New course, new blog…

You can find my further adventures in textile art here


Feedback on Assignment 5

My tutor has been so helpful, and got my feedback on 5 mailed to me within the week. Here it is.

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Basing your work on your surroundings and documenting the wayside shrines in South West France was an excellent idea, as it has provided you with the opportunity to create a varied range of visual research that has personal signifance. I particularly liked your idea of considering lichens as embellishment, and then linking this to embroidery. This was very sensitive interpretation of your theme. Well done.

Your initial visual research was imaginative, and creating surface texture through mark-making, acrylics, dye and pigment has effectively created a range of surfaces which evoke lichen. Sam Lock was a good source of reference for these visual explorations of your theme, and once again your love of colour and texture was clearly evident throughout. There is a clear development of ideas from source material through to final pieces, and you have sensitively translated your visual research into a more refined collection of textile pieces. Your small fabric collages in response to stone surfaces were inventive, and taking a non-linear approach to your work, e.g. moving from drawings to fabric samples, then back to drawing has worked well, and this intutitive approach is something that I suggest you continue to embrace in future.

Working on small scale samples has enabled you to effectively create a range of patterns, marks, and textures in response to your photographs/drawings. As you tend to naturally work on a small scale the idea of working with multiple, small scale, repeating units may be something you want to explore further at a later date. Your final series of textile samples work well together, and your choice of colours, fabrics and textile techniques has given cohesion to this collection. Well done


Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays


Sheena, your blog entries are articulate and thoughtful, and highlighting key entries for this assignment is very good practice. All of your work is effectively photographed, and methodically documented, well done.

I was pleased to see how you have responded to feedback from assignment 4, and to hear that the work of Louise Bourgeois has had such an impact upon you. The fact that you have begun to investigate her concepts as well as her use of materials is good, and as her work resonates with you I suggest that over the next few months you continue to read about her work and consider how her concepts, and use of materials link with your own ideas. This will help you to begin to identify and then articulate your own concepts and working methods with more clarity and precision.

You are self aware and have allowed yourself time to review your work on a regular basis, which is enabling you to make reasoned decisions about the way forward. This is very good practice, well done. The next step is to continue to develop your critical skills by striving for more in-depth critical analysis of your work at key points in the future. You have good research skills and as well as sourcing relevant artists you have already begun to identify why their work resonates with you. Your description of ‘Cells’ at the Guggenheim in Bilbao was very poetic. You now need to dig a little deeper and begin to analyse the links between the work of other artists and your own in much more depth. For example when discussing the work of Louise Bourgeois you need to state clearly how her work has inspired you. Begin by asking yourself more questions e.g. Are you inspired by the same concepts? Or are you interested in exploring the same techniques and/or materials? Are you interested in creating an installation, or working with multiple units? etc. Were any of your samples inspired by her work? If so how? Etc. I suggest you also continue to look at a wide variety of visual art and design, and begin to read artists statements, as well as exhibition reviews as this will help you to clarify your ideas and will continue to develop your own personal voice.


Don’t worry Sheena this is not something that you need to undertake before formal assessment. Developing your critical skills is an ongoing process that will naturally take place throughout your next course.

Suggested reading

Art Textiles of the World. Telos


Pointers for the next assignment

As you are keen to develop your own personal voice Sheena I suggest that before you move on you allow yourself time to look back through your learning log/sketchbooks etc. to see if there are any common themes, or a particular concept that you want to continue to develop in future.


The parcel has been collected from my workplace as couriers struggle to find our village, never mind the un-named, un-numbered house where the English people live. And now I can only wait for the result.

I think I’ll go back over my learning log, and maybe add a few post-scripts, or further comments. I haven’t been advised to re-work anything, but I’m going to keep reading and drawing. I can’t sign up for MMT just yet (work commitments) but in a month I will do so.










Part 5: Written reflection

Relevant blog posts:

I’ve been a bit apprehensive about writing this final written reflection. This has been a year of profound change for me and coming to the end of ATV is a major event. I know I will sign up for MMT shortly, so it isn’t the end. In fact, it’s more of a beginning, but now I’m putting in for formal assessment, it finally seems real. To have studied and to put myself forward to be judged in a field so removed from anything I’ve done before is nerve-wracking. This post will be very detailed and have a lot of images as my tutor has agreed to comment on the blog only. I’ve included consideration of the assessment criteria at the end.

Egon Schiele’s ‘Bare Trees, Houses and Wayside Shrine’ – although the trees aren’t bare here at this time of year

My capsule collection is in some ways a homage to my surroundings as well as a pause-and-reflect point. I wouldn’t say it was in any way a conclusion; I feel I’m only just getting started in this creative phase of my life . Here, in this half-renovated village house, I have found a degree of inner peace and a focus for my restlessness. This is not through looking inwards, but outwards, to the crumbling stone, the weathered wood shutters, the verdigris-dulled, peeling railings, the hedgerows and fields. Thinking about designing and making has created a still place inside me. For a long time I thought we would move on from here, but I think that idea has passed.

I’ve already written about how right it felt in this final assignment to focus on the wayside shrines. Noticing, photographing  and closely looking at these is something I now associate not only with this place but also with discovering the joy of the creative process, of observing, reflecting and making, and then observing, reflecting and making again. It isn’t turned in on itself though – part of it is about drawing in narratives and models from outside, on experiences and conversations, on insights and concepts. The shrines have their own narratives, and have been present for more than a century of history; my small story adds only a thin layer to this. But it is there.

I have created a series of seven samples for my capsule collection, which I think connect together, although not in a linear way. It’s more that there are connections between the pieces that criss-cross between them. Perhaps that emerged from the way I created them, from moving between them. I abandoned an early plan to create a giant piece on a huge old linen bed sheet: working on this with a roller and paint and stitching over it in thick yarn would have been going large for its own sake and I didn’t feel any motivation or warmth towards it.

Initially I bought two half metre pieces of linen fabric in different shades of grey. As fabric bought off a roll is usually very wide, I though this would be enough. It wasn’t, quite; I used every scrap and also an old linen pillow case. All of the cloth was washed and some of the pieces were stained with tea to soften them. The beads were bought, the embroidery threads, yarns and paints were from my collection.

My first piece was not created first but works here in the collection. It is a piece of an old grey linen pillow case, which I painted and marked with gesso and acrylic paint mixed together. This gave a rough, stiff surface texture: stone-like and difficult to stitch. I embroidered lichen on it using thick yarns, initially grey, with green looped through it, and then disconnected chain stitches in acid yellow. The lichen stitches I left as loose loops, rather than pulling the thread through, giving it dimension.

The second piece in the series is this one.

It came about by accident. When piece 1 was being painted the paint seeped through to the back of the linen pillow case, creating a softer, lighter version. I cut this into strips and wove these together with strips of the lighter grey bought linen then machine stitched around the outside. I really like this – it has an odd fragility yet it can’t come apart even though it feels as if it might. It looks like an enlarged version of the linen itself, with the faint paint marks like the faded colours on the stone plinths.

The third and fourth pieces go together. These are the ones that Steve the dog ran off with, but they have more or less survived, minus a few beads. The acrylic print provided a ground and the detail of the embroidery and beading give focus and sharpness.

The fifth piece was a refinement of beading. I stitched beads in little groups by colour and shape, but with some randomness, hoping to represent the growth of lichen on stone. I love the weight of the beading when I pick this one up. It didn’t feel finished so I stitched and looped threads over the beads after I’d sewn them on, which I felt expressed the lichen more effectively. Using a 50 centimes old lace mat connects the piece with rural France. The loops of green thread echoed the shapes found in the lace/embroidered mat.  Rounded and curved shapes represent the natural forms of the lichen.

Piece 6 is composed of some pieces of the linen fabric with blocky patches stitched on, using a series of running stitches. I wanted this one to be an abstract representation of the plinths themselves. I stained some of the linen fabric with watercolour ink and used a mixture of scraps and torn vintage linens. Sewn in the tradition of boro textiles but using vintage and found fabrics, I intended this to be a mixture of slow stitch techniques and abstract representation.

The seventh, and last, piece.

This is the result of my experiments with weaving. Originally I intended to stitch together woven pieces but decided instead to use a single sample and stitch it to the final scraps of linen, which I had machine stitched together. The colours come from the stone and the lichen. I pulled some holes into it, to simulate the pocked stone surface of the plinths. There was something very satisfying about the destructiveness of this: the weaving took so very long and the tearing was so quick and pleasing. I was inspired to create this after discovering the weaving of Anneke Kersten and Nynke Van Amersfoort who both create pieces that explode with colour and life.

As my tutor is only viewing this electronically, here’s a selection of pages from my sketchbook.

In ‘Ground in Cloth and Thread’ by Jane McKeating, (from Hand Stitch Perspectives, Bloomsbury) the author comments on a conversation she had with sought-after Indian wedding embroiderer Asif Shaikh. He insists on the importance of geometry in his beautiful hand-stitched designs, in how essential it is to follow the grain or the weave of the cloth. He needed ‘complete, precision, order and control.’ This interesting article outlines his beliefs and practice.

McKeating observes that her own work is stitched ‘against the grain, marks going a little askew, the weave of the cloth distorting the image.’

When I began embroidering the linen fabric for my samples I sometimes followed the grain, sometimes stitched against and sometimes went a little ‘askew’. It made sense. The stones of the wayside shrines are imperfect, worn, mottled, pitted. The lichen growing across them are natural forms and take their own route or path. So, imperfections in the embroidery and the beading were to be desired. In the same chapter, Gavin Fry is quoted, describing embroidery as the ‘ in and out, not the on,’ in reference to the way stitches connect to cloth or other substrates. For me this sums up the pleasure in stitching by hand, and the connection between cloth, thread and embroiderer.

As I created my final pieces, I thought about Jane McKeating’s comment further on in her essay, that ‘in embroidery we utilise stitches, which we learn and adapt like a language… its repeat is like the beat of the heart.’ This project has been like the beat of my heart, here, now. It connects me to this place more firmly, it provides a narrative layer to add to all the others.

McKeating goes on to say, ‘stitching takes time and marks time … [and after an interruption] do I pick up the same piece or do I move on? When is a piece really finished?’ This is a very good question. For me there is a tension between working on textile art in order to complete a course, and with the creative process itself,  because they are not necessarily aligned. I’m uncomfortable with some of the work I’ve done over the course of ATV because I had to leave it where it was and move on in order to meet deadlines. I haven’t been advised to re-work anything, yet I feel a sense of dissatisfaction with some of what I have produced.Perhaps it is always like that for artists, or perhaps we grow more experienced in understanding when a piece is finished, when to stop. Elsewhere in Hand Stitch Perspectives, Alice Kettle comments on Richard McVetis: ‘his practice is deeply rooted in hand stitch because of ‘the repetition, the methodical, the obsessiveness, the continuity, of the line, hidden beyond the limits of fabric surface.’ I think a desire for repetition, continuity and a sense of the methodical is perhaps why I opted for creating textures and shapes with hand stitch in these final pieces.


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

Looking back over the assignments, I think my skills have really progressed. My sketchbooks have become more useful in working through ideas and I think these are now realised more fully in my samples. I observe more carefully, and have a stronger sense of how composition works. My collection demonstrates a good awareness of this as well as of the possibilities offered by the fabrics and other materials I selected.

Quality of outcome

Over the last three assignments I have become very confident with deciding how to present my ideas and work. The samples I produced were quite time consuming (with the exception of the linen weave) and developing my sewing, weaving and design skills was really enjoyable. Exploring these fascinating wayside shrines in this way was rewarding and I believe I have communicated my ideas effectively.

Demonstration of creativity

I hesitate to say I am developing a personal voice. There have been some robust discussions on the forum about this and my concern is that the word ‘personal’ is missing from some of the definitions I’ve read. I think it’s true that my work is identifiable as mine and if that is a voice then that’s great. My work speaks of my identity, and the here and now, this place.


I’m finding it easier to explore ideas as well as techniques in other artists, and to make links with my own work. There is never enough time to research the work of other artists and visual theories as thoroughly as I’d like to and I sometimes feel as if I’ve only just started to scratch the surface of this.



Reviving a dying art – and empowering women in the process: Salma Hasan Ali, Islamic Monthly (April 2014)

Hand Stitch Perspectives: ed Jane McKeating and Alice Kettle (Bloomsbury, 2014)








Review point: context


I’m nearly ready to submit Assignment 5 so feel it’s the right moment to consider the context.

I came across the wayside shrines when I moved to this area of Midi Pyrenees in south-west France. I’ve mentioned before how they proliferate along roadsides and at the entrances of villages. Once we became aware of their existence we were staggered by how many there were. They intrigued me before I started this course and Part 5 seeemd the natural place to explore further their potential for translation into a textile collection.

There’s very little research out there to understand the history and context of these shrines, but in Passages from the French/Italian Notebooks, American writer Nathanial Hawthorne encountered these on his travels:

‘As usual  along the road we passed multitudes of shrines, where the Virgin was painted in fresco, or sometimes represented in bas-relief, within niches or under more spacious arches. It would be a good idea to place a comfortable and shady seat beneath all the wayside shrines, where the wayfarer might rest himself, and thank the Virgin for her hospitality; nor can I believe it would offend her, any more than any other incense, if he were to regale himself, even in such consecrated spot, with the fragrance of a pipe or cigar…

… In the wire-work screens, before many of the shrines, hung offerings of roses and other flowers, somewilted and withered, some fresh with that morning’s dew, some that never bloomed and never faded – being artificial. I wonder that they do not plant rose trees and all kinds of fragrant and flowering shrubs… so that the Virgin may dwell within a boer of perpetual freshness.’ (1871)

He’s writing here about Italy but they are very much like this in France too. There are rarely flowers placed on them these days, and neat box hedges and border plants are often arranged beneath. I like to think of Hawthorne having a sneaky smoke underneath one of them.

When the idea first came to me I thought my focus would be the shrines themselves. The religious iconography is intriguing; I’ve never seen anyone looking at one of them, much less praying or anything like that. Some are simple crosses, some more elaborate statues, often portraying a meek and mild Mary, or a horribly suffering Christ figure. The Marys are usually encased in a glass-fronted box; disturbingly, detritus such as dead insects are also inside. The crosses are often metal, standing high atop stone plinths. Some are painted and the layers of paint are cracked and flaking.

When I did some sketching next to one, every car or van that drove past slowed down, the driver no doubt curious about what I was up to. Initially I had some ideas about printing images taken from the icons onto fabric. But once I began drawing them, the surface of the stone and the lichens and mosses that grow on them engaged me more. I may return to the printing. I took a lot of close-up photographs of these surfaces, which seemed to lend themselves very well to textile work of various kinds.

In the course guide, Chris Ofili’s observation is included for consideration:   ‘The studio is a laboratory, not a factory. An exhibition is the result of your experiments but the process is never-ending. So an exhibition is not a conclusion,’ Certainly I am experimental, although to me ‘laboratory’ suggests a more scientific approach than mine. I think I would be happier with ‘workshop,’ which does not preclude a brave and risk-taking approach but also suggests more hands-on making. I feel embarrassed by pretentiousness in discussions about art and fear it in myself.

I’ve taken a non-linear approach to this assignment. It has suited me to switch back and forth between exercises and projects as my ideas have developed, and so the capsule collection has grown organically from this process. Some pieces have been returned to after I thought they hadn’t worked, or were finished. Some have survived dog attack, with only a few tooth marks and saliva stains in evidence.

I’ve also kept notes on interesting artists as I have worked. Project 2 asks us to ‘be inspired by an artist or designer.’ I think I have begun working in a way where this is something I just do, it shouldn’t be forced or feel like part of a lesson or homework. I don’t think any individual artist has a specific influence; rather, aspects of the work of many artists, both ideas and techniques, have been/are being absorbed, both consciously and unconsciously. Here’s a summary of just some of the artists I’ve investigated as part of this assignment.

Maria Boyle

Textile pieces created by Maria Boyle are detailed, intriguing and tactile. Her award-winning work has merged from a love of the forests of Sweden, where she has family. She has created pieces which speak about the migration of reindeer and the lives of the Sami people. She cites the versatility and expressiveness of fabric and fibre, and of the forgiving nature of textile media that can be reworked as you go. Her piece Lichen Micro demonstrates her ability to create strong but harmonious colour palettes, something I aimed to do with my collection.

Sam Lock

Sam Lock’s paintings are all about surface and texture, reminiscent of the surface of the stone plinths. He describes his surfaces as ‘worn, eroded, corroded’; they are misty, veiled, as if there are layers of narrative built up on them, but indistinctive, intangible, in effect, ‘visual poetry,’ which suggests not only layers of meaning but also layers of visual language. Although he works with paint I feel his surfaces are reminsicent of textiles.

Audrey Walker

Audrey Walker’s beautiful portraits stem from her early studies in painting and drawing. Jane McKeating comments that ‘the starting point for her pieces is something observed or remembered – a poem or myth, or perhaps a comment heard on the radio.’ In her figurative pièces, layers of fabric are stitched to create a strong ground then stitching is added to create tone through subtle changes in direction.

Brigitta Varadi

I’m smitten by the work of Brigitta Varadi. She is fascinated by wool and one of her installations, Markings, focuses on the marks used by farmers on their sheep. Orignally from Hungary but now working in Ireland, Varadi mixes dying, felting and sculptural manipulation of natural fibres, particularly wool, but also uses mosses and lichens in her work.

Caroline Bell

Caroline Bell uses dyes taken from the natural world and is inspired by marks found in nature. I’d like to adopt some of her principles, of sustainability and of using what is found. Perhaps I am moving towards this by working with vintage French textiles. I also find her detailed embroidery absorbing in its intricacy.

Anneke Kersten

Anneke Kersten uses linen, hemp, metallic and paper in her beautiful weavings. She is also inspired by natural forms and landscapes. I have some humble, small pieces of weaving in my final collection and I’d love to explore this further. And reading an interview with her, I discovered…

Nynke van Amersfoort

… another Netherlands based artist who uses weaving techniques. I’m very excited to have found her work. She binds paper and wire to create amazing forms in subtle colour palettes.

Louise Bourgeois

‘Expose a contradiction, that is all you need.’

‘I need to make things. The physical interaction with the medium has a curative effect. I need the physical acting out. I need to have these objects exist in relation to my body.’

I was utterly blown away by the Louise Bourgeois ‘Cells’ exhibition at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Why do I find these particular works inspiring? I’m not actually creating installations but I am interested in what she has to say about childhood and the repercussions traumatic (and everyday) events have on us. Her use of mythological and archetypal imagery is powerful and she confronts notions of masculinity and femininity with forcefulness and wit.  I was particularly excited by the linens, embroideries and domestic paraphenalia that she placed in many of the Cells and I’d love to have a go at something similar to the textile heads she included in some of them.

I’ve browsed through a number of books during this assignment. I’m re-reading Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood as one of my students is writing an extended essay on it. It’s a long time since I first read it; interestingly, I found myself noticing quite different aspects because I’m reading it as an art student.

Hand Stitch Perspectives  (ed. Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating, Bloomsbury), is a wonderful, eclectic read – I’m still working my way through. There are plenty of inspiring artists and works to follow up and

I think many of us are inspired by Claire Wellesley-Smith’s Slow Stitch, (Batsford). Once I have finished this course, and until I sign up for the next one, I need something to work on, and I think I might start a stitch journal, as Claire suggests. If I work on vintage linen and take inspiration from where we live, from the stone, weathered shutters and plant life that surrounds our village, I think this will emerge meaningfully from what I’ve created so far.

Val Holmes’ Collage, Stitch, Paint (Batsford) is one I will definitely return to. I’ve included a little tentative printing in two of my pieces.

I’ll post my reflection on Assignment 5 tomorrow.

Further samples…

The pressure’s on now to meet the deadline.

It seems a bit counter-intuitive to put myself under pressure, but actually I’m enjoying it. I’ve reached the end of my two week break, so back to work tomorrow, although we have the four day Ascension weekend next (thank goodness for French holidays which include the blessed ‘pont’, or bridge day), so technically I could use that time as well, although I’m cutting it fine.

I’ve now completed four final samples, two of which are requiring a bit of fixing after their encounter with Steve (the dog) yesterday. Here are pictures of the processes and the final pieces.

I used a linen pillow case for this piece. I created a rough-textured surface as an expression of the stone surface/ of one of the wayside shrines, and added colour and further texture with acrylic paint. I used a mixture of umber, green-gold, white and Payne’s gray to represent the variations in the colour of the stone and the lichen creeping across the surface. The piece of linen is slightly larger than A2. After, I embroidered further lichen, using thick yarns. It was hard on the hands, stiff and tough. For the green sections I chose a mottled grey yarn and a rough textured green one.

I’ve been reading this book – it’s fantastic.

download (11)

Edited by Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating, it contains a broad range of essays from academics, artists and professional embroiderers. It includes a glossary of stitches at the back, taken from a project undertaken by students at MMU. Hannah Leighton Boyce’s contribution is a laced running stitch, stitched very loosely, with the loops not pulled fully though. I thought this would work well to represent the lichen. I trepied some small samples with fine yarn, then worked a new sample on a bigger scale.  After stitching with the grey yarn I laced the green one through. Afterwards I added detached chains for the yellow-green parts. I aimed to show random growth.

This one occurred almost by accident.

Almost the same size as the first, it’s the back of the pillow case, which I didn’t cut off before applying the gesso/paint mix to the linen and some of the paint seeped through to the back. I really liked the marks made so I cut it into rough strips and wove these into a block-like sample, using strips of new linen left over from other samples as the weft threads. I soaked this second fabric in tea to soften its colour and surface texture. Finally I zig-zag stitched the edges on the machine. I decided against any hand embroidery as sometimes it’s best to stop when something works.

I really like this – it has an odd fragility because the weave is open and large and the linen is quite floppy. It’s like an extreme scale linen weave and all the fraying edges emphasise the passage of time and the very gradual erosion of the stone. And I like the fact that a great surface to work with just happened.


Day of the dog

I left three embroidered, beaded samples on a chair and forgot to put them away upstairs. One of the dogs chewed them up. That is all I have to say.

No, one more thing. My daughter is currently sorting through the fragments, saying, ‘I think you can rescue this one, mum….’

Work in progress – slow stitching and beading

For my collection, I’ve started small scale – my favourite sort of sewing, tiny and detailed. I’ve responded to the lichen close-up photos on the stone plinths with embroidery thread and beads. Looking closely enabled me to pick out the patterns in the lichen, the marks of ageing on the stone.



The linen panels, each about 30 by 40 cm, were stained with a little weak tea, to dull the colour and take the shine off the fabric. I printed the pieces with acrylic paint, using one of Val Holmes’ (Collage, Stitch, Print) suggested methods: create a print plate from a piece of cardboard with my desired shapes in relief, (string and paper packaging material), then coated it with gesso.  I probably should have used printing ink, and perhaps a press, but I’m pleased with the result. The print was a little blurred and indistinct but that was my desired outcome, as that’s how the lichen looks on the weathered stone.Once the prints were dry I attached beads and embroidered over them. I used a mixture of unattached chain stitch for the green parts of the lichen and placed some detail with threads in yellow.


embroidery and beading

On the second piece of linen I added some gauze, to create a kind of lifted veil, behind which you can still see the print and beading. In some ways the wayside shrines are a little veiled to me: I’m not Roman Catholic. I don’t believe in any God/s. So the rites and rituals of the church, and the existence of these icons is very distant from my experience.

looking through – gauze layers

But I do feel a kind of spiritual link to the stone and the way the lichen creeps over it, over time.


slow stitched layering
the back

These ‘beads’, little shards of stone, invite attachment by stitching though the hole, but also stitching over them.

beads in mottled stone colours

These two samples are nearly finished. Four other ideas are bubbling up in my head.

And the postman just called, with my copy of Hand Stitch Perspectives, edited by Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating, (Bloomsbury.) I can’t wait to read it. In the introduction, Joanne Hall, editor of Embroidery makes the following observation: ‘… the exploration of new perspectives on all forms of embroidery, traditional and contemporary, past and present, is a vital part of keeping the humble hand stitch alive.’


Guggenheim, Bilbao: 23 April 2016

‘The search, (pushing on) for truth is what has kept me going – the secret of my anxiety.’ (Louise Bourgeois.)

I was beyond excitement over this trip. Two nights away, Bilbao followed by San Sebastian.


Not only did I eat far too many pintxos (tapas-like Basque bar snacks), we actually managed a grown-up weekend.

And I had the chance to visit the Guggenheim museum. The gallery is a building of international status, with an amazing collection of modern and contemporary art. And how lucky am I that  Louise Bourgeois’ Structures of Existence: The Cells was one of the main exhibitions. Outside, Bourgeois’ Maman is on the riverbank..



The building itself is stunning, although our photos don’t quite capture its beauty.

Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry’s design dominates the riverside of the old port and Bilbao’s economy was completely rejuvenated by the tourism the art gallery brought to the Basque country. More of Gehry’s amazing work can be seen here: The museum resembles a ship with rippling waves beneath, a powerful reference to Bilbao’s history as a trading port. Critic Calvin Tomkins, writing in The New Yorker, descibed it as ‘a fantastic dream ship of undulating form in a cloak of titanium’. It made me think also of fish scales.

These real fish were just round the corner in a fishmongers in the Old Town.

Gehry is known as a  deconstructivist architect, although he rejects this label. Certainly the building has a degree of unpredictability of line and shape, it seems dislocated and distorted in a very satisfying way. It’s one of those rare cases where the architecture establishment and the public are in agreement about just how beautiful it is. The ‘flower’, the central area with its colossal atrium, is breathtaking.

I’m a bit funny about large and important art galleries. I become overwhelmed quickly by the crowds and the works, and can only take so much in. So I have to look at as much as I can in a couple of hours, then return if I need to. One aspect I found very distracting was the way that the Guggenheim was ‘policed’ by the uniformed guards. Of course, art works have to be protected but their zealousness in shouting ‘No photos!’ was disturbing. I did not feel inclined to sketch. And the V and A aren’t even allowing sketching any more.

The three rooms of Windows on the City: The School of Paris, 1900 – 1945 held a vast array of post-impressionist, Cubist and Fauvist art, including Picasso, Braque, Robert Delaunay and Kandinsky. I enjoyed it, particularly the Kandinskys but it did not steal my heart.

The Warhol exhibit Shadows ‘, (1978, 102 silkscreened canvases),,  was conceived as a single painting in multiple parts, the final number of pieces to be determined by the size of the exhibition space. The backgrounds of the panels were painted with a sponge mop, the streaks and runs are seen to add ‘gesture’. Warhol’s entourage used seven or eight different screens so there are slight shifts in the scale of the dark areas and in the way the eye is drawn to light. The piece plays with our perception – we become aware that our gaze is being directed towards the light, the panels seeming to ‘march’ along the walls of the gallery, all just one foot from the floor. I loved it.

As well as the Warhol, there were a number of works from the museum’s collection.  Cy Twombly’s Nine Discourses on Commodus, exquisite series of expressive paintings (cruelty and insanity indeed!) and Robert Rauschenberg’s  incredible Barge (which took just 24 hours to complete and made me feel very humble, , Anselm Kiefer’s The Land of Two Rivers (enormous, encrusted with plaster and acrylic paint, and The Renowned Orders of the Night. 


Space does not exist, it is just a metaphor for the structure of our existence.’

Enigmatic as I’d expected, Bourgeois’s twenty year project is an amazing thing to experience. The series of works known as The Cells is generally seen to have started in 1986 with the piece Articulated Lair, although Bourgeois did not begin calling the works The Cells until 1991. Curated by Julienne Lorz of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, the collection is  staggering in its variety. The pieces are built from, amongst other things,  old doors, plaster, mirrors, metal mesh, textiles, hospital beds, perfume bottles, guillotines, meat grinders, bedpans, glassware, documents, lights, surgical instruments, chairs, metal balls, sewing machines, spirals, gauze, old clothes, stairs, bell jars, little embroidered pillows, marble, giant spiders… Sometimes there are human forms, or parts of humans depicted in plaster or marble. There’s a little marble reproduction of her parents’ tapestry factory. Many items included in the works were found objects from the old garment factory she used as a studio for twenty five years, including a spiral staircase which is central to the final piece, Cell: the Last Climb. My love of old French textiles is no secret and I loved the tapestry upholstered tatty chairs, the linen nightdresses, the roughly-stitched human heads, the spools of ancient thread…

Arranged in theatrical tableaux, the Cells invite the viewer to peer in, often around a frame or door, or through a window. We become complicit in Bourgeois’ project, we are both voyeurs and participants. She commented: ‘The Cells represent different types of pain: the physical, the emotional and psychological, and the mental and intellectual…. each cell deals with fear. Fear is pain. Often it is not perceived as pain, because it is always disguising itself. Each Cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking in and being looked at. The Cells either attract or repulse each other. There is this urge to integrate, merge or disintegrate.’  According to Ulrich Wilmes, Bourgeois ‘lays bare painful memories in order to keep them at bay… [the cells are] autonomous territories where Bourgeois was able to realize her own visual and narrative scenarios.’  The installations are multi-faceted, complex and radical, at every turn utterly absorbing. There are dozens of artworks in this astonishing and brave series. What an amazing achievement by this tiny, marvellous artist over the last twenty years of her prolific life.

I treated myself to a book, full of beautiful photographs and essays. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced art in that way before. And I don’t expect to again in my lifetime.


Louise Bourgeois – Structures of Existence: The Cells, ed. Julienne Lorz (Prestel, 2015)

More progress: Assignment 5

It’s lucky I’ve got a couple of weeks off work at the moment – I’m finding the exploratory exercises for Assignment 5 completely gripping.

I’ve added lots of pages to my sketchbook. One thing I’ve found is that I can’t approach this part in a linear way; I’m dabbling in and out of each project and exercise as I go, as the ideas take me, from drawings to the colour palette, from woven samples of yarn concepts to paper and embroidered collage. It seems to be working…

The stone shrines along the roadside and at village entrances are many and varied. I was delighted to find that both Gauguin and Schiele have responded to these fascinating phenomena, the former with a woodcut print, the latter a painting:

Although I suspect the Schiele is also of Brittany (it doesn’t look like the south) the shrine is exactly as the ones I’ve photographed exhaustively -perhaps with a little less lichen.

I have fronted my sketchbook with a paper collage. Not finished yet – I might make it mixed media and add some acrylic paint.


And I’ve created a sample board of small collages in response to the stone.

The colour palattes are also coming together:

IMG_3310 IMG_3311 IMG_3312

I’ve been thinking about scale. Time to go bigger.

Feedback: Assignment 4

Feedback on Part 4:

(I’ve added the photos in for reference.)

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

4.1 Yarns Inspired by stitch and marks

You have clearly been inspired by the process of working with simple repeats, and you have effectively translated this idea into a range of yarns with varying thicknesses and textures.  Using organza ribbon has resulted in some very delicate yarns, and your 5cm repeat was lovely and would readily translate into fashion.

Repetitive knotting has resulted in some very tactile yarns, and keeping your colour palette neutral, with selected accent colours has resulted in a coherent collection.  Blogging these exercises was a very good way to illustrate the progression of your ideas, and the presentation has made it easy to navigate your collection.  Well done.

4.2 Colour Placement and Composition

In this collection you have you have competently explored a range of materials, and the yarns incorporating plastic materials are vibrant and imaginative.  Using children’s fabric as a source of inspiration, and fluoro colours has given this collection a very contemporary feel, which is a good contrast to the previous yarn collection.  Sisal has given the latter yarns a much more organic feel, and combining this material with wool has produced some very tactile outcomes, and effective colour contrasts.

 4.3 Re-interpret, re-invent

Here, there is a direct connection between your sampling and your research (Judy Tadman), and I was pleased to hear that you recognise the potential that these processes have to be utilised on a much larger scale.  Your willingness to experiment and to keep an open mind is a real strength Sheena, and I think that these particular ideas and processes have the potential to be explored further in a later assignment.

the chair and the shawl- crochet
the chair and the shawl- crochet

4.4. Deconstruction colour as yarn

Your choice of materials was good and clearly reflected your colour palette, and some of the qualities of your source material. This was a very subtle and sensitive colour palette, and your process led approach is clearly evidence, as well as your love of knotting.  You clearly enjoy working with constructed textile techniques, and process and repetition is a common theme that runs throughout your work. This was an effective use of contrasting materials to create a new thread, and restricting yourself to a simple colour palate was very effective as the focus is clearly on the texture of the yarn.

 4.5 Collage inspired yarn

Your use of vintage lace and scraps of old newsprint was imaginative, and seeing fragments of text has added another level of interest, and narrative, to these yarns.  These vintage, historical inspired yarns were a sensitive mix of stitch, colour and fabric manipulation.

The overall presentation of your work is carefully considered and effective.  Drawing your samples has enabled you to focus clearly on the construction of each yarn, and you have achieved a good range of effects through your use of different drawing media.  The fact that you recognise that both the context, and method of presentation of work, plays an important part in how the work is read by the viewer is excellent, and I am sure that this will help you to think about future textile work in a different way. This is a very thoughtful, carefully executed and focused body of work Sheena, well done.

IMG_3075 (1)  IMG_3071 (1)

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays


I was pleased to see how you are continuing to respond to feedback and that more in-depth, reflective analysis has enabled you to begin to identify some common themes/elements within your work. I was also pleased to hear that your decision to take a more reflective and focused approach to your work has not only been satisfying, but that it has also enabled you to build a coherent collection of yarns. Well done, this is a big step forward and is exactly what should be happening.  The next step is to continue to utilise and develop these skills in Part 5.  It is interesting to see that repetition and process are two elements that have inspired you throughout this assignment, and so I suggest that you consider developing these ideas further in Part 5.  Perhaps have a look at the work of Maxine Bristow and Louise Bourgeois as both of these artists explore these themes in their work, with very different outcomes.

You log/blog continues to do a good job of documenting your creative decision making, and you have identified, and researched a range of relevant contemporary visual artists.  You are  beginning to contextualise your work and to articulate the links between your research and your practical work, and these connections are clearly enabling you to move forward and begin to develop your own personal voice.  Well done.

Pointers for the next assignment

Sheena, continue to take an experimental approach to your work and continue to develop the reflective process e.g. to analyse and discuss the links between your research and your practical work throughout the next assignment, as this process is instrumental in enabling you to continue to develop your own personal voice.  Do feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions. Good luck and enjoy the next assignment.

I’m really pleased with this.

What I’m excited about is that Sandra has been able to identify a direct link between the research I’ve carried out and my own work. This does seem to suggest I might be on the way to developing a personal voice. I am quite experimental: although sometimes the processes I try have some unexpected outcomes, I feel I’m gradually moving forward.

I have had a closer look at Maxine Bristow. her focus on the repetition of designs based on everyday objects is mesmerising and I am certainly seeing that repetition will have a place in my future textile developments. I have like Louise Bourgeois’ work since before I began the course; this weekend we are off for a grown-up visit to Bilbao and I can’t wait to see  Maman close up in all its glory outside the Guggenheim.