I'm opening my Studio for two weekends in May as part of Caversham Arts Trail. I look forward to these events, love having visitors to see my work and enjoy having the opportunity to talk with people about how I go about making pictures and the woollen people. It's also a perfect time to let people know how happy I am to accept donations of their unwearable woollen jumpers which have been moth chewed or mistakenly put in a hot wash! Old knitwear is an important raw material for me and increasingly difficult to find.
Jumble sales are few and far between and charity shops don't bother to offer damaged jumpers for sale and unfortunately the local ones say they are unable to put any such donated items aside for me.
It's great therefore to receive a soft package in the post, or come home and find a bag of old knitwear on the doorstep.
I also periodically look through the merino jumpers offered on ebay, which is occasionally a good source, Grey, Navy and Black are generally the most plentiful, harder to find are oranges, yellows, and other bright or pale colours. Please don't bin the well worn woollies, i'll happily accept them all!
This years dates for Caversham Arts Trail are 12th, 13th 18th, 19th & 20th May 11am - 5pm.
Alongside my work you will also be able to see Hand thrown stoneware and porcelain, www.leighpottery.co.uk
Printmaking, drawing, books and zines, www.samknightprint.co.uk
And photographs, www.philrudge.com
Details of the 36 artists taking part in venues across Caversham can be found here. www.cavershamartstrail.co.uk
I have been much taken up with making little busts of Frida Kahlo and getting a lot of pleasure from it! They are all quite similar, varying mainly in the colour of the woollen fabric used, the decorations in the hair and their facial expressions. Each one stands approximately 15cms, (6'') tall, their size makes them perfect for taking to work on during train journeys or when i'm a passenger in a car.
I have been looking at her paintings closely, especially the self portraits, studying her hairstyles twisted with ribbons and flower, the fabulous starched lace Tehuana headdresses, and her wonderful clothes. She loved bright colours and indigenous costumes, many items richly embroidered and trimmed with lace.
After her death in 1954 her bedroom and dressing room were closed up and not reopened for fifty years, this was 2004. There followed many months of cataloguing, photographing, repairing and conserving her things before they could go on show.
Some of those items will be exhibited at the V&A next year. I am very much looking forward to this exhibition! Frida Kahlo's Wardrobe - artefacts and clothing begins 16th June 2018. www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/frida-kahlos-wardrobe
I'm never short of inspiration for new work, indeed I have a folder full of scribbles, mostly fragments rather than formed pictures, just enough to remind myself of an idea that blew in to my thoughts and without being noted would likely blow out again.
There are also words from conversations, poems, books etc which serve as creative prompts. I don't get through them as fast as new ones appear, and when I say they're in a folder, I should really say drawer... the intention is to keep them together in a folder but alas the pieces of paper, all sizes from bus ticket to A4 sheets have ended up spilling about in the capacious drawer.
When the time comes to choose a subject for a new piece it can be time consuming, and ultimately involves emptying the drawer onto the floor, and there's the little scrap with the all important memory jogger between some old postcards and tracing paper. I could do with a system, but i've thought that before and before and before and i don't suppose i'll become any more organised.
I have three things on the go at the moment, a woollen person, a Frida Kahlo bust and a stitched picture which has something to do with tigers tho i'm not quite sure where it's going yet.
I need no additional ideas but unbidden one has settled upon me and had me sketching and scribbling and I have just dropped a few more pieces of paper into the drawer. I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, I enjoyed it very much and from its pages came the idea. I'm not going to say much about the book but it's a story of women; widowed, deserted and orphaned in a small town in northwest America. The book is full of Biblical references and also speaks a lot about water, there's an oft mentioned Lake and the town of Fingerbone floods regularly.
From within the pages Noah's wife has become my inspiration.
"If we imagine that Noah's wife, when she was old, found somewhere a remnant of the Deluge, she might have walked into it until her widow's dress floated above her head and the water loosened her plaited hair. And she would have left it to her sons to tell the tedious tale of generations. She was a nameless woman and so at home amongst all those who were never found and never missed, who were uncommemorated, whose deaths were not remarked nor their begettings.
I will commemorate this unnamed woman from The Bible, quite how I will depict her I don't know but there will be probably be animals, maybe looking more like Medieval beasts than the recognisable current terrestrial varieties... really not sure, it needs some thinking about.
14th Century Stained glass from Marienkirche, Germany, now in St Petersburg Hermitage.
I'm taking part in Whiteknights Studio Trail this year as a guest. It's a well established event ( 17th year ) which takes place over the weekend of 10th & 11th of June. The venue i'm in is a lovely barn, 37, Upper Redlands Rd. Reading RG1 5JE. There will be two others with me, Cathy Newell Price, jeweller, and Christine Brewster, basket maker.
This year is the 110th anniversary of Frida Kahlo's birth. As a homage to her I have been making some simple little busts from recycled knitwear and hand stitching using the well recognised imagery of strong eyebrows and flowers in the hair. I love making them, they're quite small, 5" - 6" ( 12cm - 15cm ) easy to work on and portable for train journeys etc.
Lovely Frida, born July 6th 1907 in Mexico, in her lifetime she painted 143 pictures, 55 of them were self portraits. She was passionate about wearing traditional and locally made clothing and her sense of colour was stunning, rich magentas, blues, and reds and lots of embroidery and lace/ribbon trimmings.
For more info on the studio trail www.studiotrail.co.uk @WhiteknightsStudioTrail
The River and Rowing Museum in Henley-On-Thames was a great venue, I shared it with six other artist /makers. Favourite work was by was Sadie Brockbank, painter and sculptor, in this instance exhibiting sculpture. An amazing assortment of animals some recognisable some fantastical, many carrying strange little creatures on their backs. Cast in bronze or made of ceramic, paper pulp, resin or textile. Wonderful. See her work here. www.sadiebrockbank.com/
A steady stream of visitors came over the three days and a small select group were attracted to my work and talked to me with great enthusiasm and interest. A woman who really liked it said of course she wouldn't buy anything because she could go home and do one herself... Indeed, it's true that anyone with a knowledge of basic embroidery stitches could do something similar. I should have thrown open the challenge! Although people say they have never seen anything quite like what I do, it is simply applique and embroidery, someone somewhere will have done something like it. I wonder if anything in the world of art is original.
I started making pictures because I was given some old jumpers, they were fabulous colours but rather moth eaten, I wanted to save something of them and thought to find a way to incorporate them into something with woollen stitching... but lacked inspiration.
I decided to copy Matisse's Reclining Nude. Although I say copy, it was rather loosely copied. The central figure looked familiar enough but she was surrounded by a riot of densely stitched coloured embroidery.
For about a year I used other artists work as subject matter and inspiration, however one has to be mindful of copyright law and even when loosely translated from an oil painting into a woolly picture one cannot legitimately exhibit or sell a picture. Fortunately something freed up in me and suddenly I had masses of ideas and inspiration for my own pieces.
People sometimes ask if what I do is stump work. It isn't.
Stump work is three dimensional and has its origins in fifteenth century ecclesiastical work. It became popular in the seventeenth century, it is worked in various threads including silk, linen and metal. The stitching is worked over pads or on wire support frames, sometimes semi precious stones, sea shells, or pieces of fabric are used. The pieces are attached to a base cloth and the finished embroidery would be given to a cabinet maker to decorate a mirror frame, tray or casket.
I make woolly pictures.
17C Flemish Stump Work dragon