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The Responsive Stitch 2018 – Review By Jill Flower
Thank you for inviting me to your exhibition ‘The Responsive Stitch’.
Denbies is a modern barn style building set amongst the grape vines that roll down this section of the North Downs. It is on the outskirts of Dorking, on the A24, and a very popular venue with locals and visitors as it naturally, offers wine tours, a local craft beer shop, Café, restaurant, a farm shop, a small art gallery and holds many events such as lectures, fairs, conferences and weddings. Whilst it is a very busy location it, nevertheless, has ample parking and has suitable disabled access with lifts and ramps.
The exhibiting space is an open first floor mezzanine galleried area looking down to the main entrance and reception accessible either by staircase or lift. Two fixed picture rails run parallel around the square area, which, from experience, is not the easiest space to hang, especially for textiles.
Nevertheless, the Wey Valley hanging team produced a pleasing arrangement choosing a flow of colour co-ordination around the room with plenty of space between the sections.
The ladies on the Wey Valley reception were charming, welcoming visitors and happy to assist. They were very informative and cheerful despite the heat of the summer and the busy conference events down below on the ground floor.
Not surprisingly for a large group, the work was diverse and had varied styles. A complete assortment of media had been used with the use of canvas, bark, plastic, photographs, printed papers, but not forgetting, of course, fabric and thread!
There were 32 artists exhibiting at Denbies making a mention of all by name would be impossible, but particular highlights for me included the contemporary work from Ruth Collins “Deforestation” and Mollie Fiddler “Consequences” which were lively and gave a real sense of experimental freedom. Cathy Griffiths “Unsettled Threads 1,2&3” were subtle, harmonious and professionally mounted and displayed.
I enjoyed the work of Elaine Izod “Night Harbour1&2”. They had a definite moody quality using rich deep colours and there was a sense of depth and thought behind the pieces.
Nina O’Connor “Stitched Impressions” and “A Rusty Response” was a delight showing off a ‘rusty’ looking technique.
“Traces” by Sue Wood was a clever use of natural materials standing up well with a pleasing slender shape.
Sadly, due to the nature of the room with low tables butted up along the railings over looking the foyer and insufficient lighting, the 3D work could not be fully appreciated. If only there had been some white plinths and target lighting, the work would have shone!
In some cases, the work was fabulously detailed having had many hours of stitching but they were let down by the final presentation. Care and attention to the final mounting and framing is such an integral part of the work as a whole and it is so important to take the time on this aspect of show pieces.
It had been explained to me that from a couple of group workshops the title “The Responsive Stitch” became the theme. There was a collection of inspirational sketchbooks, full of exciting ideas and samples but as I travelled around the room, I felt that some of the artists had lost the original momentum and, perhaps, returned to the safety of their own known ways of working. Also, perhaps, a little more explanation on the labels for the viewer to read would help to understand the work, and for the artists to justify and interpret their pieces relating it to the title of the project.
Having said all this, I am sure the general public would be surprised and pleased to view the full range of embroidery techniques and expressions on show, some traditional, some with a modern twist others minimalist and contemporary and with the use of unusual mediums.
Review of Threads of Meaning Guildford House Gallery, May 2016 by Amarjeet Nandhra
The exhibition entitled Threads of Meaning, displayed a diverse range of work from some members of the Wey Valley Group. The work was hung in several rooms and demonstrated a range of materials, styles and techniques associated with textiles.
Guildford House Gallery is a fascinating 17th century Grade 1 listed town house and retains many of its original features. the gallery was easy to find and once inside you were quickly directed to the exhibition. The first room that visitors enter housed the Comfort Zone Challenge. This was a great way to introduce you to the exhibition. What was also of tremendous help was the informative and enthusiastic briefing with the steward on duty. This was great to see, as so often you visit exhibitions and the stewards are reluctant to engage.
This room was full of exciting little treasures, with fun 3D experiments, energetic drawings in both colour and black and white that filled the wall space. The pieces by Anthea Vaal textile Conversation and Dialogue showed a direct link between drawings and textiles, making them particularly strong pieces.
Ruth Collins’ sketchbook showed the translation from paper collage to textiles. The wonderful use of colour and pattern was translated into stitch using great sensitivity, keeping the interpretation fresh.Many of the little experiments were not named, but demonstrated individuals working outside of their personal comfort zones. It was exciting to see the use of different materials and how individuals responded to 3D form in a stimulating and fun way.The next level displayed the more resolved pieces. Some of these pieces played safe and seemed to lose the spontaneity seen in the smaller work. The initial feeling was that the gallery was rather dark and the wood panelling was not always a flattering backdrop for some of the work, Although others seemed to nestle well within the environment, such as Susan Wood’s lovely indigo piece Tangled Web and Chrissy White’s charming Old and New fabric collage. Having said that, the work was hung well and attention to detail observed.
The endearing amulet dolls by Anne Wilson were delightful, each with their own sweet personality. A strong concept that has great possibilities, although I did wonder if there was a need for the text on the background? Additionally, the wonderful dolls by Mavis Walker were a witty and playful social commentary on human nature.
Mary Gray’s The Path We Trod was a piece that drew you closer to inspect the narrative of the panels. The sheer panels alluding to the layered and multiple journeys made. Would this work have benefitted from a change of scale of some of the figures? Another artist who adopted a narrative approach was Jane McKeown in her piece A Four Mile Walk. The use of flattened perspective worked well along with wonderful illustrative stitching, made this a successful piece.
Juliet Ayers’ wonderful little pieces Recycling Plant I and II, a nod to tradition, but with a contemporary twist, were very exciting. The gorgeous glow of the paper weaving collage Information Breakdown by Wendy Charles felt a little unresolved, but showed a beautiful use of colour. Cathy Griffiths’ Revenant I and II were delicate and revealed subtle shifts in colour, simple and very effective, although these pieces did seem trapped under the glass frame.
Some of the work felt a little restrained, as if they were sample pieces that could have been taken much further. It was refreshing to see the larger works by Jo Bostock and Amanda Schenk, with both pieces commanding attention. With Amanda’s hanging using expressive marks making in a strong and powerful way.
It was evident to see that the work on display showed great skill and technical proficiency. I am however left wondering if the same experimentation and pushing of the boundaries seen in the Comfort Zone Challenge had been adopted whilst working the resolved pieces, would this have resulted in the work being more experimental.
Review of “Structure, Surface, Stitch”, Bracknell Gallery, May 2014 by Sandra Hurll
I feel privileged and flattered to be asked to write a critique of your current exhibition.
I must preface what I have written by saying that these are my thoughts and opinions, they may be right, may be wrong! Having taught for many years, especially C&G I have often had to refine student’s ideas and encourage them to look critically at their own work. I know personally only too well, that what looks fine at home will take on another persona when placed in a new setting let alone a large white gallery.
I have chosen to write critically in the hope that it may be of use.
A colleague, Ande Treharne, who teaches in this area, has often spoken of the South Hill Park Centre and the exhibiting space, so I was very pleased to finally discover what and where it is.
I was accompanied by Joan Matthews, a past member of Wey Valley, and we both found much to look at, discuss and debate, the right ingredients for a good exhibition.
The centre is large, with a maze of rooms and corridors and it took us several minutes to find the gallery. Some time back I remember visiting Farnham The Maltings, where the exhibitors created an imaginative trail to direct visitors, but perhaps that was not South Hill Park’s ‘ house’ style.
The gallery presented a large white space, almost two rooms with a hidden area adding that element of surprise of what was round the corner.
The work was well spaced and not overcrowded, with 3D work displayed on plinths, in show cases or suspended from the lighting gantry. The work was clearly labelled.
The styles varied from abstract to stylised to figurative to almost conceptual which reflects the membership of the group. The simpler refined design ideas were often the most successful.
Part of the making and exhibiting process requires the question to be asked, ‘what am I trying to say with this piece?’ Is it beautiful to look at, does it have humour and fun, is it evocative of a scene or experience, is it challenging & provocative, inviting discussion and debate. All of these ingredients make for an interesting and enjoyable exhibition.
I noticed that one or two of the lights were not working and felt that this did not show those exhibits to their best advantage. Gallery maintenance is not always easy to negotiate.
The framing and presentation of the work was on the whole appropriate, in a very few cases the pieces were not displayed to their best advantage.
The Group Panel ‘The Continuous Line’ was a very good introduction to the exhibition enabling the viewer to connect the names with the work of the participants, whetting the appetite for identification later.
Well done to Ruth, Lesley, & Denise not an easy job to piece the squares together!
The clever and sensitive use of sheer fabrics was exemplified by Margaret Cartland Glover ‘Distant Birches’ and Ruth Collins ‘A Distillation of Thoughts’. I wondered whether Susan Fletcher ‘Hebridean Inspiration’ could have used less net and sheer fabric and allowed some of the painted surfaces to contrast.
The use of a sheer but edged ‘ribbon’, limited the change of scale for Lesley Barnet, I thought that the piece could have benefited from a variety of scale of sheer fabric strips to contain the delicate and rich fillings
I longed to see the beautiful sheer garments of Anthea Vaal, suspended away from the wall or even from the gantry. Consuelo Simpson ‘Walking’ provided an elaborate and successful system for her hanging, separating the layers.
I liked Ruth Collins screen printed lengths, they provided a contrast in scale and detail but felt that they were under priced.
The felt geometric compositions of Dorle Dawson were both simple and colourful, and the felt Study of Liquid Amber
Leaves by Alvys Sparkes captured the colours but I would like to have seen some contrast in texture with the use of alternative fabrics used with the felt.
The more provocative pieces, for example Marion Glover’s ‘Ouch’, Angela Scolding’s felted scarf ‘Come to the Point’ and Jo Bostock’s ‘But I Don’t Do Pink’ provided the opportunity for much discussion. Cathy Griffiths ‘Seastrands’ showed an evocative use of colour and texture and were sensitively framed’. Anne Wilson ‘Fictional Birds’ effectively boxed and presented with engaging words and characterful illustrations were wonderful, I look forward to the next chapter as the characters evolve into a story book;
Jenny Parker ‘Barcelona I & II’ presented very controlled and managed Gaudi inspired pieces, Anne Middleton ‘Winter Orchard’ showed a very sensitive printed/painted background with simple machine embroidered trees.
The brave, dark and intense composition of Hilary Williams two pieces beautifully framed in recessed box frames allowed the depth of the layers to shimmer.
Joan Bingley ‘Bird Footprints’ was an interesting idea with simple execution but why was the wooden batten not blue?
Juliet Ayer’s 3D ‘Junior Gargoyle’ and Charlotte Darawalla’s ‘Ticking Clock’ were both witty and fun and beautifully made. Does the clock work?
Consuelo Simpson ‘Hidden History’ and ‘Brambles & Briars’ showed interesting structures. Alex Duncan showed uncompromising 3D pieces inspired by fish traps used on the Mekong Delta. I wondered whether the shapes could be more sinuous and curvaceous, or old and battered with use.(artistic licence) Heather Coley’s felted form contained interesting details as did Sue Wood’s Old News basket and string formed pot.
The knitted standard lamp including the cable and plug by Helen Deighan was so well executed that one wonders whether this could set a new trend in up-cycling. Such fun.
Mavis Walker ‘Explorations I & II’ & ‘Resolution I’ demonstrated good ideas for her themed panels with interesting, shaped & manipulated pieces, but I longed to tip the images on their sides and mix them together to form a montage with the lettering linking the images. (I get such itchy fingers in this situation)
Similarly I wanted to group some of the flower heads in ‘Floral Arrangement’ Brenda Fox.
Ruth Collins ‘Painted Boxes’ was very gentle almost magical but I wonder whether the images should be made of something slightly more substantial. ‘The Written Bird’ by Juliet Ayer, I thought was a wonderful idea and execution but I think it would benefit greatly from a more interesting background and presentation.
I congratulate all who contributed to the exhibition, to those who staged and presented it, and hope that you will all continue to use your creativity is every possible way.
The pieces I have written about are those that took my eye on the day, and I do not wish to infer any criticism positive or negative by omission, but have written my opinions for your interest and discussion.
Review of “Collections – Connections”, Haslemere Museum, May 2012 by Susan Chapman
When I arrived at the museum the work in the reception area was a good indicator of what I would find in the main gallery. I think it could possibly have been missed by visitors and it was not until I spoke to the stewards that I fully realised that it was a specific challenge to the group which was separate from the rest of the work, a good idea that was picked up by a large number of the membership.
The initial impression when I walked into the main gallery was that there was a huge amount of work. The space was bright with both natural and electric light, and with the exception of a couple of pieces in the centre stands, all work could be seen well. It was good to see that this was a real group exhibition with most of the membership taking part, bravo to the organisers for catching the group’s imagination.
Most of the hanging boards were about six feet high and in the main the work was hung well, with the centre of the boards being aligned with the centre of the work, which was about eye level so the overall view was excellent. Having said this I think the labelling was an issue. I appreciate that with so much work it was difficult to be consistent but at times it was definitely confusing and too obtrusive. If there was no room to label consistently and unobtrusively, then had the team thought of a simple number system with three or four laminated lists for the viewer to take round with them? That way where one persons work was split over several locations the numbers could have been grouped in the list under the artists’ name. I think this is a terribly difficult subject and highly subjective, but I imagine that pieces were moved during the hanging of such a complex exhibition, which put the labelling out (do get someone to check spelling as well) .
I enjoyed the storytelling in several pieces of work, notably Anne Wilson’s Flugeworthy Chronicles and the work of Juliet Ayer. Several artists have had some fun with their work, Mavis Walker with her sisters’ portraits, and Vera Gilbert’s boats were a delight, and what a wonderful way to present a collection of buttons by Peta Pollard. There was some exquisite stitch on display with Jule Mallet’s excellent samples and Cathy Griffiths delightful embroideries, the subtlety of stitch displayed in Margaret Cartland Glover’s Winter Meadows pieces was fabulous. I feel I must mention the conceptual artistry of Consuelo Simpson as well, her work is simple and stylish and beautifully presented.
A final general note to the whole group is to take pride in your work, very few of you signed your work, I am sure you look for the signature on paintings? Please also watch your framing, you have spent hours on your wonderful stitch please do spend money on the framing, and if it is supposed to be a triptych then please do frame them in a similar way. Give space around the work with a mount and use a double mount or float in a box frame to prevent the glass touching the work.
Your exhibition is a great advert for the Wey Valley workshop, the whole group is obviously engaged and the committee is certainly to be commended for organising such a successful event. I look forward to visiting the next one.