It’s a very gray day here this morning, but the studio is bright and (although still messy) cheery! I was telling (or confessing to) Thom this morning that I have a disease…I tend to cover any open surface around me with paper and stuff! I can’t help it. If I had 10 tables in my studio (not that I can fit that many), I’d manage to cover them all! Anyone who knew my desk at the Museum could attest to this disease! Not sure where it stems from…maybe I need to “see” everything around me to keep it in mind. Even my computer desktop looks like a busy (err…messy desk!).
But enough about me…today’s “why people draw” post is all about British artist Rosie James. You’ve heard me mention, a time or two on this Blog, that I’ve been curious about learning to use a sewing machine. Well, Rosie’s stunning work, uses the sewing machine in a way I had never guessed possible. It is her pencil, her pen…it IS her drawing tool! Forget about what is possible with a pencil. It’s amazing to see the amount of detail, body gesture and facial expression that Rosie is able to achieve with thread and a sewing machine! There’s a freshness and energy in her line that perhaps owes its qualities to her collaboration with the machine. Beautiful work!
I learned of Rosie’s work through a great list-serve I subscribed to a couple of months back called the Drawing Research Network. A post about an exhibition from The Centre for Recent Drawing (a.k.a C4RD), led me to the C4RD site, where I saw her work, and was mesmerized by it! Thanks to the magic of online links and email, I found a way to get in touch with Rosie, and she kindly agreed to do the interview. Thank you Rosie for accepting the invitation to be a part of this series!
ROSIE JAMES (tah-dah!)
Here she is (drum, drum, drum) artist Rosie James in her own words and stitched marks! Enjoy and be inspired by another dimension of drawing that has left me trying to figure out…how does she manage to do that?
HW: What’s your earliest memory of drawing (or of being able to draw)?
RJ: I still have some preschool drawing books from when I was about 4 or 5. There’s a great drawing in it of people on a bus. All in brightly coloured wax crayon, with faces filling the windows. Wish I could draw like that now!
HW: What does being able to draw mean to you?
RJ: I think everyone is able to draw. It’s about looking. Drawing is an ability to look, which gets better the more you do it. I’m lucky to have the desire and the time and space to do it.
HW: When and how did you discover your preference for drawing with a sewing machine and with needle and thread, as opposed to a pencil?
RJ: I studied printed textiles at college and didn’t really like sewing much. I created handprinted fabrics and made them up into things which didn’t require much sewing, such as scarves and cushions.
Then I was asked to teach design for an Embroidery course and thought I’d better have a go, and became hooked.
HW: How did your interest in depicting crowds and the individuals within crowds develop?
RJ: It starts with photography. I like capturing a moment in time with the camera. And with people they are moving about all the time. The camera can stop them for you whilst you draw them, you have time to look at all the details and contemplate how interesting they are. There is so much to explore there.
In my latest work the figures are all life size and hang from the ceiling as a group but with space around them. The viewer can walk around and become part of this see through crowd. It’s interesting how the stitched line becomes a drawing in space.
HW: In addition to the stitched line, many of your works incorporate fabric appliqués, screen printing and digital printing. At what point did these elements become part of your process and of your work?
RJ: I wanted to bring in some colour. The line itself I think works best in black so I added colour through screen printing (I have always loved printing!), plus I have a huge collection of brightly coloured patterned vintage fabrics which I have finally found a use for! This way I can create a variety of marks, colours and images.
HW: In your stitched drawings, you purposefully leave dangling threads throughout. What are the reasons behind that choice?
RJ: The first piece I made I just left them intending to cut them off but then I decided that actually the dangling threads give the work a kind of life. The dangling threads give it the scribblyness you can get when drawing with a pencil. I leave all “mistakes” in, like when the threads get caught up in the machine creating a lumpy knot. I think this is like a kind of inkblot. They are all just different kinds of marks, really.
HW: If you could write a recipe for your drawings/artwork, what would the ingredient list be (read like)?
1 cup of black thread all tangled up and squashed into the cup.
1 piece of white cotton cut into a pan shape
Photographs of crowds of people
Pencils (finely chopped)
Toss the black thread in the air and let fall onto the white fabric. Sling in the photos whole and add the chopped up pencils, mix together. Boil until images have disappeared and only black scribbly lines remain. Put it on a warm plate and admire!
HW: What gets your Hamster Wheel running? (what gets you itching to draw or create?)
RJ: Once you’ve got an idea, the hamster wheel starts running and you can’t get off till you’ve realised it. You are driven to see what this idea is going to come out like. It has to be something you haven’t done before, something slightly different from your last work something that you’re not sure how its going to come out, to get you going.
HW: I know I told you maximum 8 questions, but I have one more question. I was just curious, if as an artist who uses a technique traditionally considered a “craft” you’ve had to deal with the issue of “craft vs art”; and, if so, what has that experience been like?
RJ: Yes, the craft/art thing is always there somewhere. My work has a foot in both camps. I don’t think about it really but I just try to exhibit and sell wherever I can so if it’s a gallery selling “fine” art or gallery selling craft, it seems to be at home in either. Which opens up more spaces for me. However, people are willing to spend more on art than they are on craft, and a lot of art galleries are a bit snooty about textiles. Although this is gradually changing and more art involves craft techniques. So I think it’s all becoming much more complicated and intermingled than simply art vs craft.
Thank you again Rosie! I really appreciate your attitude towards drawing–in that you (as I do) believe that everyone can draw, and for the way you allow “scribbles” and “inkblots” to be part of the final work!
Rosie on Twitter Axis: the online resource for contemporary art mr. x stitch contemporary embroidery and needlecraft: The Cutting (& Stitching) Edge–Rosie James (April 29, 2010) Salford City Council: Rosie James Ordsall Hall textile commission Salford City Council: Stitch draw Phoenix Gallery in Brighton Departmentart.co.uk Birmingham Post: Textile art goes on display at the Waterhall (April 1, 2008) Evrah
Push Stitchery: 30 Artists Explore the Boundaries of Stitched Art, by Lark Books & Jamie Chalmers (curator)
Push Stitchery, edited by Jamie Chalmers on the Textile Arts Center Blog
Drawn to Stitch: Line, Drawing and Mark-Making in Textile Art by Gwen Hedley
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