s which influenced Caldwell. Caldwell had begun her art career as a painter but began to explore the possibilities of textiles in the mid 1970s.
Much of Caldwell’s work builds on the traditions of hand stitching and mending. Making marks with stitch, which express ideas and concepts she constructs often very large works, almost monumental in scale. She makes extensive use of resist and discharge dying, screen printing and stitching. Many of her large scale pieces have a palette of black and white or grey tones with patches of brighter colour. Her work is concerned with the relationship we have had through time with stitch, textiles and the land. Her painterly works conveys concepts and have a strong emotional pull.
Jan is the longest serving member of the 62 Group having joined in 1963. She has written many books, teaches and exhibits in the UK and many countries overseas. She started her studies at Southampton College of Art and discovered lithography which she says has been very influential. She then went on to West Sussex College of Art and studied Painting with Lithography. It while was studying afterwards at Hornsey College of Art for her art teacher’s certificate that she discovered the potential of textiles in Art.
Interpreting and being influenced by the landscape is important in the work of Jan Beaney. Her work captures the effect of light and the changes of light on her subject matter. Recent work portraying the tangle of hedges and local environment close to her home has been exhibited this year.
Beaney’s work often portrays the changes of time of day, weather and seasons. Her use of colour is often startling and she created contrast through the use of strong hues and dark rich tones. Like Caldwell her work has been influenced by travel abroad, for example to Australia and, by contrast to the Greek Islands. These very different landscapes have influenced the palette she uses and the nature of her work.
Much of her recent work uses hand and machine stitching which she applies to soluble film to create new surfaces. She develops this further by additional stitching and embellishment to create very rich and textured surfaces. Other techniques such as transfer printing and bonding materials together also characterises her work. The media she uses includes not only fabrics and threads but also paints, dyes, beads, wire, and other mixed media.
Working with Jean Littlejohn, she has set up Double Trouble to promote interest in embroidery and textiles in art.
Also a member of the 62 group In her profile on the 62 Group web pages she is described thus: ‘Jeans works reflect a continuing fascination with pathways and journeys, routines and rhythms and traditional patterns of worn carpets. Her surfaces describe echoes from the past, layers of life and experience and aspects of decay.’
In that respect she is working in similar territory to Dorothy Caldwell focussing on the impact of the past on the present. Her focus on the everyday: surfaces that show time passing when we observe closely and the impact of human interaction with them is a feature of her work. Her work describes the fleeting nature of human presence. She also has a body of work which examines the effect of coastal erosion – again the effects of time in covering up then uncovering the past.
Littlejohn uses a wide range of techniques including layering materials, hand and machine stitching, print and often uses needle punch to integrate layers in her work.
This artists works in mixed media and she varies the materials and techniques she uses depending on the work she is doing.
Also trained as an artist and a teacher of art Littlejohn describes what drew her to textiles when she states that she was interested in the ‘qualities of surface, tactility and the endless palette of materials available for expression of ideas’. Working from observational drawings she develops a range of ideas from which final designs emerge. She also references history and geology and pulls these concepts and design ideas together. The resulting images are a synthesis of observation and historical references that.
The Textile Book, Gale C and Kaur J, Berg 2002
Traces: Mapping a Journey in Textiles, exhibition catalogue
Short video clip of Barbara Lee Smith, the curator of ‘Traces’ talking about the work and the processes of working of Dorothy Caldwell
Interview with Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn
I enjoyed constructing surfaces. I think I could have made more samples but felt I did enough to get and understanding of the principles and put these in to practice. I did end up producing some samples that I might not have produced otherwise.
I was interesting in exploring the properties of the materials I used and the way they behaved in the structures I constructed. Clearly the finer the yarn the more work goes into creating surfaces and consequently thin threads and yarns lend themselves to more detailed and smaller scale pieces. It would be interesting to work on larger scale if time permitted. When I was at the garden centre buying the plant stakes to make my small wooden grid I was tempted to buy garden trellis material and work on much larger scale – perhaps with cut up jumpers or clothes. I might do this yet as I think it would be really interesting. I can also see how I could consider this idea as part of my theme development of seeds and seed head. The connection between a garden trellis and attaching yarns and textiles constructions on the theme of decay and renewal could be quite and interesting line of experimentation.
I found the exercise in colour matching quite instructive and it built on the colour matching exercises we were asked to carry out earlier in the course. The matching I did with threads and yarns was to some extent dependent on the materials I had in my collection but I did manage to get reasonable matches for the sources I used. I especially like the effect of not just matching the colour but also thinking about the texture when choosing appropriate yarns. Again I applied this activity to my theme book and found it quite helpful.
I visited this exhibition twice. On the first occasion I met up with a coursemate from the OCA who lives quite near me and who is studying the same course unit in textiles. Having visited I then discovered that there was to be a study visit led by Sarah Taylor. Having gained a great deal from the study visited earlier in the year I was lucky enough to get a place for the day.
It was a really worthwhile experience attending again. Apart from the benefits of attending exhibitions more than once if I can, I gained a great deal of learning from the guided tour by the curator and the insights and discussion with the tutor and with other students on the study visit. I certainly came away from the day with different insights in to the exhibition and in particular a better understanding of what went in to setting up and the decisions that are made by the curatorial team and artists involved.
The curator – Ben Divall had agreed to spend time with us on the study visit. He explained that the ideas behind the exhibition was to examine the process and to bring the people and the sheep(!) to the exhibition so that the thread could literally be followed from start from finish. We heard about each stage of the process that goes in to creating a woven tapestry – from sheep and farmer to artist and weaver. The exhibition describes the 70 producers from small scale crofters to large estates producing wool, to the individuals and small groups of spinners involved in producing the yarn and on to the work of the weavers at Dovecot to produce this large tapestry.
One of the most fascinating things about this tapestry is that there was no dyeing of yarns. Using the natural colour of the fleeces and blending was done at each stage in spinning and by the weavers. It resulted in a rich palette as a result of sourcing fleece and yarn across the UK. A huge variety and energy come from the undyed yarn. Samples were made early to help plan how the project could be realised.
The tapestry is based on the work of Victoria Crowe. Her celebrated painting, Large Tree Group, was painted in 1975. It was chosen as the painting to be recreated in a tapestry to celebrate the centenary of the Dovecot. The connection between Victoria Crowe and her subject in the painting is a key part of the story. The figure in the painting is Jenny Armstrong a retired shepherdess and a neighbour, at that time, of the artist. A really interesting short film about the relationship between painter and shepherdess was part of the exhibition. The film, Jenny’s Thread can be viewed here. http://vimeo.com/62903011 So the woollen thread literally runs through the whole story of the exhibition.
The exhibition also made available handling samples of pieces of tapestry, fleece and spun yarn so the visitor has the tactile experience so important in the use of wool as a medium. We were also lucky enough to see a demonstration of spinning and some of the group had a try at spinning. And of course its not as easy as the craftswomen demonstrating made it look!
As well as the Large Tree Group tapestry and the Follow the Thread exhibition we also enjoyed viewing and evaluating the artists rugs exhibitions also on at the Dovecot and we had the privilege of a tour on the weaving floor. The contemporary rug collection are hand made by weavers and rug-tufters who have worked in conjunction with important artists, sharing ideas and developing innovative works. Artists as diverse as John Byrne and William Crozier, Julie Brook and Ruth Ewan have worked on these collaborative works of art. The depth of colour, the shading and the interpretation of design and concept were really very interesting.
The great advantage of attending the exhibition as part of a study group was learning from the tutor, hearing first hand from the curator and discussing what we were seeing among the students. Having started OCA only recently I have now managed to be on two study visits and they are extremely valuable to the distance learner.