Was your intuitive approach to textiles something that was supported by your studies at art college or did you develop your style after leaving?
My approach was developed after leaving art school, where I had taken a printing course, seduced by the idea of printing onto textiles, the quality of which I had loved from an early age. Finding that I did not enjoy all the processes and wanting to work more directly, I decided to return to painting. A need for heavy curtains to exclude draughts led me to explore traditional patchwork techniques in order to make my own. I then began using fabric rather than paint to produce images with no practical purpose and on a much smaller scale. This also stimulated an appreciation in folk art made in all mediums which is an interest that has continued to this day.
To this day, many of my pieces hold connections to the constructional methods of traditional textiles. Sewn mostly by hand, each piece is allowed to develop as it progresses, sometimes moving away from the original idea quite dramatically.
You mention Elizabeth Allen as an influence on your work. Are you influenced by other artists and does contemporary textile art interest you?
Contemporary textile work is not my main source of inspiration. After all, paintings are not placed together just because they are paintings. To my mind, work in different mediums can be more complementary to each other. So my inspiration comes from work in all mediums and very often from personal memory and imagination. Joy from the purely visual is important to me; the knowledge that at any time, an idea for a new piece can come from a totally unrelated and unexpected source is very exciting. Sometimes the very fabrics themselves can evoke strong memories and stimulate an idea.
In your book, ‘Fabric Pictures’ you encourage readers to create work that primarily pleases themselves rather than to serve an audience. Do you feel that, in your experience, people respond better to orking on textile pieces in this way?
To my mind, it is the only way to work. If you need to make a living, it is better to get a part-time job, if possible, and save your ’making’ time for your own satisfaction.
You perfectly capture the moods and personalities of the people (especially children) that appear in your work, even though they are not naturalistically depicted. Do you get a sense of their personalities before you begin or does this evolve as the piece develops?
When depicting children I know and love, I do hold a sense of their particular characteristics in mind but sometimes, a person in mind turns into someone else. I’m not at all surprised these days to be told that I have captured the essence of someone else’s child because we all read our own stories and bring our memories and associations into everything we see, such as with ‘Nativity Angel’. It pleases me very much when this happens.
In your book, you show some of the art boxes that you make to house some of the interesting objects you have collected over the years. Do you view them as pieces of artwork in themselves? Does their construction reflect your artistic approach and inspire your fabric art in turn?
I do view them as pieces of art with just as much validity as my fabric pieces. Somehow it seemed to be a logical development as I have often included ‘found objects’ in my work.
Your approach to mounting artwork is deeply considered and planned. Do you see this as part of the composition of a piece?
Yes, I consider presentation of work as a very important factor indeed. When first exhibiting in Japan, I was asked to frame but not glaze my pieces, as there was no tradition of glazing textiles there. This is my preferred presentation but I do have my frames made so that the piece can be glazed if required. I devoted a chapter of my book ‘Fabric Pictures’ to the importance of mounting work and you can find more detail in there.
Do you feel that the current interest in upcycling, folk art and ‘Slow Stitch’ has brought a new audience to your work and teaching?
As I have always believed and had this approach, I really cannot say; certainly I am not aware of any sudden growth in interest. Teaching and exhibiting in Canada a few years ago was where I first heard the actual term. But come to think of it, I have been told by people who are both collectors and have attended many workshops that this idea, which I have been promoting for years, has suddenly come to the fore in general so maybe it has! One of my mantras has always been take your time and enjoy the journey for it is worthwhile even if you are not always totally satisfied with the result.