The Dark Side of Textile Art
Quite recently, one of my students (you’ll know who you are!) was talking about the work of Tracey Ermin, how she admired her ability to put so much of herself into it, to be totally honest. This, she agreed, is what really constitutes the art in textile art, the work says something, expressing the soul of the artist, even if that feeling is complete despair. I, like my student, cried when I first saw some of her more private pieces, particularly the very poignant prints.
And then you left me, work by Tracey Emin, a searingly honest depiction of loss – loss of partner, loss of child, loss of self and maybe loss of hope too.
And therein lies the problem as well; I am always encouraging students to put themselves into their work, I try to do it myself, but sometimes is this approach just too dark for comfort? Suffering from SAD at this time of year as I am (November through to January is button down the hatches time for many like sufferers) I want something which lifts rather than deepens the depression, not inner angst. I was recently at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Harrogate and as you know, certain images and impressions, artists and work, always strike with real force at such events. For me it was the work of Jean Bennett, who is not only a very talented textile artist, but an art therapist. She encourages her students, often acutely suffering with life’s problems, to go into that suffering, to examine it and to depict it as it feels.
Hope, fixed fibre and stitch by Jean Bennett, which is actually meant to depict the feeling of being in a private hell, relieved only by tiny glimpses of light breaking through now and then. [click on the image above to see a larger copy to get a real sense of the work]
Her work is amazingly dark – black I would call it, but she did emphasise, even in these pictures of hell, there are little spots of white in the compositions. These and the birds which symbolise hope and escape from problems, even if for only a few hours, promise a brighter future one day. I was bowled over by the quality of Jean’s work, but still had to fight the urge to run away – so dark, at this time of the year. I emphasise that not everyone would feel like this, and maybe some people are completely unmoved one way or the other, whatever the time of year.
For the same reasons, although I deeply admire the work of Rozanne Hawksley, I cannot ever view it for more than a few minutes at a time – coward or what? Too many images from a Catholic childhood I fear, too much suffering, guilt and anguish? Although maybe in July it would be fine?
Rozanne Hawksley is one of the UK’s most renowned textile artists, often including animal bones (like here), references to religious relics and suffering in her work.
This reminded me of something discussed at art school – something called the “The Monet effect”, sometimes referred to by art historians. By this is meant, the way Monet deliberately chose to work very bright and cheerfully in an uplifting way.
Claude Monet, The Magpie, 1869, wintry but still depicting the beautiful side of life.
Its often wrongly assumed that Monet was endlessly cheerful because of the way he worked, when in fact he was quite aware of the sad and painful side of life. He often had money problems, suffered a terrible bereavement and failing eyesight dogged him most of his adult life. To paint cheerfully was for him a kind of cognitive therapy – a re-programming of thoughts (as opposed to classic talking therapy) descriptions which do neither approach much justice, but gives the rough idea.
I leave you with the work of Julie Senior just completing Texiles 3: Your Own Portfolio. Her work, though based firmly on her own drawings, also references the working methods of Monet, after extensive research on the artist. Julie’s initial photo of hay bales in an English landscape was quite dull in colour, she choose to make the tones brighter and more sunny. She says in her logbook, “studying Monet’s Hay Bales has set me thinking about the importance of mood and atmosphere and its something I would like to develop further”. I’m so pleased to hear this, because its often an underrated factor in what we do as artists. We all wish Julie very good luck with this, I’m sure.