Monday, 12 March 2012

karen nicol

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

After such a long time away from blogging, I'm delighted to return to talk about Karen Nicol'swork. Without wishing to sound like a stalker, I have admired her for so many years and have dog-eared cuttings of her home (shared with collage artist Peter Clark) from something like 10 years ago.
image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

The qualities I love about her work are obviously, the exceptional skill and creativity, but also the continual surprise. I've spent years waiting to see more and anticipating what may come next and at times found it hard to find information or images. For those such as myself that made it a slightly exciting chase and nowadays thanks to technology we are able to gather a great deal of information on artists and creators that would have previously had little public profile.
image of 'Blossom' kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Karen studied at Manchester and the Royal College of Art and later went on to teach at the RCA, Bath, Brighton and London College of Fashion.

image of 'Blossom' kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

She knew she wanted to work in fashion so started her career in Paris. There she had the fortuitous meeting of a woman called Uta Raasch, who she worked with for 15 years and who taught her all about the fashion industry. (click here for uta raasch couture)

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

She has worked in close collaboration with fashion designers such as Chanel Couture, Givenchy, Matthew Williamson, Julien Macdonald, Chloe, Marc Jacobs.. and the list goes on. She works with designers for whom the process is an open one where she can have creative input and work in true collaboration.
image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

I was lucky enough to go to the private view for the work currently on show at the Marylebone Hotel, Welbeck St, W1 (running until 8th May). The work is technically brilliant as you would expect and needs to be studied at close quarters to really get full appreciation of the details. But the thing that struck me, as has about her work previously, is the fluidity and painterly quality. It is ironic that the work is made of many thousands of technically brilliant stitches, yet it has the fluidity that is achieved from great sweeping brushstrokes. Part of her success has been her incredible versatility and you can see that here in her personal work too.

photo by elvis robertson with apologies for reflections and lack of focus

As the private view was busy, I went back to get a closer look at the work. An enthusiastic hotel worker instantly wanted to talk to me about the work. She told me how each member of staff at the hotel has a different favourite, due to perhaps the bears they've seen in Canada, or the tigers or perhaps a family member who likes to stitch, so some more carefully embroidered birds triggered something for them. Each piece triggered different stories from around the world and different family tales which in turn connected the viewers to each other and drew out mutual empathy.

photo by elvis robertson with apologies for reflections and lack of focus

Each of us has a deep-seated connection with stitch and fabric, and hearing these comments reminded me of what a wonderful thing it is to put these textile pieces in a public place to start conversations such as these and bring us together over such varied experiences but such similar intimacies and connections.

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

My personal favourites in the show are Queenie and Big Ben. The two monkeys appear as a positive and a negative of each other. Big Ben a pearly king with 'Queenie' tattooed on his tail. Queenie is of course tattooed with 'Big Ben' on her toe knuckles. The detail of the stitched tattoo's is fascinating as is the fine vintage mother of pearl embellishment on the other.

photo by elvis robertson with apologies for reflections and lack of focus

I suppose the reason I particularly adore these particular two is that as a child I really believed that I would get a pet monkey for my birthday. I loved them. And these two are so deeply connected to each other that I can ponder their romantic story, or struggle, or tragic tale which I imagine due to the passionately expressive look in Queenie's meaningful eyes (see image above)

photo by elvis robertson with apologies for reflections and lack of focus

photo by elvis robertson with apologies for reflections and lack of focus

Following is a question and answer I had with Karen. I think it gives a fascinating insight into the work ethic that lies behind one of our most talented textile artists:

My sister and I used to sleep head to tail in a single bed and she had a pink silky nightie and I used to go to sleep rubbing the fabric between my thumb and forefinger…it used to drive her mad.

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

When and how did you start sewing?

My mum made all our clothes and was an embroiderer, milliner, upholsterer etc so my sister and I were always surrounded by it.

When we were about thirteen she made us our own pattern block and said she would buy us fabric from the market but no more clothes and we had to make our own which was brilliant, mine were absolutely thrown together even sellotaping the seams and often the end of rolls so I would put the tape marks where the fabric had been stuck to the print table down the back…wouldn’t it be great to have that irreverence now!

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Do you have a certain atmosphere in which you like to stitch?

I have a great studio and I love to be alone in it. My husband works next door so we give each other crits all the time (the promise of total honesty even when its unwelcome) Happiness when hand sewing is a good play on the radio or machining to music or story on my headphones

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

What is it that you love so much about the act of pulling thread through fabric?

There is something so calming about it but I just am in awe at the breadth of the subject there is always something new to discover even after all the years I’ve been a it.

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Who and what are your greatest inspirations?

Probably Alexander McQueen and Galliano but I am inspired by so much, painters, artists, museums, shops, it changes every day, often just simple stuff. I photograph and carry a notebook for hasty little scribbles of everything visual that I like…

I am addicted to flea markets.

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Is there any one piece of work you're most proud of?

The next one…I’m always hoping

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Are there any particular people or events that helped you find your way?

'So many, I’ve been incredibly lucky, my husband collage artist Peter Clark who is just brilliant and seems to really believe in me so has continuously made me want to try harder to impress him....my mum as above, Judy Barry from Manchester Art College who was my tutor and now best friend who is so passionate about embroidery and just the joys of seeing.'

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

What advice do you find yourself repeating to students the most?

To be versatile, try to think out of the box, don’t price your work out of the market, keep your eyes open inspiration is all around you…and be irreverent about embroidery!

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

Do you have a 'greatest idol'?

No, changing continuously other than above


image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

What are you striving for next?

I would like to be taken seriously in what I’m doing and one day, after a lifetime of trying, I would like embroidery to lose its stigma and be recognized by people other than practitioners as a truly interesting and expansive way of working

image kindly supplied by Karen Nicol

The exhibition of Karen's work is at the Marylebone Hotel, Welbeck St, W1 until May 8th. More of her work can be seen on her website, by clicking here. She is represented by the Rebecca Hossack Gallery.
Her husband is Peter Clark, you can see more of his work by clicking here.

With thanks to Karen Nicol for patience and generous participation for this piece and for her ongoing contribution to textile art, many people will be grateful for her creative inspiration and technical brilliance.

5 comments:

Victoria Clark said...

Oh what superb skill.I would love to own one of Karen's works. If you like monkeys, have you come across the work of artist Fatima Ronquillo. Her painting titled "The Inconstant" is just divine. I have it as my screen saver.
I am an antique dealer who has a penchant for period textiles. I can see history reflected in Karen's work but with a contemporary twist. Love it!!!

homemade said...

HI
Great post Elvis. How are you?
Ros xx

Becca said...

Being a textiles student I love these works they are amazing and I really like the different techniques you have used.
sewthecity.blogspot.co.uk x

melissa barrass said...

this woman is a precisionist. Thankyou for sharing.

Wai-Yuk Kennedy said...

I have been vaguely aware of Karen Nicol as a name for a while but this post has awakened me to the power and quality of her textile art pieces. Thank you very much for putting this interview together.