Final Year BA Textile Design students have been interviewing artists and designers that they admire and who provide inspiration for their exploration of Textile Design.
This is the first of a series of posts and we are proud to start off by offering an interview that Teresa Chong Gum conducted with the wonderful Louise Saxton – keep watching this space!
Teresa: You have said ‘needlework will never be done in the way that it was’ and that craft revival is on the rise. Do you believe you could be introducing a new form of this revival in your own visually spectacular way?
Louise: I hope that my work contributes to the re-evaluation of craft traditions in contemporary art. I refer to my work with reclaimed textiles as ‘assemblage’ and many people work in this way, but I am not aware of anyone else working with reclaimed needlework, on masse in the way that I am. I have what I believe is a unique collection of materials, built up over the past decade. However, I don’t make any of the textiles myself, as many “crafters” or traditional “textile artists” do.
Teresa: As many artists collaborate with other artists, your unique perspective of working with the original artists of your reclaimed textiles is as poetic as it sounds. Could you describe what you feel working with these anonymous artists, whom may sometimes be simply women at home who may have occasionally embroidered within the home?
Louise: I refer to my process as a “silent collaboration” as most of the original makers are no longer living, which is how I come to be working with their discarded and disinherited materials. I feel that my work gives voice, and new form, to their original handiwork and in that way it is a type of collaboration. Also, as I could never have created these exquisite and varied materials myself and, because they are all so unique, I feel the credit for my work does not just belong to me, it also belongs to the previous makers.
Teresa: As your profile has grown how have you processed people donating their treasured textiles to be transformed into your amazing designs?
Louise: Some of the beautiful family collections that have been donated to my collection for use in my art practice have come to me from friends and, now that I have a profile for working primarily with reclaimed textiles, I have also been given heirloom pieces from several complete strangers. These are people who have seen my work, either in exhibition or on-line, and have contacted me through my website. One woman, who is a clothes-designer and writer in Canada, with family in France, sent me a large parcel of 3 generations of French needlework, along with photos of the women who made it. Coincidentally, I also have several other people in France who look for unique pieces in markets there and have sent me two large parcels of antique lace and embroideries. They do this because they love what I do with the materials and they enjoy collecting.
Teresa: Similar to the feel of a ‘custodian of the material’ have you connected with owners of donated pieces once their piece has been used in a finished piece? Do people ask for any updates as a way to stay connected to their donated pieces?
Louise: This is a very good question. I have become close friends with some people, who were unknown to me before they knew of my work, and it was the materials and my use of them, that drew us together. I also communicate with several people in other countries who have given me things, via email and cards. If it is a significant piece or amount of donated material that I am using, I try to let people know when their donation has been incorporated into an artwork. This is usually greatly appreciated and I feel it’s important to honour their family member in that way. I also keep a ‘journal’ on my website which documents these gifts and some of the pieces that have come from them.
Teresa: Can you describe the feeling once a design has been finished, especially with the time and patience involved, which as you describe can take years to put together for a showcase?
Louise: I don’t often think of my work in terms of design, as I’m a visual artist. However, there is definitely an element of design in my process, which I developed during my drawing and printmaking training at art school. I often reinterpret historical imagery and by choosing one element from that artwork and making it my own, I am designing a new work.
A single work can take weeks or months to complete and there are several stages in each piece, including the added layer of painstaking work of mounting pieces for framing. It can take several years to develop a whole body of work for exhibition. Each piece is very labour intensive and so I often feel hugely relieved once it is finished. I try to work on different pieces at different stages of process if I can, to break up the intensely repetitive nature of the work.
Teresa: You have a quite a long process with any piece you tackle, how do you stay inspired to finish? Have there been difficult times?
Louise: This is also a very good question, as it is often the case that I begin a work with great excitement, about the image and about sourcing the right materials from my collection or elsewhere, but this can soon dissipate into a sense of struggle, especially at the final stages. The process is very physically demanding as I pin, unpin and repin and so, it takes commitment and love of the materials to keep going.
Teresa: Your colour palette is quite vibrant and lifts in itself with the textile art. Are these represented from the illustrated subject matter, which inspire you or your own visual perspective? Colour is difficult with paint alone how difficult is your colour process with your practise of finding the right one within an already made textile?
Louise: Part of the joy of working with reclaimed needlework is the colour and the way in which light refracts through the different threads. Also the particular dyes used, especially the luminous nature of silk threads, is very different to traditional art materials and adds to the vividness of the work. It’s true that I have made a lot of colourful work and this can be driven either by the imagery I’m choosing to work with, or by the materials themselves. However, I have also made work with more muted tones, such as the Lyrebird of 2010 called “Madeira’s Lyre after JW Lewin 1815 and an Emu of 2012, titled “Going to Jackson after George Raper 1791”.
Teresa: How incredibly lucky you must be to be living atop a discount shop which we students find ourselves in many times finding new mediums for our current textile projects. Do you find your space can reflect in your work in some form?
Louise: Actually the discount shop is a complete contrast to my studio as it mostly stocks bright and shiny imported goods, whereas my studio is like a haberdasher’s emporium, filled with vintage and antique objects from all around the world! But, the shop owner allows me to rent the “best room in the house”, which is upstairs with a lovely north-facing sunroom. I have been there for almost a decade and I love the domestic nature of the space, which was originally the living room of the 1800’s shop dwelling.
Teresa: You have trained in printmaking and painting through Visual Art, which I feel has similarities to my major in Print through textile design. Do you find your own illustrative handwriting is found within this recycled textile art form?
Louise: My training in painting and printmaking has definitely informed my approach to recycled/reclaimed materials. I feel I am still painting – just not with paint! I have used textiles (as stencils and for embossing) in both my prints and paintings in the past however; this was before I began using the needlework as an art material in its own right.
Teresa: As an established artist would you have any suggestions for an aspiring textile design student, on how to find their own unique practise as you have successfully demonstrated?
Louise: Being an artist is your own individual journey. My main advice is to allow your practice to develop and change as you do and when you find a process and material you really enjoy working with, explore it as much as possible. Also don’t feel pressured into feeling you have to be a particular way in the “art world” – be true to yourself and what feels right for you. It’s good to be involved with other artists in creating your own opportunities for exhibitions; enter your work into prizes and bit-by-bit you start to develop a career as a creative professional. I’ve always found that having a studio or a space, which is allocated to making art, is really important. It is always a juggle between working on your creative pursuits and other commitments and fortunately, I am now in the position of being able to work full-time as an artist.