Monday, 14 November 2016

Exhibition in Limavady

This year, my stitched artwork is being seen for the first time in Northern Ireland, the place of my birth and where I grew up. It has taken a while to be shown near to my home, mostly because the majority of my studying and exhibiting life has been carried out on the British mainland, in England and Wales, where I have now made my home.

I was born in Co. Down and lived there at the head of Belfast Lough on the shores of the Irish Sea, for the first eighteen years of my life and, with times away for university, for another ten years after that. My work is on exhibition in Co. Londonderry in Limavady with he exhibition 'Stitched Legacies of Conflicts' in the lovely space of the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre and it runs until Saturday 26th November 2016.

This is a view of the entrance to the exhibition in the Centre. In the foreground is a piece by Deborah Stockade mapping out the Plantation of Ulster and my work 'Continuum' is seen on the right on the wall beyond.

Myself by my work with, behind me on the left, three arpilleras on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

A detail showing some of the images on 'Continuum'. This piece references both World Wars and the Troubles and speaks about how we continue to deal with conflicts in various parts of the globe; the 'war to end all wars' has sadly not been able to do this.

The exhibition, curated by Roberta Bacic, is organised by Conflict Textiles and more can be seen about her work in this field on:-

'Stitched Legacies of Conflicts' covers work made by women to express how they have used the medium of stitch to deal with experiences of conflict in their lives. Many of the pieces are arpilleras, a word which means hessian, and they take the form of quilts made to commemorate the missing and the dead. These arpilleras are often made from scraps of material available in the house and are mounted on the rough ground of the hessian.

In this image, you can see my work which I collaged on raw linen then set onto white cotton calico and beyond this, the hessian ground which connects all the exhibits in the exhibition.

During the exhibition, there was an event organised at which Roberta gave a guided tour of the exhibition and I spoke about my work.

This is a picture of myself talking to, as in the previous image, on the left, my sister, Joyce and, on the right, Stefania Gualberti, who is qualified in peace studies and has a great interest in arpilleras.

After this, there was a workshop led by Deborah Stockdale in which we made little cloth dolls.

This is a group of the dolls made at the workshop. My little doll, named Harriet, is on the bottom left.

Dolls such as these are often a feature of arpilleras and, for the workshop, we each chose a work from the exhibition with which to connect our own doll. I chose to connect mine with Deborah's piece 'They Fell like Stars from the Sky' in which a circle of little 'grannies' can be seen.

'Harriet' refers to both my maternal and paternal grandmothers in that I chose a fabric for her headscarf on which were little hens and a navy blue material for her dress which features a spot-like pattern. The headscarf fabric brought to my mind a story told by my father about how, during a time when my grandparents kept hens, there was one of them that just wouldn't stop squawking and, in total exasperation, my grandfather went out and wrung its neck, after which the family had it for dinner! The dress material made me think very much of the favourite dress owned by my maternal grandmother, whose name I gave to the doll. This dress was of a softly falling navy fabric with a slight sheen, decorated with a white spot pattern and my grandmother called it her 'shower of hail' dress.


This is another detail from 'Continuum' and in it can be seen my father in his RAF forage cap along with his squadron pictured in Morecambe when he joined up. The ruined buildings and crying child refer to the Troubles but connect also with the terrible suffering of children and adults today in the Middle East especially. Conflict, it seems, is something that humanity has constantly to deal with.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Off to France

This year is proving to be very fruitful for me in several ways, including having my work seen across the sea!

I was invited to put work forward for an exhibition called Zéro Euro which was within the Détissages section of a Festival of Linen in Saint-Thélo, Brittany. My piece, Rêver de la paix: se promener sans peur (To Dream of Peace: to Walk without Fear) went before a juried committee and was selected for the exhibition, along with a number of others, from among a number of entries.

This image shows a detail from the hanging which is over a metre long and is stitched entirely by hand onto linen. The ethos of the exhibition was to demonstrate that artwork can be created without spending large amounts of money, so, in this spirit, I gave my cousin, Mel Cairns, two of my Limited Edition prints of his choice for the lovely linen which he gave to me. The contemplative figure is from a sketch I did many years ago of a friend sitting on rocks by the sea. I had always liked the little sketch and was very pleased to include it on this work.

Another detail from the hanging is this little landscape, the original of which is a pencil sketch in colour of the Mourne Mountains seen from Strangford Lough. I inkjet printed the sketch onto silk then stitched over this in silk and cotton threads. All the stitch for this piece was carried out using threads inherited from another embroiderer, Marion Jones. I came into possession of these threads because, after Marion's death, her husband, Vernon, saw my work in an exhibition in Aberystwyth and contacted me to ask if I would like to have Marion's threads, as he was keen to pass them on to another artist working in stitch whose work he felt had a sympathy with that of his late wife. I was, of course, delighted to inherit these lovely threads many of which I have now used in my work, including in this one for Détissages.

These two images show the full hanging in its position in the gallery in Saint-Thélo.

The idea behind the piece came about through thinking about my contemplative figure in conjunction with receiving little 'foot' shapes inside new footwear for myself and my husband, Arthur. These shoe shapes in card came free, so were ideal to use within the exhibition's ethos and I covered them with material from a dress I no longer wore. The feet 'walk' down the work and are accompanied by words from a favourite French author of mine, Antoine de St Exupéry. His beautiful use of words and kind philosophy of life are always a joy to read whether in the ultimately tragic but at the same time life-affirming novel Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) or in another of his very well-known works Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince).

We all have dreams about our lives and one of the things he says is to make your life a dream and turn a dream into a reality -

fais de ta vie un rêve et d'un rêve une réalité.

This is, of course not easily done, if at all, but there are times when we want to reach out for something beautiful, to attain a goal and when you want to accomplish something in your life, his advice is that you do this this gradually, by taking a step and then another and it is always the same step that you begin with, again and again, in his words    -

c'est de faire un pas, encore un pas et c'est toujours le même pas que l'on recommence

I visualised this concept of the steps through the appliquéd feet which are embroidered after being stitched to the linen. They are also surrounded by silk-painted organza shapes and, in addition to those of the author, I stitched just a few words of my own which take the idea of the dreams and the steps and say -

rêver de la paix, se promener sans peur  -  to dream of peace, to walk without fear  -  

These words are stitched on the piece  -  a dream perhaps, if only they could come true for more than a few moments.

All the words on the piece are in French and English.

A detail from my hanging which shows the feet, words, willow wands  . . .

Arthur, Juls and Ed are standing near the buildings that housed the artwork  -  beautiful weather and a lovely place! In the 18th and 19th centuries, what is now the little village of Saint-Thélo near the town of Loudéac, was a thriving centre of the linen industry in Brittany and is now on what is called the  'Route du Lin'  (Linen Route). There is also a museum here that has a really good shop and space where various exhibitions of textiles, including linen, of course, are held.

On the left is my good friend, Anne Guibert-Lassalle with artists taking part in 'Zéro Euro'. After the exhibition in Saint-Thélo, the exhibition moved to Anne's studio in Ploumanac'h and it attracted lots of attention here. She lives in a beautiful part of the coast by the famous pink granite rocks and I was delighted when the press became interested in my work in both locations! I was mentioned in two different French newspapers and these are the links to them:-

It was wonderful exhibiting in France and this isn't the end of the story . . .!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Paired installations in Newman University

I was privileged to be invited to show work in the lovely space of St Mary's Chapel, Newman University this year by University Chaplain, Margaret Holland and it turned out to be a wonderful venue for my exhibition. The installations I chose to exhibit were The Invitation and He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven which together became Invitation to Hope.

The boards that I used in The Cloisters Gallery, St David's Cathedral, were again ideal for the space in St Mary's Chapel to hang all my abstract portraits of Christ and the Apostles. The panels for Mary the Mother of God and Mary of Magdala then take their positions at either end of the curve of portraits.

A beautiful light flows in from the windows above and behind the installation and I also like how the pieces are reflected in the floor beneath.

This image shows husband, Arthur, my daughter, Juliette and sister, Joyce standing by the Invitation's portraits. Juliette works as Senior Lecturer in Ancient History in the university and I was delighted that Joyce was able to come over from Ireland to see the exhibition. We had a great day in Birmingham, too!

I placed the book that I produced for The Invitation, seen to the left in this picture, along with a some information for visitors, by the portraits. The book describes my artistic processes in creating the pieces as I did and is illustrated with colour photographs of the artwork. In it, I also write of my philosophy and spirituality which play their part, not just in this installation, but in every piece of work that I do.

The other section of the exhibition, the hanging Cloth for Night and the Half-Light, was placed opposite this curved wall by an alcoved part of the chapel which was perfect for the stitched painting and smaller pieces that accompany it.

Cloth for Night and the Half-Light is seen here on the right with, on the brick wall of the alcove, the other pieces for He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven. A table was placed here for the Visitors' Book, copies of The Invitation book and some cards and postcards of work in the exhibition. These items proved very popular with visitors.

This image shows a detail from the top of Cloth for Night and the Half-Light.

The portrait of my father is one of the small pieces featured.

A sound track which combines music from the two aspects of the exhibition was played on a loop to accompany the visual pieces.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

With words and beyond

Last year, I also took part in Prism's London Exhibition Lines of Communication in Hoxton Arches Gallery, late May 2015, with my pieces Leitmotif and Continuum.

The many lines of hand stitching in Continuum seek to speak to others about the tragedy and horror of conflict. This piece was also exhibited in The Tabernacle, MOMA for my solo exhibition A Sense of Longing: Hiraeth and for MOMA, I had put Continuum in a white wood frame, unglazed as I prefer and I had been pleased with how it looked.

This image shows the full piece,  in its frame, as it was exhibited in MOMA. You can also see the overall form of the collaged sections on the natural brown linen ground. Red is an important colour in this work  -  the red of blood, of anger, of conflict  -  and a soft hue of silk thread in tones of crimson moving toward cherry was picked out to edge the linen in blanket stitch.

This detail shows how the colour red impacts in the piece. It is there within the poppies, on the threads that attach the broken mirror shard and it forms a base like blood on which are stitched images of a victim of a bomb blast during N. Ireland's Troubles, a girl trying to give aid, a crying child, ruined buildings and also the War Memorial in Enniskillen where, in 1987 an IRA bomb killed several and injured others who had come to attend the commemoration on Armistice Day, 11th November. One victim was a young woman who was a student nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital and, in an act of great charity and compassion, her father forgave his daughter's killers.

However, for Prism, I was asked if I would take the piece out of the frame and exhibit it simply pinned to the gallery wall. Thinking about it, I thought that the piece could also work in this way as it hangs well and keeps its shape without distracting folds that would make it hard to read. This is partly because the lovely raw, bleached linen ground that the collaged pieces are stitched onto holds its shape very well.

This detail shows my father in his RAF uniform's forage cap and also his squadron photographed at Morecambe. He also served on the Lleyn Peninsula in Wales. The bombed buildings are from Belfast's Troubles and the image of a crying child is taken from a photograph of this time. I stitched this figure of the child several times in slightly different guises on the piece as representative of all the children who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of adults as they wage their seemingly endless conflicts in so many parts of the globe.

The gallery in Hoxton Arches has a couple of 'rooms', the first being the space where you enter the gallery then, walking through this area, you pass through into the second space. This area or 'room' has a doorway into a courtyard and this doorway was kept open during the exhibition. With Continuum hung in this part of the gallery, whenever a little breeze wafted in from outside, the piece moved gently on the draught of air, floating softly on its pins. As the brown-coloured linen ground was edged in red blanket stitch to give the impression of an army blanket such as a soldier might carry, this gentle movement in the draughts of air gave the piece an added poignancy and fragility. I appreciated the sensitive positioning of Continuum in the gallery.

Myself with Continuum in Hoxton Arches, May 2015

Just a little word to add to this is that some of the images I created for Continuum were inspired by photos of the Troubles that I researched and was given permission to use by the Press Association.

Leitmotif also had its place in this exhibition, as it was inspired by lines from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I have loved the vivid word pictures and flowing rhythms of this wonderful poet's works ever since I first read them, as a teenager coming across the words, 'Each mortal thing . . . selves . . . goes itself, Myself it speaks and spells'. I was immediately intrigued by this describing, in lilting words, of how everyone in creation has their own being, own character, own way of living and, in my artwork, I decided to create a piece that would take these words and speak about myself, giving key moments and factors of my life and including at least some of the people I love.

To make this piece, I chose a stretched block linen canvas as base and I painted a background in acrylics on the canvas. Across this ground, I applied pieces inkjet printed onto organza, silk and cotton and stitched over these in cotton, silk and linen threads  -  I always prefer using threads in natural rather than synthetic materials. Other images are realised in threads hand stitched directly into the linen canvas which is a lovely fabric to stitch into.

In the centre is myself holding daughter Juliette, a small baby, with down on the right, Juliette and son Edward when, as young children, they played on a beautiful beach in Scotland, Camusdarach near Mallaig one wonderful half-term holiday in May when the temperature was in the twenties and we were almost the only people on this great stretch of sandy bay!

On another part of the piece, here they are as adults on the beach at Barmouth just near us here in Wales one recent winter's day. My Dad is pictured, too,  holding me when I was just a baby  -  by a beach in Co. Down this time!  -  and the stitched image of the Celtic Cross is of the large one in stone that stands outside Iona Abbey on that  beautiful Scottish island, for me, one of earth's liminal places! The closed beach brollies stitched in white are ones I saw one magical sparkling evening on the beach at Marina di Ravenna. My study year abroad when I lived in Ravenna and attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Ravenna was significant for me and remains so. The wonderful people I met during this time and the kindness and generosity of the lovely friends I made will remain forever precious to me.

Aberystwyth is on extreme left of this image with, beside it an image of Arthur, Juliette and Edward taken from a favourite photo of mine of the three of them by Craobh Haven on Scotland's West Coast just south of Oban. This was a beautiful place that we were fortunate to stay in or near to several times. Peeping to the right of this is a little stitched outline sketch of myself and my sister Joyce (in the Cotswolds at the time and I could still walk, albeit with a stick and some help from a person!), then comes myself with Juliette and Ed when they were very young and, on the right, Arthur and I on our marriage. There is also a stitched image of myself as an almost ghost by the prom railing  -  there is a tale behind that (for another day!)  -  and a portrait image of what I looked like as a student in the 1970s; the fiery red is for the bombs that haunted this decade when I returned to work in Belfast after my graduation.

The words that inspired this piece are stitched on the top left close to a little image of the Mourne Mountains seen from Strangford Lough. There are also words and phrases of my own scattered across the piece.

All in all, a stitched and painted capsule of me!

Friday, 13 March 2015

'Painting with Words' Exhibition, Willow Gallery, Oswestry

Some of my 'Sense of Longing' work in MOMA has now gone on to the Willow Gallery, Oswestry for their 'Painting with Words' Exhibition to coincide with Oswestry's Lit Fest. The exhibition is very varied with work by a number of artists and, as words are important here, there is a close connection with poetry, books and story-telling. I am fortunate in having the opportunity to read some of my poetry alongside Jan Wallis, who will be doing story-telling sessions in connection with her work in the exhibition and we'll be doing this on Saturday 14th and again on Saturday 28th. I am due to read at 1.30 p.m. and Jan to do her stories from 2 - 4 p.m. Some of the poetry that I'll read will be in connection with what I'm exhibiting but not everything.

'Cloth for Night and the Half-Light' in its new space with the falling book 'In the Pages of Dreams'. Also pictured is 'Requiem: les fleurs du mal' and, just seen, the long poem picture 'Between the Sand and the Whipping Wind'.

The falling book really does look as if it is floating this time, as it is spreading round from one wall to the other  -  a nice space for it.

This is Jan, who will be doing her story-telling  -  I was talking to her about my use of stitch. She has made textile 'trees' for the exhibition, as forests often play such an important role in stories.

This time, my sound is accessed via wired headphones and this has given some more problems to sort out. It seems that having a sound element in an exhibition gives different issues to solve every time!

This image perhaps shows the gallery space a little better than the other photos  -  a couple of my earlier posts also show more of the interior. I really like how the large area of what used to be a car showroom was divided imaginatively into the light and airy gallery it is now and it is still easy to negotiate in my wheelchair!

Now I'm looking forward to reading my poetry in the Willow tomorrow. I performed my own version  -  spoken and sung  -  of the John Keats poem, 'La Belle Dame sans Merci', at Chinwag in Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Wednesday and read a couple of my own poems and what I did was very well received, which delighted me. I will put these readings in another post as soon as I am able. Ed can't make it tomorrow but Arthur and Juliette will be there, so I'll have an audience of two anyway!


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Short video of 'A Sense of Longing'

I have given images for my MOMA exhibition and talked about them in my last post but I thought I'd publish this little video of the exhibition, which I took with my digital camera, just for fun!

I in no way claim to be a film-maker  -  I had to hold the camera in my left hand while steering my chair with my right  -  so  I am limited by the functioning of my chair which you will also hear the sound of in operation! Added to this, I wanted to show the main cloth in its length in the video but have just succeeded in having it on its side! Far from perfect but I hope you might enjoy going on this tiny tour of the exhibition!


Sunday, 1 February 2015

Exhibition 'A Sense of Longing' (Hiraeth)

Things have been very busy for a while now, as I was getting ready for my solo exhibition in MOMA Wales, Machynlleth and going forward with my PhD work.

I also gave a talk to the N. Wales Branch of the Embroiderers' Guild in December and shared a Christmas lunch with them and I enjoyed both of these things very much. The lunch was very convivial and Arthur and I were made very welcome. I gave my talk after lunch and was really touched by how closely everyone listened and by comments made by those who came up to me afterwards. I appreciate very much all those who said how much my words resonated with them  -  when I have the difficult days, it is always a great consolation and encouragement to recall that my work does speak to at least some people! It was also my duty and pleasure to judge the Christmas competition. This wasn't easy, as there was a high standard in the works entered. These ranged from the small to the really quite large and they embraced a variety of styles and techniques but, as I said to the winner, it was the sense of mystery she instilled which drew me to choose her delicate piece.

'A Sense of Longing'  (Hiraeth)

My exhibition for MOMA, 'Hiraeth' in Welsh, was inspired initially by 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' by W B Yeats. I came across this beautiful poem in my teens and loved it from the very first reading! The longing here has two aspects to it, the first the yearning to give everything and beyond to a loved one, expressed in the beauty of the heavens, celestial and theological and the second, the longing to have peace and compassion in today's world where violence so often rips lives apart. I also extended the longing of the poem to embrace a yearning for people themselves, for loved ones whose mortal lives have ended. Guided by the 'blue and the dim and the dark cloths', I centred my main piece on the night skies and gave it a fall to the gallery floor.

Section of the top of  'Cloth for Night and the Half-Night'

Full view of the cloth on the gallery wall.

The rhythms of the poetic word, allied to their meaning, often inspire me to music as did this beautiful work and the exhibition is accompanied by a sound track of the music I wrote for the poem. My son, Ed, took the melody I had written and composed lovely harmonies for strings so that the sound track has myself on voice and guitar with Ed on cello and double bass and his friend and colleague, Daniel Galbreath, on viola.

The gallery required the sound to be heard via headphones this time, so this would be the best way to listen to it.

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This link works to hear the sound for this exhibition but it does not appear in the same way as links to SoundCloud in my other posts, nor does it link to my other pieces on SoundCloud, as have other entries  -  am looking into how to correct this!

The exhibition was hung on 5th January and it was exciting seeing the pieces I had planned and worked on for a number of months going up on the walls! Arthur and I put up 'Cloth for Night and the Half-Light' and the 'falling book' ourselves, as we usually do, with help from gallery worker Robert.

Falling book 'In the Pages of Dreams' during hanging in the gallery.

Self  beside falling book at the exhibition Preview with 'Eurydice Dreams of Heaven' in the foreground and behind me 'Cloth for Night and the Half-Light'.
The framed pieces were hung by Peter, who is in charge of hanging works in the gallery, one of which is the tall piece visible here beyond the main hanging and it is called 'Sleep Softly because You Live in my Dreams'. This is where I side-step a little from where the poet says 'Tread softly because you tread on my dreams' to think about those who come alive again in dreams. There is a longing to see again those we have lost, to hear their voice, and when you dream, they can come vividly alive in the inner world, so I made a piece stitched with figures of those I love and miss so much, painted with the light into which, I believe, they have been welcomed. My hope now is, one day, to see them and be with them again.

This image shows 'Sleep Softly because You Live in my Dreams' on the right with three smaller pieces, from the top, 'Midnight Wave' then 'Crossing the Void' and A Depth of Water'. The blues in the poem led me to think not just about the blues of a night sky but also those of the sea washing the shore, images of which come to me in my thoughts and in times of meditation and prayer.

Details from the lower part of 'Sleep Softly . .'
I stitched this image from a grainy photograph of my Mum and Dad on their honeymoon in 1950 and I have homed in on it particularly because, when I was a baby, Mum rode pillion to my Dad on the bike while I was held in my grandmother's arms in the sidecar. Sounds fun, just a shame that I was  too young to remember it! The motorbike was a BSA Golden Flash, my Dad's pride and joy and it came to him as the second such model in N.Ireland  -  he told me how he was actually supposed to have had the first one but that bike was sent to the wrong address!

On the initial hanging, it had seemed that three of the pieces were not needed but then Peter asked if I could bring them back again as he wanted to hang them after all! My piece 'Embrace of Light and Land, Moel Offrwm' was already placed in the window to one side of the gallery entrance and Peter now wanted to place 'Dance Softly into the Night' in the window to the other side of the front door.

'Embrace of Light and Land, Moel Offrwm' seen in the window.

Close-up of the picture

'Dance Softly . .' in the other window.

The work 'For They Shall be Comforted', was hung behind the front desk and the third piece to be recalled, a one-off digital framed print, was placed beside 'Carried on the East Wind'.


Section of wall showing 'Carried on the East Wind' with one-off framed print 'Field of Conflict, Garden of Healing' and below these a selection of cards and mounted prints.

Carried on the East Wind.
 I made cards from some of the pieces in the exhibition and this image was one of them. The hills are around my home in beautiful Snowdonia.
The end wall in the gallery was given to pieces which reflect on the violence which so often erupts in our world. With these pieces, I wanted to express a longing for mercy and compassion and in the central piece, 'Continuum', as well as including images which reflect the world wars, I also visualise experiences of The Troubles in N. Ireland and explosions on the streets of Belfast when I worked there in the late 1970s and beginning of the 1980s.
Two images from the large work 'Continuum'
The first world war had come to my mind particularly because my exhibition was going up almost 100 years to the day since the death of my grandmother's brother in that conflict. My maternal grandmother had lost her brother, Thomas Alexander Keith, when, on Thursday 22nd March 1915, he was one of the first Allied soldiers to be gassed during the second battle of Ypres. He was actually fighting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force because, along with his older brother William, who survived the war, he had emigrated to Canada a few months before war broke out. My grandmother was only a small child when Tommy was killed but he had meant a lot to her and, as with so many other families, she had a lovely sepia photograph of him in uniform. I was not able to include Tommy himself in the piece but I stitched the image of a World War 1 soldier from a photograph of a member of Arthur's family.
Soldier and poppies 
 I also used an image of my dad in his RAF uniform along with members of his squadron. He was stationed at Penrhos near Pwllheli on the Lleyn Peninsula during his last posting when he was invalided out of the air force with the illness which he suffered from for the rest of his life. He had wanted very much to stay with the RAF and always missed the companionship he had found there and which he never found again in civilian life. The title of the piece, 'Continuum', refers to the tragic persistence of violence in the world and the figure of the crying child calls out for mercy and compassion; so often, it is the innocent and helpless who suffer so cruelly at the hands of others.

The image below shows the piece, 'Requiem: les fleurs du mal', a detail from which was used by the gallery in a publicity poster and for the gallery exhibitions leaflet. The piece itself was hung beside 'Continuum' and the two connect in the reflections engendered by the suffering that the first world war came so tragically to stand for and in their silent pleas for compassion. The model for the figure here is my son, Ed.

'Requiem: les fleurs du mal'