When I visit a gallery I don’t tend to read the artist’s statement until after I have looked at their work. I like to savour my own responses to a piece first. But I do read the title because it provides a starting place for my response. So naming my own work is important to me and the subject of many hours contemplation. And the subject of regular discussion amongst fellow artists and on social media.
180cm x 60cm
Naming a series is an even bigger decision because you have to live with it longer. I am not a sketchbook person. All my ideas have a long gestation period in my head before I let them loose on dye and cloth. The titles of my first two series, Hidden Messages and Ruins, became fixed right at the beginning of that process. In Hidden Messages I wanted to develop a series of works around censorship in modern day China. In Ruins I wanted to develop a series of works around abandoned and ruined buildings. The titles were obvious to me and still feel just right. And in both cases I was happy to number the works rather than give each piece it’s own subtitle.
Still 3 (Rest)
99 x 99cm
I gave my third series a working title of Storm / Still as that seemed appropriate to the emotional rollercoaster I was on at the time. Although I numbered the early works they were either ‘Storm’ or they were ‘Still’ and each piece required it’s own subtitle. The series name became fixed when I added a page to my website. Strangely I named the colour family that I developed for this series ‘Dunure’ (after my favourite place in the whole world after my studio). And even named a few small pieces Dunure. But I never thought to call the whole series Dunure and with hindsight I wish I had. Storm / Still feels clumsy to me now and may be one of the reasons that I don’t think I will produce more in this series.
Liverpool Street, Salford
342cm x 154cm
So to today. For my exhibitions next year I am working on three series each focussed on industrial and urban landscapes. One part will be more pieces in my Ruins series. Another part will be on buildings and structures still in use today that shape our landscape but are invisible to most. This series has had the working title View. The inidividual pieces will all need their own subtitles as there are site specific. So far I have made one large piece (above) and am in the process of making a series of small works called Canal Street 1, 2, 3 etc. The working title of View is no longer working for me. Instead I am officially naming the series Structures. Yes it has been used by many, many artists but it is the perfect title for what has inspired my work.
New work inspired by the coal mining around St Helens
The other series is inspired by industries and iconic structures that no longer exist. I already know the subtitle of the large scale piece that is gestating in my head but I’m stuck on titles for the series of small works I am currently making based in the Bold Colliery near St Helens. And I am definitely stuck on a title for the series. I have had a working series title of Gone but that doesn’t even work as a working title. I have been puzzling over this all week. I almost settled on Relics. But then I had a ‘duh’ moment.
The title of the exhibition in St Helens is TRACES. My inspiration is those structures that have left TRACES in our memory. No brainer! This new series is now officially called Traces.
The title of the exhibition in Stockport is FRAGMENTS. The small works are just that – they are small FRAGMENTS of a much bigger series. The series of small works is now officially called Fragments.
And now I need a long lie down in a dark room ….
Stiff Upper Lip
(60cm x 149cm)
Definitely! And here to prove it is ‘Happy todays?’ baby sister.
Baby ‘brother’ just did not feel right. Maybe because it is part of series that is about me, my emotional state and the calming influence of place? Maybe because I am tainted by the stereo type of textile art as a form of female expression? I would hope not but there is no denying that the wonderful textile / quilt community I am part of is predominantly female. I wonder how male textile artists would label their work?
Work in Progress
Over the last couple of years I have definitely found my ‘voice’. Or my ‘visual style’. Or whatever you want to call that sense of confidence that comes from developing a set of processes (or studio practice) that transforms ideas into finished pieces that are recognisably ‘me’. I can point to three things that helped – making a conscious decision to work in series, attending a Colour Studies course with Leslie Morgan and moving into my purpose built studio.
I currently have two ‘active’ series. The Ruins series which has given me so much success and the Still / Storm series which still feels in it’s infancy. In both cases I started by developing a colour palette then developed a set of printed and / or dyed fabrics. I collage and stitch samples during which ideas for ‘full sized’ pieces start to flow. Some ideas are very vague and require more sampling. Other ideas pop up fully formed. And demanding attention. Like the piece I am working on now.
I keep a list of potential ‘calls for entry’, particularly those without a theme or size restrictions. But I let the work itself dictate what size and even what form my finished pieces will take. And I no longer give in to the temptation to create ‘one-offs’ to fit a specific call for entry. This limits where I might place my work but sometimes there is a really good match between my work and a particular call. Such as the current SAQA ‘Layered Voices’ call. The piece is going to be 4 metre long strip hung such that the bottom section is draped and partially hidden on the floor. It will be double sided. And stitched with hundreds and hundreds of parallel lines. And every end of thread will be carefully sewn in. So shouted my voice!
Unfortunately my voice does not care that the call ends on 30th September and that I start a new day job on the 12th. Or that we are hanging the next Etcetera exhibition at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery this week. Ho hum. Better get back to my sewing machine!
I’m in the final stages of making Ruins 7. Well I think I am. I need to stitch on facings and get it hung up somewhere so I can decide if it needs more stitch or not. Which presents a bit of a challenge as it is taller than the height of my studio. This will take a few days to sort out. So what should I do now?
I have been planning on going back to my Storm / Still series to (try to) make a piece for the SAQA call for entry ‘Layered Voices’. Up until now my ideas were all pretty vague and somewhat grandiose. But today I had a light bulb moment thanks to fellow Etcetera member Linda Bilsborrow. Following a discussion about her work I happened to glance at a small sample that was pinned to my Storm / Still design wall …. and flash! Off went that elusive light bulb!
Sample made whilst developing the Storm / Still series
I’m really lucky to have several design walls so I can keep lots of ideas and samples pinned up. Most of that space has been filled with Ruins stuff for the last few months but I kept some photos of Dunure beach and stitched samples visible – would I have had that light bulb moment if everything was tucked away?
Pinned up fabrics ready for auditioning
And now that I have a good idea of how to procede I have rearranged my design walls to keep me focussed. On one wall I have pinned the sample and some fabrics that I have already printed. I will add to this wall as I print more pieces. On another wall I have pinned up more photos of Dunure – I can look at these and remember what I felt sat on that beach and what I’m trying to convey in my work. And I have changed the drop cloth on my big print bench from the unmarked one that signifies I am in a composition and stitching phase to one with lots of lovely residual marks from previous printing sessions. Not as quick as flipping a switch but it has the same effect!
Memories of Dunure beach
Storm 1 (Jagged)
It has been a while since I have written about Steven Pressfield and his book ‘The War of Art’ but this week I had reason to reread sections of the book. I got the news that the pieces I submitted to the SAQA calls ‘Tranquility’ and ‘Turmoil’ had been rejected. Nobody likes rejection but for many people it can be distracting or even paralysing. We all fear rejection. That fear is hard wired into us. But Pressfield says that a ‘Professional’ artist cannot take rejection personally. Instead she should self-validate and assess her work coldly and objectively. ”Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she will make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.”
So in the time it took to drink a cup of good coffee (and eat some chocolate) I assessed the pieces (including Storm 1 Jagged) that had been rejected. Did I achieve visually what I wanted with each piece? Yes. Were they crafted to the best of my technical ability? Yes. Did I present them to the best of my ability? Well maybe not – they were hard to photograph so I need to work on this. Will I let rejection stop me from working on the Storm / Still series? Will I let rejection stop me submitting works from this series to other calls? Will I let it take anymore of my precious time in the studio? Nope. No way!
And with that I put on some loud music, sat down at my sewing machine and stitched for two solid hours!