Three exhibitions in one day

My visits to London are infrequent so I like to make the most of them.  Hence I've had a long day criss-crossing the city from East to West and back again to catch three exhibitions.  I'm tired, my feet ache and my head is buzzing but I want to take the time to collect my thoughts.  

First, I went to Clerkenwell to see Gizella K Warburton's solo exhibition (finishes on Sunday).  Visit her web site to see very good images and more information about her work.  I last saw Gizella's work at Alexandra Palace in 2010 so was intrigued to see how it has developed.  I noticed more three dimensional work and integration of wood and slate alongside the cloth and thread.  The common ground is that we are both interested in marks - as she puts it,  "the innate human urge to make marks ... to decipher the meaning of our physical and emotional landscapes, and the transient nature of the warp and weft of our lives."  

One of the striking features of Gizella's work is the way she never disguises the true nature of her materials.  Everything, cloth, thread, wood, remains exactly what it is even as she combines and juxtaposes colours and textures.  The colours are monochromatic - mostly the natural colours of her materials.  Texture is emphasised - creased cloth, scorched wood, frayed edges.  Even where she coats the cloth with paint or medium, whether printed or painted, the original texture tends to be emphasised rather than covered.  

What fascinated me most though was the breadth of stitch vocabulary she achieves within only one or two stitch types.  Her stitched marks are as important as the cloth.  They are nearly all variations on knots or straight stitches, plus couching of thread directly onto the surface.  But she finds so many variations within this repertoire.  Thread ends are often exposed - adding to the texture.   I admire the way she varies the rhythm, density and placing of the stitches with such good judgement as to what each piece needs.  Perhaps I was particularly tuned into noticing this since I am in stitch mode in the studio at present.  

Next I squeezed in a visit to Erskine, Hall & Coe to see their exhibition of ceramics by  Ewen Henderson.    I always find ceramics very inspiring - I think it is something about surfaces, texture and marks that appeals to my own instincts.  Also, when I look at other textile artists, I know too much about how it is done.  Whereas when I look at ceramics I think more freely about how I would achieve similar effects in cloth.  I liked the textures and marks of Henderson's pieces.  I particularly liked one piece where fragments of dark blue glaze seemed to emerge out of the coarse texture of the clay - I watched effect of the changing light on this for some time.  I also liked the forms of his large pieces.  Complex, organic forms - some of them look like a collapsed piece of archaeology.  He said this about his work that: 

It explores the significance of what is broken, torn or cut, the ability of single or multiple forms to speak of either compression or expansion, flatness or fullness. It is a kind of drawing in three dimensions. I start with fragments - familiar, found, improvised - and then build up to complex structures that invite the observer to complete the circuit, so to speak, by considering such matters as memory, invention and metaphor.
— Ewen Henderson (via Erskine, Hall & Coe)

My third visit was to Collect.  From two small-scale exhibitions, each presenting a focus on a single artist's work, to a huge international fair presenting hundreds of craft objects by hundreds of different artists.  I always find it overwhelming.  I always forget many of the amazing pieces I see, however hard I try to take notes.  So, recovering with a cup of tea, afterwards I concentrated instead on identifying any common elements that had caught my attention in what I had seen.  There was something about layers and repetition.  I had picked up on this in several pieces in different media - wood, ceramic, paper, metal.  I was attracted to the rhythm of repeated units and the way it emphasised the edges when these were layered.  The stand out piece for me under this theme was one by Wycliffe Stutchbury.  For similar reasons I was interested in the texture of these pieces from the Sarah Myerscough Gallery (which I was allowed to photograph): 

Malcolm Martin & Gaynor Dowling (detail)

Pascal Oudet

I was also attracted to a number of pieces that took curving and overlapping forms.  These were often in ceramic, glass or metal and the curves resembled the soft folds of cloth - and yet, if you did this in cloth, it would be hard to pull off the same effect without stiffening or supporting it in some way (unless the cloth is naturally quite stiff).  Still, something else to reflect on.