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Minimal Strands

I make no apology for highlighting here two works with minimal actual textile content; none at all in the case of the first – a drawing which I’d like to show you because it has strong personal meaning and was instrumental in many ways in my own development as a textile artist. It’s a drawing in coloured pencil and watercolour (below) by artist Paul Ameys, given as a wedding present years ago. To be honest, it was lost on me at the time – I simply didn’t get the sketchy abstracted nature of the scene with its hedges and trees, although loving the subject matter. Over the years that followed, as I studied art history and then textiles, I grew into it and gradually came to love the piece – for its energy, movement and sheer joyfulness.
I also think it has a lot to tell us about drawing for textiles; look at that wonderful mark-making – you can feel the artist’s excitement in getting this down on paper. The tree forms and branches are simply scribbles and squiggles, some marks hard and really etched into the paper, some light and hardly visible at all. This single drawing was one of the foremost reasons for starting Textiles 1 many years ago – I wanted to learn to draw with expression like this and feed that into textile format.
This sentiment was brought almost full circle recently when I encountered the work of textile artist Rosalind Wyatt at Art in Action. Held at Waterperry House and Gardens in Oxfordshire each July for four days, it is one of the biggest arts festival in the country and a wonderful opportunity to speak to artists (in all sorts of media) as well as viewing their work. Interestingly, Rosalind Wyatt (who is one of the UKs most revered textile artists) studied Japanese calligraphy before going on to complete an MA in Textiles at the Royal College of Art. A lot of her work uses flowing forms, including embroidered words (which I will come back to at a later posting).

In this textile work on handmade Japanese paper Rosalind retains that same sketchy feel of the previous drawing. Japanese calligraphy is a skilled and painstaking art form but has a quality of somehow looking totally spontaneous at the same time. If you look at the bottom of the work (which is of the gardens at Waterperry) you can just see the machine sewn embroidered stitches which float ever so lightly over the surface. Again the lines look almost casual, an afterthought, but in actual fact are a real study in deliberate control over materials and medium. One question it also raises is, how little textile content does a piece need to still qualify as textiles?
While you ponder that one (and I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer) have a look at this small sample piece by OCA student Katie Taylor (machine stitching on torn fabric strips). Not all work has to be a finished piece to achieve something special; many samples are humble little gems in their own right. Based loosely on drawings of a rose, notice how even the exterior strands fraying at the edges add to the rounded, full blown effect. Katie’s work is already highly identifiable, with this  strong element of movement flowing through nearly all her work.

This sample looks quite spontaneous, even casually done, a scribble on top of a scribble, but look at that all important movement, enhanced by the rich colours of gold on red. Your eye is drawn outwards to those frayed edges which take on the quality of drawn lines. Nothing is over done, noting shouts at you, but there is a fine balance between that casual quality and what is actually very good control over materials. It has that certain something which we’ve all after in our work, which can make textiles so poignantly life affirming.
Trisha Goodwin, Textiles tutor

Posted by author: Trisha Goodwin
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5 thoughts on “Minimal Strands

  • Hi Trisha
    Thank you for this and your other recent posts. It is so good to have some entries with a textiles bias appearing on the blog to give us food for thought!
    Best wishes

  • Hi Judith, hello again! Yes, this is what we are attempting to do with this blog. I feel that our students miss out on a lot of the dialogue they would normally engage in at other art colleges – with tutors and other students. I hope that as many OCA students as possible (Textile or otherwise) will come back with comments and we can have some really lively discussions!

  • One thing that struck me about these pieces is knowing when to stop! They all have a lot of white space and the artists could have worked into them a great deal more, but they had the courage not to, which is very impressive (to me, at least).
    What is a textile piece? interesting question and i’d suggest that one stitch, or one thread makes it so. But i’m sure other people have other ideas…
    – di

  • What an interesting post. It was so useful to read Trisha’s responses to the two drawings and why she liked the almost spontaneous yet well crafted style of the artists. I also liked Katie Taylor’s sample and it was gratifying (as a new Textiles student) to understand why it was chosen as an example of the understated and its clever and simple use of materials.
    ‘What is a textile piece?’ this question was on my mind after a visit to “A Day of Happiness,” the mini-textile exhibition in Venice. Use of materials included intestines, horse-hair, safety pins, wire of all descriptions crocheted and knitted, a honeycomb, a telephone book, bandages, berry’s etc. My eyes were opened wide, but I am still trying to assimilate the use of such a wide category of materials with works still being described as ‘textiles’.

  • Hi Diana
    You’ve just made me smile! I see you describe yourself as “a new Textiles student” and very much bemused by the range of materials being described as ‘textiles’. I’ve been an OCA Textiles student for several years now (although I’m a plodder due to other commitments so only have only completed Textiles 1 and am part way through Textiles 2) and totally agree with you about being unsure as to where the boundaries lie. Indeed, I’m starting to think that there aren’t any and that not only should we be ‘thinking outside the box’, but of using the box itself and maybe its conents in our textiles work!! It seems the world is very much our oyster, and we shouldn’t forget to put the oyster shells to use along the way either ;o)

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