Sunday, 12 October 2008

Anna Torma - embroidery

Material Memory with Jane Adeney - 1999

Anna Torma is a fibre artist whose work has stayed with me for years. I feel a deep connection to it and often re-visit it.

The work I am so enamoured with is of course, her quilts. In this instance it's their embroidery/illustration and content that fascinates me rather than any technicalities of the craft. Their thinness, with warped sides remind me of early quilts that were perhaps made for hospital patients from newspaper or old shirt fabrics.

The works are huge in scale, intricate, complex, intimate, meaningful, playful, contradictory. Some of the images evoke for me the dynamism and movement of Cy Twombly. Each one is a place to visit, spend time, be lost, find things, learn and always be inspired. So many things happening in each piece, so many strands, stories and interpretations.. with a level of skill, care and detail that belies their playful appearance.

Playground III - 2002

A number of years ago I wanted to find out more about Anna Torma, so I contacted her and asked where I might find information. Her response was to very kindly post me an exhibition catalogue in return for copies of Selvedge. I was thrilled and impressed by her earthy nature and open manner. It felt like a favourite pop star had written to me - so exciting.

detail of Herbary - 2001

This warmth is blatant in her work. Her maternal experience is there for all to see but she is a weighty artist, an important influence on many fibre artists. Her originality, questioning of materials, technical expertise, wisdom and cultural heritage are cleverly and delicately woven into the complicated patterns and subtexts.

Playground I - 2002

Torma repeatedly uses the drawings and stories of her children. As I am primarily concerned with the use of textiles to communicate and perpetuate memory, I find this element of her work particularly powerful and moving. A simple rainy day stuck indoors, but the details of that are not just on film or in photos, instead expressed by the children and Anna through their markings and her stitch. The work involved feels like a natural representation of the patience and repetition of motherhood and the unconditional love therein.

Are the images we see portrayed here of stories she has shared with her children again and again, reminding them all of the nights she comforted them and rocked them to sleep? Do I see monstery teeth - so significant in early childhood - so painful yet such a bonding shared experience. The monsters and the landscapes.. I see an image of numerous breasts - is that of significance to Torma? Before I knew about Torma's work I used this image myself in a diary drawing many years ago when I was making a joking nod to feeling able to nurture the world (or something like that). Perhaps the many-breasted woman is one with love enough for all..? Was this Torma that was full of love or something significant to her children? The whole piece is a big, beautiful private code within which we can all find significant parts, beautiful hints and project our own hypotheses. All of it about emotion, about feeling and reacting, making us think and feel, to me it is what makes work powerful.

Rainy Day II, Tales - 2001

Torma completed her studies in Hungary in 1979, having witnessed the textile revolution of the 1970's. Textiles was at that time moving away from it's incarnation as folk art, or genteel past time. It slipped under the harsh spotlight of the authorities that shone intently over the shoulder of fine arts. Pieces were then being woven or stitched into abtract forms, installations, conceptual work in ways that had not previously been considered.

detail from Rainy Day II

Torma retained a feminine sensitivity about her work and was concerned with the motifs from her craft's heritage, with the stitches used and their significance and retaining the folk art references that other fibre artists were then rejecting.

detail from Playground I - 2002

Her work today seems to me to be entirely universal in it's communication of shared experiences, instincts and references. I'd really love to see it in person - to experience the scale, the texture, the little details, the motion of the stitch and the emotion of the piece. If any of you have experienced her work in person then please tell me - I'd love to hear about it.

Just My Imagination - 2006
anna torma

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Julie Arkell (knit to embroidery)

The magical Julie Arkell is my bridge between knitting and embroidery (next area of interest). I recently had the privilege of attending one of her workshops at Loop in Islington. I had an absolute ball.

Arriving at Loop I had a quick chat with lovely Susan and a couple of the beautiful girls that work there. It's a trinket box of treasures... walking in the colour of the yarns, products and aroma from the scented candles immediately put you in a spell and make you want to stay. Everyone there is passionate, friendly, interesting and welcoming. Susan is a really special woman who clearly attracts other similarly spirited people.
Downstairs, the stock room was turned into a cosy little den for learning. Candles, flowers, baskets of wool and jugs of needles on the table, yarns lining the walls around us, the exotic and talented Julie Arkell humbly and warmly made us all tea and coffee. How lovely is that?!

Julie enthusiastically talked to us about her work and showed us a selection of her creatures. Everything about her is gentle, gracious and warm. Her energy and fascination for what she does and the world around her are a joy to encounter.
The creatures we saw were bigger and heavier than I expected and as textiles so often do, they acted like catalysts to conversation. The group was so mixed and the many different spins on the creatures, different points of view, different interpretations was wonderful.
As we began working, people talked about their experiences and craft lives in their respective countries. Each person was passionate about textiles, each in a totally different way, but the community of the group was wonderful. Shuffling through a vintage case of Julie's fabrics, through baskets of wool, it was a small group of disparate women in a sweet-scented fabric heaven.
Julie collects words and phrases, something I also happen to have done for many years. For me it was wonderful to meet someone so different to myself, but with so much commonality to talk about. Chatting about various textile artists, techniques, our fascination with lives lived and records and remnants of those, collecting 'bits' that are imbued with memory... it was a rare treat for me... I was so over-excited I was giddy.
Julie's work is fascinating. My favourite piece being that with a press-stud as a face - which closes in on itself and is called 'shy'. It's small and charming, it has a playfulness but I feel that the concept is really strong and powerful, simple and concise, it never ceases to impress me.
Her creatures were beautiful and full of character. To hear her speaking about why they are who/what they are, how they evolve, how they grow out of the paper, how she chooses the papers, works with it and then chooses what comes from it, is intimate and magical.

Today in our day to day lives we're surrounded by progress and changes which scare and delight us. Julie is a person so gentle and genuine, in brightly coloured, intricately detailed clothes, with a kind manner, without a computer, she chooses to hand write instead.. she could be a beautiful creature herself, simply not of our time. But her lively interest in everything means she is totally of this time. It is just that her insight and accurate perception cuts straight through to what people can relate to, what it is people are looking for - in tiny details, threads and remnants, these little pieces of detail that we find comforting or evocative, connecting us to some unknown artisan, housewife or child from the past.
People dropped in throughout the day. A beautiful Japanese artist, a girl and her mum, a lovely girl who clearly drops in from time to time to get help with her knitting. They do sit and spend time teaching there. It's wonderful. Anyone can drop in, sit in a lovely chair (cushioned to perfection) and ask for help. There's no hesitation, just enthusiasm from the incredibly talented girls who work there. (see what I mean here)
The course finished with a photo shoot of our little ladies all lined up outside the shop. It was like a Spice Girls reunion tour except... tasteful! Each creature was imbued with our own thoughts and ideas, full of the conversations from the day, each of them a totally different little character.
My creature/lady didn't get finished. I'll do that another time. For now she sits in a tea cup, reminding me of the chats. What I really got from the day was personal. As I'm currently a mum who has been at home with a poorly baby for the last 15 months, it was a reminder of all that makes me tick when I am very occasionally able to be 'me'. I considered my new work, my nervous new direction and thought that yes, it is valid... I'm thinking and working in a positive direction. I wonder what the others got from the day...
Meeting the other women was a real tonic, demonstrating how unifying this craft stuff is. Meeting Julie Arkell was marvellous. Her energy, gracious nature, her interest in everything, her quietly powerful work was really inspiring. And Susan and the girls at Loop - with all their knowledge and energy... impressive and benign, made for a really great day. I feel I went away with so much more than a creature. With a feeling of community, of similarity to such different people, with inspiration and energy for my personal work and my passion for textiles soaring higher than ever.
Julie Arkell will be teaching a residential workshop at Katie Armitage's wonderful home studio in the South of France this Autumn. You can find out more about it over here.
You can buy Julie's book online from Loop here.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

mark newport (knit)

Much of the knitting I have blogged about has been created by women so some of it has inevitably focused on issues of comfort, home, domesticity and nurturing. Mark Newport makes knitted art that considers these same themes whilst additionally mulling over generally perceived and his own notions of what it is to be a man.

argyleman - 2007

Here we see the comforting, soft material of wool crafted into a protective super-hero costume ready to be worn by a big muscular macho man. But isn't it generally the stereo-typical wimp that wears knitted tank-tops and cosy jumpers..? And isn't it normally the woman (who does the knitting) that is providing the comfort, protection and love for the child the knitting will clothe..? Or are these out-dated notions of gender which are continuously evolving?

The contrast between the costumes when worn and the limp, empty garments that hang on the wall is marked. Once the muscle and the energy have gone they become strange looking pelts - the masks lend an eerie mystery but essentially whilst in that state they are skillfully crafted, limpid knitwear. Maybe fetishistic in appearance, as they hang in galleries they have more of the deflated morning after than the night before, more middle-aged spread than Clark Kent or Reed Richards.

patriot - 2004

These pieces are of course a product of age and context. Newport was a comic book consumer as a boy. Having been born in the 1960's, the heroes he would have read about and the stories he would have hungrily consumed were stereotypical and omnipresent. Television at that time churned out such series as Batman & Robin, Superman and Spiderman where again and again big strong men saved helpless women and children.

patriot - 2004

As a boy, super-heroes are statuesque, strong and powerful, honest and good. Is this how young boys perceive manhood? How they imagine the ideal father? As an adult male, that role of super-hero changes enormously and many men must question every day what is it that is required of them and what is it to be male. What makes a man incredible. What is it that enables a man to protect and save.

fantastic four - 2003

As a father the super-hero themes are there in any normal life (as he slips his imaginary superman pants over his trousers) - to teach children to be honest and good and be a hero in their eyes. Here I see a parallel with the empty costumes on the wall - like seeing one's super-hero father in a dressing gown or pyjama's when you awaken him to help you with a nightmare. Of course it is precisely then, at a groggy 4am that he most inhabits his super-hero role and is a brilliant Dad.

There is irony in the consideration of how much protection a knitted super-hero costume could actually offer. Would it shrink in the rain, or stretch...? Would it shrink in the washer or dryer? Or snag on bushes...? Questions I am sure Newport must have pondered whilst painstakingly knitting the pieces. Of course in undertaking the knitting himself, Newport has taken on the traditional role of the woman as he sees it. He is raising his own personal questions around gender which are specific to his background and generation.

sweaterman 2005

Today however, the majority of women don't knit items for their families. This can be seen as a luxury since time is a valuable commodity. It is not strange now to see men at fashionable knitting groups. Comic books have increasing numbers of super-women and normal women go out to work, protect and provide for their families. So it will be interesting to see if this crossover of skills, roles and deeply personal questions will continue to change and homogenise or if artists like Newport will continue to push it further.

dell stewart (knit)

dell stewart at we are sleep club

I love this rainbow
I love that it's knitted
I love that it's like an upside down smile
I love the colours
I love the smile I had when I first saw it
I love that it's a great graphic image
...and that it's succinct

Here's a statement from Dell which gives more background to the piece and may encourage you to do a hop, skip and a jump over to her site and find out more.

"Recently I have been knitting. Partly a long Berlin winter, partly a need to be always making something. The process of knitting everyday objects is awkward, like a landscape rendered in extra large pixels, the resolution is pretty low. A clumsy representation, appealing in its naive simplicity. Despite graceless appearances it's sophisticated to envision and create in three-dimensions from a piece of string... So these ungainly creations have an innate wisdom passed from generation to generation, a tangible link to early human innovation.

I have an ongoing interest in the connections made with people and things through the processes of making and presenting art. Actively engaging and interacting with people and surroundings and keeping an interested eye on everyone in the art of living.

So the knitted rainbow is appealing in an iconic bright childish way. It has the sad imperfect qualities of a handmade item, started with such perfect hope, yet realized in a pleasingly limp way."

Sunday, 6 April 2008

written afterwards (knit)

The written afterwards website shows an exciting and challenging body of work created by yoshikazu yamagata and kentaro tamai using fashion as a versatile tool for communication.
The well-known 'my town in my home' knitted houses were created in collaboration with textile artist mafuyu. This stimulating collaboration confronts what we expect from craft and fashion. Here we see the house as an item of clothing - that which defines us, a huge building softened and reduced, becoming something to play with or within, as we might have done as children....
Of course, they are intended to be used as fashion or as toys and were featured in the children's book elaelaopa. This is a considered approach to fashion as identity... but also as play, escape, warmth and comfort.Working in collaboration with other artists prompts the creation of work that is refreshingly wide-ranging.
In contrast to the knitted houses, here we see a deceptively complex piece of craftsmanship in an ethereal and delicate, intricately worked lace panel.
Using the panel in the forms of art, installation and fashion is testament to the imagination and adaptability of the item. Crossover is of course what so many artists do, be it illustration, film, photography, craft and so on - why not allow the pieces themselves to be multi-faceted.
Their brave approach to collaboration leads to an impressive adaptability across their many ideas and applications.
The clothing items they have produced are equally well constructed, challenging and considered.
'the everyone's new clothes' (pictured below) was a piece of work based on Hans Christian Andersen's the Emperor's New Clothes. Here they work ever-playfully with notions of fashion and beauty, turning the gaze back on the viewer by using industry players as the models.
Showing first in London in 2005, yoshikazu yamagata, took prominent fashion personalities and imagined what they might wear under their clothes. Then he presented them with their alter-egos on the catwalk.
The piece was later shown (above) to the Hinohara kindergarten in a Tokyo village, performed by dance troupe the bambiest.

I first came across 'my town in my home' via selvedge. It was also recently featured on bloesem.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

janet morton (knit)

early frost - 2004

Artist Janet Morton's knitted work can be seen indoors and frequently out in the community, covering trees and buildings. Who could ever have thought that anyone could make trees more beautiful than nature has already? But these stunning web-like crochet coverings comfortably creep across their trunks.. hugging, decorating, warming and accentuating the contours of the towering stately creatures.

linden in lace - 2003

Her work is a wide-ranging exploration of architecture, texture, comfort, values, our use of exterior or interior spaces, of feminism, domesticity, craft, language, isolation and community. Quite a lot..

four season tree - 2004

To add 10,000 cloth leaves to the branches of trees (see above) is indeed beautiful, industrious and thought-provoking. Here all the seasons are present at once, showing the myriad of beautiful colours the tree presents us with throughout a year. The whole cycle in one place, although artificially created. Presenting her works continuously in such public arenas shows a desire to communicate with a wide audience and to ensure that nobody be excluded from the participatory experience or to engage with the subject, or piece.

casting off - 2000

The above artwork is a piece involving participants who each knitted and submitted squares. Each square commemorated an event of personal or historical significance, with a date and a ball of wool hanging from it. There were around 400 of these squares.

felled - 1997

The installation above is a translation of a poem. The leaves were made from work socks, as you can see below. The notion of work is another recurrent theme in her work. I interpret this making of beautiful delicate items, from work-worn, day-to-day socks as a mark of respect for the labour they participated in.

felled (detail) - 1997

You may have seen Janet Morton's knitted installation at the Crafts Council's Knit 2 Together exhibition a couple of years ago. It is an entirely knitted interior furnished with items typical of a 1950's suburban living room.
A hoover provides us with a nod to the work or chores of the house, but the woollen cup with a frothy top to it provides us with a nod to the famous feminist piece by Meret Oppenheim. Perhaps she is paying respect to the work of the woman who would have carried out the chores and the knitting in the home at that time? Perhaps the cup is a hint of rebellion or a simple dash of irony.

It is exciting that another distinguished artist is using wool and knitting in such thought-provoking ways giving it the potential to be seen as a serious medium in it's own right. I hope we hear a lot more about her in the future. Please follow this link for a visual archive of her work.