· What inspired you to begin the Life Series and focus on the struggles and situations of women?
That’s both easy and difficult to answer!
Physically, the Life Series grew from an amalgam between the skills I already possessed as a quilter, and the new ones I was gaining as a painter. For a long time both skills remained separate and I didn’t bring the two together for some time. I always strive to be original and that’s quite often the driving force behind my technical experiments. I began with making fabric collage bases for my paintings and then moved on to more complex constructions. The drawing of a life figure (taken from a class) onto cloth was simply another of these experiments and resulted in Life 1.
Any quilter will tell you that the layers of a quilt (backing, wadding, and top decorative cloth) need to be held together to stop movement, and I was at a loss at how to stitch the area of the body I’d painted without it showing too much and detracting from the painting. I hit on the idea of text after overhearing conversations between the model and the other artists in the same room, about her life. She was happy about her shape, and age, and didn’t care what people thought of her. She was keen to show herself to give other women courage about themselves. A lot of women have image issues for many reasons, and her thoughts were refreshing. I chose the poem as it was a favourite and fitted the character of the model.
The idea grew, and became an opportunity to express all sorts of ideas and experiences. So far I’ve made 9 quilts, and there are many more quilts to come!
· Are you limiting this series to 12 or do you think may add to it over time as you encounter more women's issues that need to be represented?
It doesn’t quite work like that! I originally said there may be 12, but of course the whole thing has just become an expression of myself and I doubt I will ever stop. It’s part of me and I’m enjoying the process. The idea of doing 12 was because I had an idea of making a calendar. The quilts are expensive to buy and although they do sell, the calendar was simply a marketing idea! There are so many issues to talk about, think about, illustrate, depict, feature, discuss, that I’m not sure you could ever limit them. I certainly have 20 planned and have fresh ideas all the time. I didn’t set out to do a series of quilts about womens issues, they are just me talking about things that concern me….I’m not sure for example that Life 9 – Fighting Back is a female issue – depression affects men just as much.
· Is it difficult to find someone to sit for your sketches? And is each woman the one whose experiences you are representing in that particular piece of art?
No, I use professional life models who are paid to sit, and who are used to doing so. They have breaks and are kept warm etc. It’s a job! The stories on the bodies are mostly fictitious – they are stories - but based on things that concern me and the results of thinking about, and talking to people. For some of the action poses, and for poses involving a pieced quilt around the model, then I have to use a photograph as well. No one can hold an action pose for more than a few moments, and I’m a slow worker. You cannot “make up” a pieced quilt with its folds and perspective, it has to be made using a photograph as templates.
· Quilting, as you've stated, has always been an 'acceptable' art form for women. You have stepped out and expanded it with a new purpose and audience. What challenges have you faced in doing this?
Preconceived ideas both within the quilting world and in the art world about quilts and quilters are hard to get rid of. There is a rich and strong heritage regarding quilts and “womens work” and although I’d like to add to that in my own way, and be part of it, it’s not my driving force. I’d very much like what I do to be seen as art, never mind the medium I use. Art galleries in the UK still regard quilts as craft, and the quilt world is still obsessed about process; by that I mean, that it is possible to make money as a professional quilter, if you teach technique, or if you enter quilt competitions. Both of these options rely heavily of the processes involved in construction and it sometimes gets in the way of other considerations. The emotional response of the viewer, and sometimes even the image, are of lesser importance. Breaking free of these traditions is hard and sometimes lonely.
· Looking at the quilts on line and never having had the opportunity to view one live, it appears that some elements are appliqued and pieced while others are painted. Am I correct in this assessment?
Yes, sadly you can only get a rough idea of the quilt from the photos on line. The quilts are large and I haven’t employed a professional photographer, so much of the detail is lost. People tell me they are surprised when they see them in real life as they have a presence given by size! There are many techniques involved and each quilt is different. They all have applique sometimes as small as the apps on a mobile phone or links in a chain, and some have quilts in them which are painstakingly pieced together, before appliqueing into place, and painted to give perspective and depth.
· Can you give me any insight as to the process of the lettering on the bodies? Are they free motioned? Do you write the message on the body before stitching?
· All the text is blistered and ingrained into the skin by free machining, before being painted over with acrylics. I usually use a pencil to give an outline of the text, following the curvature of the muscles etc. The person and the story become one. The body is then painted. The text becomes intentionally difficult to read, but not impossible. I do not want the image to exist only to illustrate the text, but to be a subtle extra layer; one you have to look for. I am whispering my stories to you and not shouting.
· What major awards have you earned? Does one have any special meaning to you? If so, why?
· I have never won a quilting award or prize. I have won several awards from various art galleries all of which amaze me and thrill me.
· I will continue to try and exhibit in major public art galleries, and have joined forces with Laura Kemshall who is a well known and respected quilter, and who jointly curates Through Our Hands (www.throughourhands.co.uk) in order to try and achieve this. We have a website with 16 art quilters on it and our aim is simply to promote art quilting where we can, and to give exhibiting opportunities to artists. It's a not for profit organization.