I have recently discovered South African textile artist Willemien de Villiers. Her stitched work caught my attention because of the stories that she tries to tell through the materials she uses and the techniques to talk about the process of decay and disintegration, as well as the inevitable new growth and integration that follows. Her work is a dialogue between real and imagined microscopic biological phenomena, reconstructing the common cellular history of all living things through atomised patterning.
For her stitched and embroidered pieces she uses second hand fabrics taken from dolls, tray cloths and tablecloths. Fabrics that tell stories from the past and give a sense of previous lives. All over Africa cloth is used to express beauty, to tell stories and to record history, and she has taken it to express new ones.
She first studied a degree in Fine Arts focused on printmaking: silkscreen printing, etching and litho. She then worked for many years as a textile designer at a textile printing company where she adapted samples from Europe and the US to suit the South African market. This has influenced her to combine printing techniques and often block print random patterns onto the cloth, to create visual texture and a sense of layers, before transferring images to stitch.
Her immersion into stitching on domestic textiles is a fairly recent development. Before then, she painted oil on canvas, very detailed paintings, with images and patterning built up as multiple, semi-transparent layers. She then moved into a more textured and tactile medium and she started stitching on her canvases. This led her onto experimentation. Eventually bypassing the painted canvas and stitching straight onto second hand fabrics, in charity shops, damaged and stained domestic textiles like tray cloths, napkins and tablecloths.
Willemien de Villiers starts her creative process looking at a pile of vintage fabrics until she finds one whose texture or particular stains catches her imagination. She then manipulates the fabric. Scrunching up, staining, printing, tearing, or burning. The ritual marks the passing of the cloth to the artist, releasing it from its previous history.
Her work was displayed at the beginning of March at the Making Space exhibition in the Knitting & Stitching Show at Olympia in London,together within an inspiring series of 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional work of the 62 Group of Textile Artists. Inspired by the theme ‘Space’ members were invited to interpret the concept in its widest sense resulting in a diverse response. The work produced included hand, machine stitch, print, weave, installation and mixed media inspired by textile techniques.