The Artist in Stiches

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Throughout time artists have used the examples of those who’ve gone before, copying so as to learn, occasionally to pay homage to an admired artist or artwork, and sometimes to steal. Picasso, that ferociously creative innovator of the 20th century who taught us new ways to see, stole with impunity from anywhere and anyone, though his advice was to always ‘steal from the best’. He was a good thief and chose well, often greatly improving in the process. Peter has reminded me that I stole myself, from time to time in my earlier days as an artist, before I knew what I was doing or where I was going, and not always with acknowledgement. So I was circumspect when recently I came upon a design for a toy theatre proscenium that I had made long ago, all over the Insta page of a woman who had taken it, digitally recoloured it and was happily fielding flattering comments about it as though it were her own work. Indeed, worse, had been selling it as a screensaver download! When politely confronted she claimed that she couldn’t find who the artist had been in order to credit. I pointed out that not knowing who had made something doesn’t mean that you own it, or that you can take it and pass it off as your own. She agreed, and forthwith removed the many images of the stolen work from her site

But in the arts we have that wonderful word homage … from the French … which allows for the re-configuring of an idea and taking it in a different direction, while acknowledging the source. Recently some paintings of mine, with my permission,  have been re-interpreted as stitched work. I love the changes that occur when another pair of eyes get to work on an image, examining it and finding ways to express it in a different medium.

Karen Stonestreet contacted me to ask permission to adapt a ‘hare’ vignette made for the recently published Marly Youmans historic novel, Charis in the World of Wonders. Her adaptation of the drawing has given her own work the look of an American primitive, and I relish that translation to something unexpected and lively.

Charis Vignette 7

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Note the lovely clouds of tiny stitches around the blossom in Karen’s interpretation of the textured elements in the drawing. In time her plan is to make a quilt using adaptations of the collection of  bird and animal vignette’s made for Charis. The drawings should translate well, as the inspiration for them was my love for early American stitched and quilted work. In another interesting connection, Marly’s husband Mike collects early American patchwork, and I’m told is a wonderful patchwork-maker himself.

Charis Vignette 1

 

Textile artist Amanda Warren first came to me when she wanted to make a piece based on a still-life painting of mine:

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Using a detail rather than the whole image, I greatly liked what she showed me of the work when it was ‘in progress’. In the still life I’d incorporated a John Maltby ceramic on his ‘Pelican’ theme, and so it could be said that Amanda’s textile interpretation of my painting is an homage of an homage.

Here’s her finished piece. Note that she’s removed the fish hanging from the cruciform Pelican’s wings, and she was right to do so, because in terms of this simpler composition, they would have made the image too congested. She left out too the Scottie Wilson milk-jug with the pattern of swans and cygnets, concentrating instead on the three mackerel with their stripes and iridescence.

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I’m very much attracted by the dualities of roughness and precision in Amanda’s work. There’s something of the rawness of early sketches in her surfaces that can be lost when the artist becomes too concerned with meticulousness. From time to time I have to pull back myself, as a painter, from the allure of the too polished finish, and these landscapes of freehand stitchery, jagged and seemingly improvised, are a good reminder of how exciting mark-making can be when the energy is allowed to flow freely.

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More recently Amanda sent me an image of a textile work based on another of my still life paintings.

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The interpretation has resulted in a piece of work that is both mine and yet not mine.  It’s allowed me to look at the intensely familiar with new eyes, and that’s been a uniquely interesting and informative experience, which no amount at looking at the original painting could have done for me. I wrote to Amanda:

“I absolutely LOVE this. Love what happens in translation. I very much like the connection to my own work – which is clearly evident – but I love too the points of departure, and that your work has become entirely itself, with its own character and visual language of marks and colours. It’s almost as though I’ve provided a supporting tent-pole, and you’ve put the tent over it.

The mug was made at the Gwili Pottery, and is one in the blue and white ‘seashell’ range they produced. We have a number of them, hence the fact that they tun up in my paintings. At Gwili the artists work freehand with each piece, in the case of the seashell range using a ‘pattern book’ of assorted elements that they then arrange and interpret as the spirit moves them. In this way the range remains consistent overall, while also allowing the artists to be expressive. The artists leave their initials on the base of every piece worked on, and so next time I’m at the cottage I should check the mugs to see if your friend’s initials are among them.

All the objects in my still-life paintings are significant to me. The oval cardboard box had been plain when given to us by a friend, and filled with pralines. When the contents had been eaten I painted the box with a clipper. It sits on the cottage dresser, referred to always as ‘Rex’s Box’ and still smelling of cocoa and almonds when opened. The curtain in the painting is a ‘fake’. The ‘real’ curtains in that window are what were hanging when we purchased the property, and they’re rather chintzy. Pretty enough in their own way, but not right for the painting. So I used a vintage linen tea-towel as a stand-in.”

 

Later, in an online conversation with author Marly Youmans, Amanda wrote this:

“I used several of the textiles in Clive’s photo, natural fabrics, cotton and silk scraps, many hand dyed from my stash. The shadows are made from some strange stuff that was wrapped around a bunch of flowers, definitely synthetic! There is machine and hand stitching, mostly hand, with stranded cotton threads.

Studying the work of other artists is a strange combination of mindlessness and mindfulness. Decisions have to be made about what will be included and what left out, and then there’s the decisions relating to how accurately to translate the painting into textiles, and ultimately, when to stop! The process certainly made me appreciate Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ facility with paint! I think that the reproduction I printed off to work from was, indeed, brighter colours, although not as bright as the materials I selected. I have very much enjoyed delving into Clive’s artlog since this was posted and reading about your Foliate Head work- the Green Man subject is close to my heart, especially in these HS2 times.”

Below: Amanda begins work on interpreting a painting through the medium of textiles.

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new still-life underway

Working backwards from how things look at the end of the third day at the easel. One more session should see the hellebore added and the painting completed.

Lots to think about with this one. The original drawing was swift and sure and the paint is going down fast. I need to get in the detail without destroying the strong architecture.

I changed the bold black on white design of my Scottie Wilson jug because as soon as I’d painted in the shadow to the right of each object, I realised I didn’t want anything else in the composition to be that dark. The sea is relatively simple with a fresh feel to the wet-on-wet mark-making. I must add the planned hellebores without obscuring too much of what’s already looking good. The whole thing is a juggling-act. Let’s hope I don’t drop any balls.

John Maltby and Scottie Wilson

 

Two recurring pieces in my still-life paintings are the John Maltby pelican with pendant fish on its outstretched wings, and a milk-jug by the outsider artist, Scottie Wilson. (I have the coffee-pot and sugar-bowl too, though I’ve only painted those a couple of times.)

Today I started a new work at the easel in which both appear, together with a cowrie-shell and a bunch of hellebores for the jug. (I shan’t cut and bring the flowers to the studio until I’ve laid in the background paint over which they’ll be added. Beth Adams at Phoenicia Publishing particularly requested the hellebores, of which many varieties grow here at Ty Isaf.)

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Here are some past paintings in which the Maltby pelican and the Wilson milk-jug have appeared, occasionally together. For me they are like characters in an ever unfolding drama, and I never tire of painting them.