62 Group: Ebb & Flow

I made a flying visit to Grimsby at the end of this week to see the 62 Group's latest exhibition.  A 400 mile round trip from one end of the North Sea coast to the other.  This was in fact rather appropriate as a significant number of Grimsby fishermen apparently migrated there from the Thames Estuary in the late nineteenth century, when the town was developing as a fishing port.    

"Ebb & Flow" is a response to Grimsby's history as a major fishing port and to the excellent museum collection at the Fishing Heritage Centre in particular.  The exhibition is divided between the latter and Grimsby Minster.  It was interesting to see how different artists responded to the theme.  Some made direct reference to the fishing industry or the port while others made more indirect reference to the theme of tides, flow or change.  

The work of five artists caught my attention in particular.  The first was Hannah Lamb.  Her piece Baptism explored the experience of cold water swimming.  It consisted of a triptych of organza panels printed using the cyanotype process.  The imagery, on separate panels, showed the head, hands and feet of a woman and succeeded in conveying the idea of someone in water.  But what I loved was the way Hannah also conveyed the sensual aspect of being in water. With the most minimal, delicate stitching she suggested the touch of water against a finger or a swirl of water across the toes.  For me this lifted the work from being a simple image on cloth to something altogether more tactile and sensual.  Hannah's blogpost about this piece is here.

Hannah Lamb "Baptism"

Hannah Lamb "Baptism" (detail)

Sue Stone is based in Grimsby and her pieces - two in the museum, one in the Minster - told a story about people in the town.  The colour palette and format remind me of the colours of old photographs.  Here too though the detail of the stitching and appliqué add to the image, so that when you look, there is far more information than in the picture alone.  In Portrait of a Grimsby Girl the bricks are covered with stitched writing telling you details about the woman's life.  In The Unknown Statistic, which is about the children left behind by fathers who went to war and never came back, the man is not in the picture but, across the wall is a fluid line of embroidery tracing the sense of the tune he whistles as he walks away.  Close up, I was fascinated too by the stitched patterns used so effectively to show the textures of the figures' clothing.  

Sue Stone: "The Unknown Statistic"

Sue Stone: Portrait of a Grimsby Girl (detail)

Jane McKeating's piece consisted of five large panels titled "Red - a sampler".  At first I thought these were painted but they are digitally printed from Jane's own drawings.  Inspired by samplers, paintings and symbols in the museum, the panels trace the "ebb and flow of a red mark through the passage of time."   Each panel shows a sewing machine - a progressively more modern one - stitching a length of bright yellow cloth.  Apart from some white stitching, which adds texture to some of the panels, the only stitching is the red "stitched" line.  As the sewing machines evolve, so does the mark, from a basic straight stitch in the first panel to a more complex computerised design in the fifth.  What struck me, however, was the juxtaposition of the domestic sewing machines with the "high vis" yellow cloth, suggesting protective or waterproof clothing.  So many thoughts here about the connection between the lives of fishermen on the sea and their wives, mothers, sisters at home.  

Jane McKeating: "Red - a sampler"

Jane McKeating (detail)

In a completely different vein, I loved the work by Ann Goddard.  Discarded consisted of five bundles of driftwood, twigs and rusted metal "tangled" together by shreds of vintage fishing net and wire.  There is a reference to "ghost nets" - lost nets which continue to trap debris, fish and other organisms.  To me each bundle was like a three dimensional drawing.  There was a larger, related work in the Minster, constructed of willow and wire which had a similar effect.  

Ann Goddard: "Discarded"

Finally, I loved the ikat weaving of Christine Gornowicz, particularly the way the receding verticals emphasise the sense of movement in the horizontal flow patterns in the one below.  I recommend a visit to her web site to see more of her beautiful work.  

 Christine Gornowicz - "Flow"

Christine Gornowicz - "Flow"

62 Group Website

Ebb & Flow Facebook page (with more photos and details of the artists and their work)

If you can't get to Grimsby before 2 November, the Ebb & Flow catalogue is available here

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.