Art in Awesomestow: The Summer Show at Penny Fielding


I promised my Tumblr followers a post on my latest exhibition, at Penny Fielding's, quite a few days ago, and so here, finally, is a photograph of Pip and I being smug in our sunglasses in the gallery garden.

And I did have at least one thing to be (slightly) smug about; one of my embroideries was displayed slap bang in the centre of the window! My Melancholyflowers were placed directly beneath a rather charming little crown, which I take as a sign of good fortune.




My other embroidery was ever so slightly more out of the way, but still very visible; over a doorway leading to an interesting little nook of the gallery/shop. I'm afraid these are the best photographs I could take of it; it seemed very far up from the point of view of my (brand spanking new, it's very exciting) smartphone!



Here's a better, close up photograph of the piece, entitled Plathitude:


Mine weren't the only textile pieces in the exhibition, or the only familiar ones; this exquisite machine embroidered quilt by Gilli Haqqani previously featured (alongside some of my work) at the Soft group show at The Mill last year.



This colourful illustration put me in mind of Grayson Perry's playful illustrative style. The gaudy yet down at heel carnival scene is quintessentially British.


This photograph doesn't do it justice, but this thought provoking painting by socially conscious artist Alke Schmidt. At first glance it seems obvious that the machinists are working in an Asian clothes sweatshops. But with closer inspection, more layers to the painting are discovered. The painting is overlaid with a textiles pattern, which I read in two ways; it is a traditional Asian design, or a cheap and cheerful design for the mass market. It seems to have seeped into the women's skin; they are unable to escape their cultural heritage, which now includes manufacturing cheap high street clothing for Westerners. Their face masks could be to protect them from their unhygienic working environment; it also reminds me of the hysteria, which seemed particularly concentrated in the East, following the outbreak of SARs and then bird flu, and the wearing of such masks, which I remember was common amongst Asian tourists at the time. Finally, the black mass of cloth waiting to be sewn to the right of the machinists is redolent of the drudgery of working in such a sweatshop, and the murky business practises of the multinational companies overseeing such work.


This whimsical piece put me in mind of sideshows at the carnival or circus; surely that cat shouldn't have wings?! The rough but realistic charcoal strokes give the drawing a naturalistic, endearing quality.


Similarly endearing was this piece; I couldn't decide if it was in pastels or some kind of print, but I do know that I love a good cup of tea, especially when it's served so beautifully!


I feel cruel for writing this, but this dreamlike piece by Two For Joy is very reminiscent of Rob Ryan's work. He certainly seems to have cornered the market in whimsical papercuts! This piece definitely has a charm all of its own, however; the detail on the wings/feathers is particularly gorgeous.



I assume this dramatic print is a linocut, a medium I am hoping to experiment with soon. If it is, it's certainly s masterful one; just look at the detail in that spider's abdomen.


This print of identical twins reminded me of a painting my best friend won a national art prize for when we were twelve, and it's just as sweet!


I love dioramas, but unfortunately couldn't get a better picture of this dinky little one inside an old lamp; it, too, was very sweet.


Much as I love Awesomestow, there are days when it seems a bit grey and gritty even for me! So this bright and cheerful treatment of the borough definitely put a smile on my face.


The exhibition is on until August the 25th. I urge you to get down there if you can. As well as all the wonderful art, there's plenty of beautiful homeware and jewellery on sale, and you're bound to bump into some interesting local characters!




Nectar

I've just completed my most ambitious embroidery yet (at least in terms of scale), and it seems very apt now that the summer weather finally appears to have arrived (fingers crossed it stays!)

It's hopefully for inclusion in a little exhibition at The Lexington (where I saw The Wave Pictures play last night) all about, quite literally, the birds and the bees (wish me luck during the selection process!)

I decided to return to my melancholyflowers theme, imagining the honey full of sorrow that bees would make from melancholyflower nectar.

I aimed for the look of a botanical illustration with the bee and pansies I stitched (I chose pansies as they are a flower associated with melancholy).

I feel that I'm beginning to build more of a cohesive body of work, and that's a very satisfying feeling indeed. I can also see how my embroidery has improved during my journey with the medium; I'm so looking forward to developing it further when I begin training at the Royal School of Needlework.


















Nothing But Flowers

 



After weeks of stitching (and distractions), my Melancholyflowers are finally all stitched up! They're based on an illustration from the turn of the century childrens' book Land of Play - Verses, Rhymes, Stories, first published in 1911.

I've so enjoyed embroidering these delicate little flowers, although their intricacy did make it a frustrating process at times! I shall have them framed soon and look for somewhere to exhibit them along with the other embroideries in the blackwork series I'm working on. But for now, back to work on The Constellation Quilt.



Say It With Flowers

"What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of heaven?" ~ AJ Balfour
A rainy Friday found Pip and I at the Garden Museum delving into the history of the flower trade. Whilst the flowers outside were getting a drenching, we learnt an awful lot of floral trivia, including that the Floral Industry in the UK is worth a whopping 1.65 billion, that roses are edible, that over four hundred flower girls were selling bunches in London in 1851 , and that, according to scientific research, flowers just make us feel good.

Flower Seller, Unknown Artist, Between 1800 and 1850
I've recently started stitching some flowers that feel bad; some melancholy flowers. This is a bit of a break from my big project, The Constellation Quilt, harking back to my project Milk Thistle (which I swear will get done one day!), which explores the link between flowers and sickness and recovery.




Possibly the flowers I'm stitching are suffering from depression; they certainly seem (literally) downcast, and slightly weepy! They are an illustration from Land of Play - Verses, Rhymes, Stories, first published in 1911 and written by Sarah Tawney Leffert. The melancholy flowers were sketched either by M.L. Kirk or Florence England Nosworthy (though I do hope by Florence, due to the floral connection of her first name!)



I'm growing very fond of turn-of-the-century illustrations of this style; they seem to really suit my laywoman's blackwork technique (not for long though; soon I'll be a pro at blackwork, as it's one of the first techniques I'll learn at the Royal School of Needlework!)

Floriculture, the exhibition at the Garden Museum, may have been all about the inspiration afforded by cut flowers, but a site specific installation which I came across recently celebrated both the vibrancy and the restorative properties of living flowers. Bloom was a public artwork comprised of twenty eight thousand potted flowers which filled the offices, basements, day rooms, wards and corridors of Massachusetts Mental Health Center from the 14th to the 17th November 2003. The building was scheduled to be knocked down the same year, and the artist, Anna Schuleit, was commissioned to create a public artwork memorialising the lives and experiences of those who had lived, worked, and been treated there over the building's lifetime; a memorial which was also open to the public.



Although the Center had been a place of healing and hope as well as sadness and despair, Schuleit was struck by the lack of colour and vibrancy in the worn old halls. She struck on flowers, a symbol of vitality, new beginnings and hope, to flood the building with. In a fantastic interview on the Colossal art website, Schuleit writes that "Bloom was a reflection on the healing symbolism of flowers given to the sick when they are bedridden and confined to hospital settings. As a visiting artist I had observed an astonishing absence of flowers in psychiatric settings. Here, patients receive few, if any, flowers during their stay. Bloom was created to address this absence, in the spirit of offering and transition.



This very much relates to my Milk Thistle project, and makes me wonder why it is that the mentally ill are rarely brought flowers, when surely an injection of cheerful nature into their environment could (almost always) only be positive. Certainly many of the former patients who visited Bloom during its four day installation were deeply moved by the artwork, with one writing "Today we flourish", and another visitor commenting "For all the patients who never received flowers, these flowers are for you. I don't know if I've ever encountered such a life-affirming and gorgeous artwork; part of me wishes I could've nipped across the pond in 2003 to witness it, but another part recognises that it was a deeply personal installation best experienced by those who had been a part of the building's story.

Flowers signify so many different things in our culture; healing, new beginnings, love, celebration, life itself. I will be undertaking a little research into the language of flowers to learn more about the symbolism of the "stars of the earth".

Delicate Flowers

I received a very interesting surprise "donation" today from my workmate (and crafty renaissance man) Mark; an envelope filled with Kensitas Flowers. These were a sweet treat for smokers of the 1930s; miniature woven silk flowers slipped inside beautifully designed, informative covers, and given away inside packets of Kensitas cigarettes in 1934 and 1935.
When I first opened the envelope I assumed the flowers had been embroidered. However, embroidery this miniscule and delicate would be virtually impossible without a specialist programmable embroidery machine, which obviously did not exist in the 1930s!
With a quick Google search, I discovered that the flowers were in fact woven silk. Unfortunately, a scan doesn't do the flowers justice; they really are exquisite.






It was very fortuituous that Mark passed on these heirlooms to me today; I've recently started work on a new (and slightly ambitious project which they are both giving me ideas for, and can be incorporated into. I recently picked up a crazy hideous/beautiful 70s (?) patchwork table cloth with a doily trim from a stall near work, and when I saw it I knew I had to use it for something.


Each square is about four by four inches, and so I've decided to write a monologue across them in stitch, with occasional illustrations, story board style.

The piece will deal with sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses.

Its title will be Milk Thistle.


Some of the flowers which Mark passed on to me would work particularly well in Milk Thistle, due to the symbolism surrounding them. For example, Montbretia represents instability, which evidently relates to sickness, and Helenium represents tears, which is a theme I will explore through extension of my concept of "melancholyflowers".





Lilies, roses, and pansies are all flowers I want to incorporate into the piece due to their prominence in English literature and idioms.




I'd be very interested to learn more about flower symbolism and the language of flowers.

Finally, apparently, Flax is associated with domestic industry and the textile crafts, which is obviously of particular interest to me as a "conceptual embroidery artist"!

Melancholyflowers

If you follow my work on Flickr, you may remember this silly, play-on-words piece:





Well, the dreadful pun has resurfaced on the latest page of On Being Soft, albeit with an alternate spelling.




In this page, I am exploring "being soft" as perceived as a negative quality. "S/he's a bit soft" is a synonym for "wet", "drippy", ineffectual.

I'd been given a couple of linen scraps on which were stitched gorgeous studies of flowers by my ever-generous Granny, and began to think of how many flower-related idioms amount to meaning the same thing as "a bit soft".

I began listing these: delicate flower, pansy, shrinking violet, lily-livered, weed.

I decided to present a series of embroidered flowers on the page as if they were botanical studies, accompanied by these rather derogatory terms instead of their Latin names. And what could serve as a title for the page? "Melancholyflowers"!

(In a happy coincidence, I recently learnt from Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression that the ancient Greeks believed cauliflower to be a cure for melancholy;"Chrysippus of Cnidus believed that the answer to depression was the consumption of more cauliflower".)



For the "delicate flower", I chose one of the samplers completed by my Granny's friend. The remainder of the flowers are hand-embroidered by me.



This isn't the best photograph, but it's "pansy" (in simpering pink, of course) illustrated by, well, a pansy. Interestingly, as well as being homophobic, the term pansy can also mean a "weak, effeminate, and often cowardly man", similarly to "lily-livered". However, I've also heard it used to refer to women, for example, er, myself. Apparently a couple of years back a highstreet men's fashion chain was selling a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "pansy", reclaiming the word as a badge of honour!



In Why Do Violets Shrink?: Answers to 280 Thorny Questions on the World of Plants by Caroline Holmes, we learn that the Sweet Violet shrinks away from insects which try to access its pollen. A "shrinking violet" is of course an incredibly timid person.





In the Middle Ages, the liver was believed to be the seat of courage. A pale, "lily-coloured" liver would be one with no blood, and thus courage, in it; thus, lily-livered.


This is one of my favourite pages so far, and a little self-deprecating dig at myself for being all of the above!