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.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Ireland again!

I now have another piece in Ireland, the time in the Linen Hall Library, Belfast. I've not visited the library before, so I'll look forward to seeing the exhibition when I go over in April. The exhibition is entitled War-Torn Children and my piece is Her Pillow, the Earth. 

Her Pillow, the Earth         (full image)

This is the work, inspired by a tragic story of a family in Aleppo that I read about in the Independent newspaper online. The whole exhibition is under the aegis of Conflict Textiles and the full details of the article that moved me to make this piece can be found at:-

Detail with the child.

The figure of the little child is actually from a drawing I had made of Juliette years ago, altered to stand for a Syrian child, or indeed for a child anywhere. The ruined buildings are an interpretation of all those seen in Aleppo on the news night after night. As I stitched, I felt as if the buildings were falling over onto the child and I couldn't stop it happening  -  the powerlessness of watching the terrible violence that the people, including even the youngest children, are having to live through in Syria and elsewhere day after day. 

The fabric sweeping over and round seemed to me like a shroud, the little square pieces, the small desk-tops the children would have sat at in their school classroom.

and then the blood flowed . . .

I have given a paper about my work at the TFTV Conference in Aberystwyth University last week and have been invited to speak at a Symposium on Absence, Presence and Embodiment in the Old Coll., Aberystwyth. This is in connection with a touring exhibition on the Missing in Mexico and elsewhere  -  very moving and so tragic what some people go through in our world.

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!