Looking back and thinking ahead

Several pieces of my work can currently be seen in a mixed exhibition at Bircham Gallery in North Norfolk until 2 April.  

Then I realise (detail) - currently at Bircham Gallery

Then I realise (detail) - currently at Bircham Gallery

Below is the artist's statement I wrote for them: 

Helen Terry creates abstract textile works using dye, mark-making and hand-stitch.

She grew up on farms in Hertfordshire and has spent most of her life in East Anglia, dividing her time between the Essex estuaries and Norfolk coast and marshland.

Helen works with cloth because of the way it can be manipulated and changed and hold the traces of what is done to it. Generally beginning with white cloth, she scrapes and paints layers of dye onto it and experiments with shibori processes to add layers of colours and marks. Helen then tears, folds, layers and stitches pieces of dyed cloth into a larger whole that conveys a sense of a story or journey.

Helen is inspired by found marks - whether natural or man-made - particularly the kind that reflect the wear and tear inflicted by time and the environment and suggest something about the history of the object. A recurring theme in her work is the way we interpret fragments and traces to create our own stories and meaning.

Trying to sum up what I do in those two paragraphs forced me to think hard about my work, my process and my intentions.  And now with the finished work hanging in the gallery, I'm pausing to reflect before moving on.  Although, having said that, the next pieces are already in progress; the ideas for the pieces after that are already developing.  This isn't a neat, finish-one-thing-then-start-the-next kind of process - the work overlaps and grows out of what went before.  But it's important to me not to automatically do more of the same and to have a sense of where I'm going with this.    

I'm wrestling with ideas at the moment.  I'm not sure whether I have something I want to take further - or how I might translate my thoughts about it into cloth, dye, stitch.  

I'm conscious of the risk of making work that is dominated by the process - the pure, undeniable fun of just playing and experimenting with cloth and dye.  And there is a place for that.  But the risk is of ending up with work that lacks depth.  Personally, I need to have some sense of what I want the work to be about, what I'm trying to convey, so that I can make the right choices and decisions and refine those accidental, organic effects into a strong piece of work.  

But at the other extreme, I know there is a risk of labouring the underlying idea at the expense of the work itself - which ends up seeming stilted or unconvincing because it comes second to the idea.  There needs to be a balance.  I think the most successful work makes expressive use of materials and process but conveys something more.  And that "something more" is drawn from an underlying body of ideas, concerns or interest.  

So alongside all the practical studio work, I'm constantly looking, reading and thinking.  I'm interested in many things - natural patterns and processes; ideas about connectedness; the way the mind works; communication.  I don't always know how all this will translate into my work but I do it anyway.  I know that it all influences my choices and the decisions I make, even when I'm not consciously thinking about this when I'm absorbed in the process.  

Clearing out my studio, I came across a file of preparatory work for a piece I made nearly ten years ago.  It was salutary to recognise some of the same interests but think how differently I would approach the same source now.   But there's a lot I still like about the piece that came out of it.  

Rebecca Crowell has interesting things to say about this and other aspects of the creative process.