One of the things which students often struggle with is finding that personal theme with real meaning. Katie Taylor has tried out several themes over two courses at level 1. For her latest assignment 5, she chose to go with the theme of fat after finding some stunning photos of fat cells. For her, as for many of us, the issue of weight is very personal and she was insistent that her work had to be so to have real meaning as textile art.
Katie developed from the photos a series of drawings using different tones of pinks but decided in the end to go for a fleshy pink tone which suggested that real, living visceral quality of human tissue. Notice how the drawing has a really solid, weighty feeling to it, emphasised by the use of big, bold lines and broad, confident strokes of colour. From the start she was sure she wanted to make this piece in a knitted format, her technique of choice. Not a piece to be worn, but to be displayed as an art piece. Her sample pieces clearly show the development of these ideas as she trials different yarns and colours to find the best way of carrying forward what she wants to say.
Notice how the green background idea was gradually dismissed (too many connotations of decay in that colour) in favour of the grey and the fleshy pink instead of the deeper, brighter one, as these suggest flesh and fat more realistically.
The final piece is a very large, shapeless jumper, deliberately so – which demonstrates again how form is used to actively carry forward abstract ideas. The appliqued tape measure adds a strong vertical line to what are otherwise a lot of very rounded shapes – so it works visually as well as emphasizing the weight theme. This is a very carefully thought about and controlled piece of work, finely balanced and made with a great deal of integrity to both materials and the concerns of the artist.
Textiles 1 student Sheila Wilkes was another student finishing her course with strong ideas about the final project. She had toyed with other themes, including Asian art and mythology but was adamant that she didn’t want to make work which was “merely pretty”. As a social worker her concerns evolve around caring for people. It was almost as if she couldn’t quite hold this back at the final hurdel – approaching assignment 5, she developed some very original work around the theme of the human mind – hurting and healing.
Sheila played with various colour choices but stuck in the end to green for the Calm head and dark red for the Stressed one as she felt these best conveyed the feelings she was after. Sheila did a lot of research before beginning the practical work, looking at flower remedies and homeopathic/ healing connotations of certain herbs and flowers. Her Calm head has these appliqued as free forms over the paper mache forms. To work the heads as primary paper mache was a brave choice and this 3D aspect is something she’s keen to explore further in future work.
Look at that angry red colour in the right hand Stressed head(click on the photo to see larger as always). The veins virtually pulsate out of the head, denoted by the tight, tight wrapping of torn fabric strips, constricting the mind and raising the blood pressure. This tightness is further emphasised by her use of tightly crunched up balls of paper machine, also appliqued down onto the surface. Have a look at one of these in close-up below and feel just how knotted up this is.
Both these students managed to make work with real meaning, because they’ve felt it – deeply and meant it. This is really exciting work visually, but its also work that leaves you full of questions and thoughts – which for me, means it does work as art and is definitely beyond the “merely pretty”.