Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Prism at the RBSA Gallery, Birmingham

Just recently, I have been privileged to exhibit my work on Conflict in Mid Wales Arts Centre, Caersws, Powys but last spring, two of the pieces from Conflict were shown with exhibiting group Prism in the exhibition Another View in the RBSA Gallery, Birmingham. This exhibition with Prism was also shown in Hoxton Arches Gallery, London, this autumn.

Prism hadn't shown in the RBSA Gallery before and it's a really lovely space in which to show artwork.

I'm pictured here by one of my pieces, A Belfast Peace: In the Name of Peace.

The companion work to this is A Belfast Peace: Beneath the Surface and they were hung beside one another along with a sound track that I included with the wall pieces.

Image from A Belfast Peace: Beneath the Surface

Full picture of myself with the pieces and headphones for listening to the sound track in the RBSA Gallery, May 2017

Juliette and Arthur by my work at the Preview, May 2017

The three of us by the work

Wider view of the gallery

Two visitors having a closer look

The sound track is made up of what resulted when I pulled a strand of linen thread slowly through calico stretched through an embroidery hoop, then worked on this sound on the Audition programme on the computer. The unaltered sound of the thread passing through the fabric had a depth and power to it that I found quite surprising but when I then stretched and deepened this sound on the computer, I was startled to discover that what I was listening to sounded just like the aftermath of one of the many explosions I had experienced in Belfast. This then became one of the factors that led me to concentrate on the theme of the Troubles interpreted through stitch and sound for my part-time PhD in Fine Art.

It seems so apt to be approaching the subject of social violence through fabric and stitch, as the social history of Northern Ireland is closely bound up with the linen industry in so many ways, growing the crop, processing the flax into linen and the making of linen goods to sell. My own family has been and still is, involved in the linen industry. My paternal grandfather was a designer for Belfast Linens, producing delicate designs for handkerchiefs among other goods, and my grandmother worked in the stitching room when they met. She worked as a dressmaker during their marriage and, at one time, they had a shop selling linen goods on Queen's Parade, Bangor. My uncle, the eldest of their five sons, inherited a linen factory in Dublin when the previous owner died. Uncle Ernie and two of his brothers, one of them my father, worked together in the linen factory for a time. My father and his brother, Gilmore, left for other things but Uncle Ernie stayed on and now that he, too, has died, the factory is now owned and run by his two sons, my cousins Kenneth and Melvin.

Linen, then, holds a special place in my affections and not only that, but Granda was an artist and designer, as was my Uncle Gilmore, so to work now with stitch in Fine Art on the theme of the Troubles draws together several strands of family history for me. Besides my own family, we all have a close connection to cloth and this gives textile artwork connotations with domesticity and familial associations not present with other media such as oil painting.

For some, the social connotations of cloth are problematic when it comes to viewing art and they find it difficult to accept textile as a valid medium in which to produce Fine Art despite the wide variety of media which come under this title. A negative attitude towards textile as art form prevailed during the 1970s when it tended to be classed as 'craft'  or was deprecatingly termed 'women's stuff'! I was doing my undergraduate studies in Fine Art at the time and, faced with this negative view of stitch within Fine Art, I did not turn to stitch for my creative expression until, in 1993, ill health forced me to reconsider what my body was and was not capable of doing. Now I continue to stitch not just because the medium suits the state of my muscles but because I love the rhythms of hand stitch. To stitch by hand, allied to paint and word, continually gives me a rich seam of creativity to explore.

A Belfast Peace: In the Name of Peace

In this image, you can see how the stitched etching and aquatint not only has words stitched within it but is also surrounded by words. The image is produced on Somerset paper which is ideal for the words in the margins which I wrote in black ink. All these words are taken from my own poetry.

It is more usual for me to stitch into cloth, most often linen, cotton and organza, so these pieces on etching paper are unusual within my work. A little sadly, they will remain so, as the physical effort to produce etchings, including inking the plates which I did enjoy, has proved too much for my muscles to cope with. This is despite the help which printer Andrew Baldwin so kindly gave to me. This included dampening and preparing the paper for printing and taking the work through the press to produce the print. I have enjoyed working in etching again very much and appreciate this opportunity afforded me by the university but I need to be realistic about what I can physically achieve.

This still leaves me with silk-painting my materials on the days when my muscles can do this and also painting grounds in oils or acrylics. I will continue to produce digital prints for my stitching and of the works afterwards, so I still have a wealth of creative possibilities to dip into and there is so much still to be done with word and sound.

In the RBSA, the sound track consisted just of the sound of altered thread through fabric but in London, I added myself narrating one of the incidents that I experienced while working in Belfast during the Troubles. This narration was recorded as I stitched another of my wall pieces, Litany and I will consider this sound work in my next blog.