This is the year of the big think for me. I’m using my completion of three score years and ten to start seriously putting my house in order – both literally and metaphorically. I have accumulated so much possibly useful but probably never used stuff that it has begun to oppress me, and it is an ongoing liberation to find useful outlets for its disposal.
In order to make decisions about what should go of course, I have to decide what must stay. And for that I have to think about what I want to make and do. I rather fell into quilt making through serendipitous encounters, not through conscious purpose. I enjoyed the making of the work, and have been successful when I’ve applied to enter prestigious quilt exhibitions. Of late, however, I feel out of step with current trends – and as it is the subject matter of the work which drives me I have not applied to compete any more.
I have been fortunate this year in having been asked to judge the SAQA Europe and Middle East Wide Horizons VI exhibition, and as such will have a piece in that show. Also I was delighted to be asked to contribute three quilts to the upcoming exhibition at Wisconsin Museum of Quilt and Fiber Art: Fiber Arts in the Digital Age. But although I do and doubtless will continue to use the quilt form, I do not feel or think myself to be a quilt artist.
At the end of Spring I finished my most recent quilt form piece: Soliloquy (seen below). This piece grew out of thinking about old age – not necessarily my own, but maybe also. There has been so much on the news these days about how little adequate care there is in the community for older people, how they are neglected, how lonely they can be etc. The ideas for Soliloquy developed around the commonly held to be traits of the older person: fading into the background so that they are almost part of the wallpaper, repetition, going on about their youth, talking when no-one is listening – or when no-one is there, …. I wanted to portray these elements, but with a strong, humorous character who emerged from the background trying to engulf her, despite being fixed in her armchair – and with the repetition being a dynamic pattern rather than a monotonous drone.
I have satisfied myself with the result. And this work has reinforced for me the direction I want to take. I want to be driven by the work which speaks insistently to be made – the work must make its own direction. I do not want to be guided by technique to follow subjects. This decision was finally clarifying after I attended the excellent workshop on 3D fibre work taught by Debbie Lyddon early this year. (As I described in Threading thoughts.) I very much enjoyed the experience, and perhaps one day I shall be impelled to make a work which needs to use a technique covered then. But I do not want to try to fit a subject to the technique.
Of course there are core techniques which I use, and will continue to use. Digital collage from ingredients including photography, drawing, and printmaking, and other scans. Digital printing onto cloth – because cloth is the basis of the things I make. And of course stitching – the vital meditative ingredient. Although I took up fabric as my medium because it fitted practically with my life – an activity with which I could be absent and present at the same time; it was also even then a perfect fit for how I wanted to express myself.
So I am getting rid of all the stuff which I have just accumulated over the years through temptation to acquire, or accepting gifts of what might possibly be useful one day, or just somehow arrived I can’t remember how. The local hospice charity shop’s craft corner has suddenly burgeoned into a craft department as my cupboards empty!
One big stumbling block I found in my journey to this point was my anxiety about not having gone to art college – about not being able adequately to judge my work, and thus not knowing where I/it might fit. I realise now that this does not matter, and that realisation has been reinforced in my recent reading of a book about postwar London artists: Modernists and Mavericks by Martin Gayford. In it I encountered the perfect quote from Howard Hodgkin:
‘What is important,…is that what I feel, think and see turns into something. I mean, ideally, it starts off in my head, and ends up a thing.’