Find out how this talented artist has combined symbolic and cultural meaning, recycled materials and hours of dedicated work to create delicately beautiful works of art …now on display at The Glasshouse regional gallery.
Tell us a little about yourself as an artist.
I’ve been making art and exhibiting in a professional capacity for almost 20 years now, and my art training was in painting and printmaking. My textile training came from the home, growing up with a mother and nanna who were always making things for the family and the community – knitting, sewing, crochet, embroidery, quilting etc. I actually learned to make a good dress and knit a good jumper before I could construct a good painting.
I have exhibited in a number of local, national and overseas venues, including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London and Paris. It has been fantastic to be included in Momentum – the 18th Tamworth fibre textile biennial, as it means my work has now travelled around the country and been exposed to a huge audience.
My work is also held in collections both within Australia and overseas. I recently sold several works to an international collector, including ReCollection, which will be housed in Sydney and another Red Cloud, will be housed in Mumbai – which was very exciting for me, as some of the embroidery in Red Cloud came from an embroidered wall hanging I purchased in Mumbai in 1988.
You mentioned your work is currently touring as part of the 18th Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial, showcasing some of the finest examples of contemporary recycled textile art. Tell us more …
It’s true a number of the artists in the show are recycling** or reusing old and disparate materials for their art, as there is a growing concern among artists to work towards a more sustainable practice by not continually consuming new materials. This idea also fits with the theme of ‘momentum’ and moving forward, while still regarding the past.
As Valerie Kirk, the curator of the exhibition says in her catalogue essay, “Textile artists work inventively because of the rapidly changing context of their world … they challenge our preconceptions and move forward into unknown territories. The strength of this work comes from the artists’ ability to respect their tradition and history while engaging with the momentum of progress.” (page 5).
Many artists in the show also work with new materials, and a number are interested in exploring new textile technologies
**(I also like the term ‘up-cycling’ where old products are given more value as opposed to much recycling, where the original product is destroyed to make a new product – my work is somewhere between the two, as I destroy the original domestic object, i.e. the doiley or tablecloth, but I save the needlework and reconstruct it. The first recorded use of the term up-cycling was by Reiner Pilz of Pilz GmbH in an interview by Thornton Kay of Salvo in 1994.
Where did you draw the inspiration for your intricately detailed artwork?
The inspiration for ReCollection, my collection of fantastical insects, originated in Malaysia when I undertook a month long residency in a beautiful garden estate called Rimbun Dahan, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, in 2006.
Melbourne artist Tim Craker (who is a long term friend and colleague) had a 3 month residency in the same year and suggested a joint exhibition when we returned to Melbourne, and we were fortunate to then travel an extended version of that exhibition back to Malaysia and on to Singapore in 2008. We wanted to make work which would relate well to both an Australian and South East Asian audience.
I had previously worked with discarded materials from the home, such as old wallpapers, and had a growing collection of domestic needlework which I wanted to use, and so the insects were ‘born’. They reflect my interest in decorative arts traditions which are found in many cultures, as well as the exotic and tropical garden estate which first inspired them.
I gave each fantasy insect a name by combining the Latin names for the various insect species and the plant species in the embroideries with the traditional needlework terms. That was a lot of fun – pretending to be an entomologist!
How long have you been putting your modern spin on this traditional practice?
I have been salvaging and reconstructing the needlework of anonymous others since 2007, but my interest in reclaiming the detritus of home for art goes back to 2001 and a large installation of 500 individual arabesques made from recycled blue and white business envelope linings, which ‘quilted’ the wall of the gallery.
I also made a large body of work in 2004 / 2005 from vintage wall papers for the exhibition Gardenesque (with Carole Wilson).
What is the approximate time needed for each piece of your textile art?
The work is painstakingly slow, which is in keeping with the needleworking process of the original objects. I don’t always keep track of the time it takes, but I do remember that the large blue and white insect in ReCollection, which is called hemiptera-salix alba (true bug with willow pattern) took me nine hours to make – not including the cutting out of the embroidery, which I often do at night in front of the telly.
What inspired you to use recycled needlework?
I love the transformation which occurs in using old materials, especially those that have been discarded and disinherited, as is often the case with the beautiful needle worked objects from the home. As I carefully extract each embroidered or lace motif from its original support, I often try to imagine and feel somehow connected to the hand of the person who made it.
As a material which crosses many cultures and is found in the homes of South East Asian people as well as the homes of Australians, it seemed an appropriate material to make an exhibition for both those audiences.
I enjoyed making the insects and the other large installations for that exhibition so much, that I’ve just kept on going with reusing needlework. The material has sustained my practice for the past three and half years, and I have a huge collection in my studio which I envisage using for at least another two years.
Where do you source your materials from?
Now that’s a trade secret – but seriously, I am an avid op-shopper, like many artists, out of both necessity and for fun. There is an element of the ‘treasure hunt’ and especially in searching for needlework, as many are hand made and unique – I rarely come across the same hand embroidered object twice, although many of them would have been made using widely available transfer patterns.
I am fortunate to live in an area of Melbourne where I have 5 great op-shops close to my studio and to have a number of friends and family who give me things from time to time.
On my recent trip to France I was given vintage French lace and embroidery by two generous women whom I got to know there, and some of that was from their family collections and some they had collected on their own travels. I found 100 year old silk embroideries in 2nd hand shops there (they don’t have op-shops) and was given a length of Brussels lace which was also more than 100 years old! These connections are very important and become incorporated into the artwork for me.
A lot of your art has symbolic cultural undertones and meanings …
Symbolically insects represent many things, from the fear of the unknown, to the danger of the present and vitally important elements of biodiversity and indicators of a healthy eco-system.
I have come to consider this body of work as a silent collaboration, between my hand, as the one who salvages and reclaims and the hand of the original anonymous needleworkers. I feel this is culturally significant, as it is important to value the past in order to have a vision for the future.
Everyday textiles, made in and for the home, are on the brink of extinction and the natural history species which inspired many of them are today, sadly, also vulnerable. My work tries to address this imminent sense of loss as, like many other people, I have an increasing concern for our diminishing resources and traditions – in both in the domestic realm and in the natural world.
These humble but painstakingly produced and beautiful domestic materials which I am reclaiming for art are fast becoming part of our throw-away culture.
I also see the home culturally, as an important point of reference for and inspiration in art, both historically and in contemporary art and across many different cultures.
What are you working on now?
In February this year I embarked on a large scale project which I envisage will take me two years to complete. I am recreating in needlework various paintings and prints by natural history and botanical artists. In previous installations I have depicted endangered or vulnerable species, through the outline of negative spaces within larger decorative motifs.
However, for this body of work the species, as with my insects in ReCollection, are depicted in the positive. Even so, the reclaimed textiles in this body of work will build the form to a much more painterly effect.
My aim is an exhibition which alerts us to the imminent danger of losing our unique native flora and fauna and which brings to a new audience, in a new light, the creative endeavours of historical artists – many of whom were women and like the original needleworkers, were often not given their full artistic credit.