Wednesday, 9 January 2013

OCA Textiles Study Visit - Light and Line

My first visit to Barnsley on a frosty December day to meet my tutor and other students at the Civic. The artists, Anne Morrell and Polly Binns, were new to me and there wasn't a huge amount of information to be easily found on their work before the day. This was a short visit and the activity was to take a look around the gallery, identify which pieces immediately captured our interest, select one and to meet back with the group to visit one of our selected works to explain and discuss our thoughts. 

As soon as I entered this touring exhibition, I thought of Alice Fox and her wonderful 'Textures of Spurn' project that I reflected on in November.  References to water and the coast were immediately obvious from the colours to the rippling patterns. The first piece of work that caught my attention was Anne Morrell's 'Verdure:2' (2011), below on the left.  From these photographs, it's difficult to appreciate, but although it was flat and stretched on a canvas like a painting, from a distance it looked very three dimensional, compared to the two on the right, and this enticed me to come for a closer look.

The gallery was bright and as there was no glass on the frame (each of the frames on these three were the same tone but different colour), it was good to be able to see the stitching up close and appreciate the detail. Only one simple stitch was used throughout.  This area below was just comprised of parallel lines of running stitch.  The thread has delicate changes in shade though, and as it is worked from the back, puckering is created.  Combined with the dyed background it results in contrasts of tension and it reminds me of looking down at the sea from high above - the ripples of the tide and the contrast between the deep and shallow areas.

The colours were slightly less fresh and vibrant but certainly reminiscent of the seascape shades I so often respond to and chose for my colour bag earlier in this assignment.
I am sure that the main reason I was drawn to this work is the happy memory it evoked of sitting on the rusty pier below in Greece.  We had just missed a boat trip so sat and waited an hour for the next one.  It was just my husband & I on honeymoon, the kids were at home with Grandma, and it was so warm and peaceful looking down at the patterns in the water and listening to the gentle lapping of the water. I can imagine the brown areas as the criss-cross shapes of the rusty structure.   
Looking next at Polly Binns's work next, if felt far closer to home and less exotic.  This piece, 'Overstrand Interlude' (2011) below, reminds me very much of darker, oilier and wet sand so I was not surprised to find out that the artist spends a good deal of time walking on Norfolk beaches before working.  This was simply hung on nails so again I enjoyed being able to get up close to this to see the detail.  The 'V' shapes bleached (or possibly painted?) into the fabric I imagined as sea birds footprints.  Some of these lines were enhanced by machined running stitch which subtly increases the reflective qualities. As in Morrell's 'Verdure:2', just one stitch is used throughout.


All the work exhibited was fairly recent, created within the last few years and it was interesting to consider the similarities and contrasts in the way the two artists approach the 'light and line' theme.  Both are meticulous observers.  Polly Binns knows the landscape intimately from her walks and works more directly from memory and briefly recorded marks.  She now almost never photographs.  Anne Morrell has a more considered and detailed process of development.  Below are some of her working samples which we were delighted to be able to handle and inspect.


To me the exhibition felt like a series of personal explorations rather than finished pieces I might want to take home and hang on my walls. I don't necessarily think they all stand up in their own right but it is certainly an interesting collection.  You can see the direction of the work gradually changing from the earlier to later pieces. Anne Morrell for example seems to have moved away from colour completely towards concentrating on form and surface texture and most of the group preferred her later work such as this un-dyed piece below.  'Axial' 2012 had an unexpected composition.  All the interest was at the top with a large blank area at the bottom as if it is floating. 

Only one stitch was used yet again.  Even the length of the stitch stays the same and all the effects come from varying the distance between rows and the degree of puckering.  For someone like me, who likes to layer and adorn endlessly this is a good lesson in how effective it can be to keep things simple sometimes and how it's not necessary to have a repertoire of complicated stitches.  Which is just as well.  At the Embroiderer's Guild last Friday, we tried out some unusual stitches.  Two hours later this was all I had managed! (Guild recommended two Beaney & Littlejohn books: A Tale of Two Stitches and Stitch Magic - good for exploring the boundaries of stitches. They're a bit expensive but on my wish list.)
After this and other recent exhibitions, by using critical approach guidelines, I've realised I'm becoming gradually more in tune with why a particular work attracts me.  Maybe on a future visit, I should choose something that turns me off and try to work out why.

Another lesson I'm learning is relying on photographs less for inspiration and and more for a memory jogger along with notes and sketches.  In a gallery or outdoors when it's freezing, the drawings I'm making now are often very quick and rough but they're working for me as a starting point. However, I still nearly always carry my camera to catch something unexpected like the frosty view I spotted on the drive to Barnsley.  Dodging the lorries thundering past as I stood in the road and knowing I'd be late for the study visit if I got the pencils out, I thought this was a justified time to use camera!  
OCA report by Pat Hodson can be found here:


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