Monday, 14 April 2014

New work: Finesse: Bound to the Past

Finesse: Bound to the Past by Gillian Cooper 
This is yet another completely finished new piece – I know -  I’ve been very productive recently after a fallow period. 
Finesse: Bound to the Past by Gillian Cooper (detail)
Although the colours are completely different, the work is still related to the Unsung Muses series.  I’ve used a different goddess shape and repeated it across the background using print and embroidery.  There are waves of stitch passing over the background.  The crosses and circles come from the patterns on some of these ancient figures.
Finesse: Bound to the Past by Gillian Cooper (detail)
You may recognise that the crosses are made from the fabric beads I got a bit obsessed with making in February.  It is good to use them, although the quilt is now rather more delicate than it was before.
The beads used, bought from the African Fabric Shop
I love the circle beads I used.  They came from the African Fabric Shop (always a favourite) and are made from recycled glass.  You can see more of them here in lots of different colourways.  In fact, I’m really tempted to add to my collection again.
I’ve hand stitched circles around the glass beads, which again is a bit of a departure from the work I have been doing over the last few years, but takes me back right to where I started with fabric.  However, with hindsight, I think I did mainly hand stitch then as I was afraid of my sewing machine.  How things move on!
Has your work had any major changes recently?

Finesse: Bound to the Past by Gillian Cooper (detail)
 All of these photos apart from the glass bead ones were taken by Alan McCredie.  The piece measures 25x19in.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Inspiration: Mary Fisher in Popular Patchwork

Some articles take time to be written.  There are a number of reasons why.  For this feature on the artist Mary Fisher, which appears in the current issue of Popular Patchwork, the reasons were fairly straight-forward.  Mary is a talented artist, whom I met at last year’s Festival of Quilts.  She graciously agreed to be interviewed by email.  Her work is fascinating and deals with a very serious subject matter: HIV/Aids and in particular, our treatment of women in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer from this terrible disease.  So it took time for me to craft something that was suitable for an entertaining quilting magazine, read primarily for light relief, whilst treating such a subject with the seriousness it deserves.  Hopefully for Mary and the other women she helps, I have got the balance right and have helped highlight an issue we would generally prefer not to think about. 

For Mary, this isn’t a possibility as she has HIV too.  Prior to meeting her and doing some more research, I had naively believed that with the new drugs on the market, it was pretty much life as normal for HIV sufferers in the West.  You take the medicines and basically it is no more inconvenient than the migraines I suffer from and treat with drugs on a daily basis.  Sadly, that isn’t the case, as whilst the HIV drugs prolong life, like all drugs there are side effects and these can be devastating.  Aids isn’t a crisis that has passed, it is still ongoing and when you discover that in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, half the population are infected and the life expectancy is  lower than the years I’ve already achieved (and I’m young in quilting terms!), it is an outrage that more isn’t being done.

As well as being an artist, Mary has become a major international campaigner on this scandal and devotes much of her time to trying to make people aware and change lives. 
I know this is more serious than things I normally write about on my blog: my art doesn’t affect life and death, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me to the end of this piece and will be inspired to try and do something about HIV locally or internationally.  Ironically for Mary, as a white, upper-middle-class American Republican, she does not find much companionship/ support in the States as she does not meet many women in a similar position.  In her book (well worth a read), she says that the contrast in the support she received when she was diagnosed with breast cancer was telling.  People knew what to do in that situation.  She often finds herself more at home with African women in the same circumstances as her: can I live long enough to see my children through education/college/marriage/parenthood.  We should all be doing more.

PS If all this makes Mary sound over-assiduous and humourless, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  There is a definite sense of fun and joy pervading her work and her life too.  I strongly recommend you visit her website or read one of her fascinating books.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Yet More New Work: Preserved

Preserved by Gillian Cooper
This is another little piece I made recently.  It’s approx 8in square. 
It started out as I don’t like waste (I’m not sure whether I’m trying to be ecologically sound or whether I’m just plain mean...), so as I had some leftover screen printing ink, I used it on some spare fabric rather than scraping it into the bin. 
The figure is stitched using the machine embroidery unit on my Pfaff sewing machine.  I designed it based on a drawing and screen I made last year.  I needed to sample that it was the correct size, etc so used this piece of spare fabric.  I liked it so I added in the bar of the distressed pattern to balance off the design. 

The size is because I’m intending to undertake the Contemporary Quilt Group (CQ) challenge of making an 8in square quilt each month this year.  I have until the end of April to make the first four.  I’m actually finding 8in square rather challenging – it’s almost too small, but I’ll see if I can manage better than last time I did the challenge (I got as far as August!).

Monday, 31 March 2014

Out & About: the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The National Museum of Scotland has been a long time favourite of mine, from before it was even called this and had fish in a huge pond in the atrium (I miss the fish!).  It is rare when I am in Edinburgh that I don’t walk up the hill and over the bridge to spend a little bit of time there and each time I find something different.

This visit, I ended up exploring the early history of Scotland and got rather excited by some of the shapes and patterns of the items on display, particularly the carved stones and pottery. 

Some of the metalwork was incredibly impressive too.

I’m sure I’ve wandered through this part of the museum before, but I had never noticed the Andy Goldsworthy installations in the galleries.  A lovely, helpful guard took me round all of them when he saw I was interested and as they have been there since this part of the museum opened I must have seen them on another visit, but they hadn’t caught my eye before.  Perhaps it was because they just fitted in so perfectly with the early history items on display; they complemented them so well.  It is a fantastic idea juxtaposing the ancient and modern in the same space in a museum.  It makes you reconsider both the old and the new. 

I do like Andy Goldsworthy’s work; his fantastic use of basic materials, often highlighting the fleeting nature of life and its beautiful moments.  I love how these installations don’t fight with the museum artefacts; they don’t shout for attention because they are new, but blend into the gallery, adding to the ambience.  This doesn’t make them unimportant though as they really enhance the viewing experience, which is perhaps what art should be about?

Friday, 28 March 2014

in my studio: wall of opportunity or wall of shame?

Are you a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person?  I would like to be the former, but I think at times, I can see the gloomy side of things too much – perhaps it is my Scottish upbringing and background coming through!  So looking at this photo gives me the perfect opportunity to gauge how I view the world.  It is all my current work in progress, which I put up on my design wall, just to see what there was.   Some of it is very old and will probably never be completed and in fact I had totally forgotten about; others are bits I’ve worked on this week, quite compulsively so.  So is it a wall of opportunity – lots of things to do – or is it a wall of shame – look at everything I’ve left unfinished...!
I actually put it up last week and have left it in place, because it provides a powerful sense of what my work is about in my studio.  I’m enjoying looking at it, seeing the synergy, having new ideas... for even more work to be in progress.  So I think at the moment it is a wall of opportunity.  However, if it hasn’t changed by this time next year, it would definitely be a wall of shame!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Good news and even more completed work

9.29 in the morning by Gillian Cooper

Please don’t collapse, but after last year’s almost complete lack of finished work apart from PomPoms, this year I’m on a bit of a roll and here is yet another!


9.29 in the morning (detail) by Gillian Cooper

I’m really pleased with this piece of work for a number of reasons.  Firstly, because I almost gave up on it, but didn’t.  It felt like it was taking way too long and that it just wasn’t going to work.  This was partly due to the (very) slow production process.  I only have one silk screen and it covers any area roughly 30cm square at a time.  I had to get the pattern onto the screen, wait for it to dry, then print the fabric, wash the screen, wait for it to dry and then set off again.  Oh and fabric generally needed to be printed twice.  The stitching didn’t take too long, but whilst I was doing it, all I could see was the blue fabric: it was a piece that only came together at the very end: after the squares were sewn together and the orange and other wool tops added.  So I almost stopped.  However, with a little gentle encouragement from R (and some childcare too!), I finished it in time to enter it for the SAQA juried exhibition ‘Redirecting the Ordinary’.  Having had a number of rejections the week before I entered, I didn’t hold out much hope – you seem to get into a pattern of them for a while.  I know that rejections are all part of being an artist, but it isn’t always an easy part, especially when you seem to get nothing else...  But guess what?  To my amazement, it was accepted and will be jetting off to America in the summer to go touring with the exhibition.  I’m really chuffed and waited to tell you until I got these lovely photos of it that Alan took last week.

9.29 in the morning (detail) by Gillian Cooper

It’s surprising how much better you feel after an acceptance, especially as the sun is now shining and the daffodils are out!

Friday, 21 March 2014

In my studio: snatches of work

This is all hand-stitched - something I haven't done for a while

Here is a flavour of some of the things I have been working on this week.  In case you have the impression I am some superwoman or a whirling textile dervish, this work hasn’t all happened this week – more stitching had been added or another layer of print to the fabric – not the complete thing.  If only I did have the time or ability to do all of this in one week!
Spot the needle - a definite WIP

In addition to my ‘real’ work, I have been attempting piñata mark II for an important 7th birthday party on Sunday.  It is currently sitting on my studio table, filled, but still newspaper coloured.  It has to be goblin shaped and coloured by Sunday.  Here’s hoping that it will actually split unlike the last one, which was so indestructible, I had to take a Stanley knife to it so it would spill its contents.  Wish me luck...!

Ripple effect through hand stitch


Putting the hand-made beads to use at last

Even more hand-stitching, with beads from the African Fabric Shop

Not hand stitch, but you can probably see the potential for it in the drawing...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

How to: Dyeing in Popular Patchwork

Since I made a print table last year, I have been spending lots more time dyeing and printing.  I’ve always dyed fabric since we were introduced to the delights of it in our first weeks at Goldsmiths.  Over the years I have refined my processes and tried lots of different methods.  So, I thought it was time I shared some of these ideas with the readers of Popular Patchwork. 
You can see the article in the current issue.  I’ve recently started increasing the colour range in an individual piece of fabric – which is fun, but maybe slightly less suitable for most of my work!  One of the ways of doing this follows MarjoryMcKinven’s dyeing in a cup.  However, unlike me, I suggest you don’t use a paper cup... they eventually leak!

I'm now working on the next article on printing.  The writing is not taking long, but I made the decision that the accompanying piece needed to be hand-stitched, which, of course, is taking ages. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

New work: Facing the Past

Facing the Past by Gillian Cooper
The last few weeks have been very productive for me.  Perhaps it is the coming of spring which always makes life seem easier or perhaps it was the successful use of a self-imposed deadline.  Today, Alan McCredie was over photographing some of my work, to go onto my website, which is in the process of being updated.  Alan’s a great photographer – check out his blog for the Scotman newspaper on 100 weeks in Scotland to get a flavour of some of his other work.  This week's photos reflect the 30 year anniversary of the start of the miners' strike.  I can't believe it was 30 years ago - it was a significant event of my teenage years as the strike-breaking lorries hurried in convey past my house carrying coal to the steelworks. 

This is a little piece I finished last week – only 6½ x 4½in, postcard size.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t photographed by Alan today as I had to send it off on Saturday, so don’t hold the photo against him – it is entirely my fault and when I show you some of his photos of my work over the next few weeks you will appreciate the difference!  This work is for the SAQA Spotlight Silent Auction at the SAQA Conference at the start of May.  I particularly wanted to make a piece as I am going to the Conference.  I’m hugely excited (and a bit nervous) at going to the States for 12 days.  It is a big trip and I really need to get on with planning the details.  I’m going to the big quilt show at Paducah, having a couple of days in New York, then going down to Washington for the Conference.  If anyone has any tips/ideas for things to do in New York/Washington, please let me know.  It is years since I visited.

Anyway.  Back to this piece.  I found it quite challenging to create such a small piece, especially one with straight edges.  I made another couple of pieces, but liked the shape made by their raw edges, that they have been kept for other things!  Over the top, I used an embroidery pattern I created a while ago from the remains of one of my ancient figure patterns and, of course, I’ve stencilled a figure on top.  I’m pleased with the results, so much so I might try small again.

Friday, 7 March 2014

My art influences

I’ve recently discovered the wonder of online courses and when I saw an art history course aimed at artists,  'Live!' I knew it was time to sign up.  It’s currently in Week 2, so it’s not too late to sign up (and it’s free).  It’s run by CalArts on the Coursera website and there are lots of other courses available.  It is amazing to see people from all over the world participating in one course at one time and from such a large variety of backgrounds.  This week’s assignment was to come up with the ten biggest influences on our art life, from the start. 

My influences
Here is my resulting collage (can you spot the problem with it?).  I’ve used fairly broad categories: I love books and would literally read the telephone directory if there was nothing else around as a child, so I couldn’t home in on just one book: there are so many that have influenced  me. 

So if you were undertaking this exercise, who would your biggest influences be?  Can you be more specific than me?  Do we overlap in any way?  Reviewing it, I think my biggest omission is all the teachers that have taught me and all the students I have taught as they really have inspired me more than anyone else... maybe I need to redo the exercise.
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