Last year I created a series of woven pieces worked in raffia and paper weft on a paper warp. I loved the texture of these pieces and now framed (and two sold) they still delight me. The little essay that follows extends my response to the recent work of artist Alice Fox whose graduating collection at Bradford College and New Designers I wrote about last month. Alice has subsequently been selected to exhibit in the graduate showcase at next month’s Festival of Quilts 2011 at the NEC, Birmingham between 11-14 August.
For the artist the medium of paper remains the most immediate of surfaces. It is usually a ready-made in a range of standard dimensions, textural qualities and weights, though can be ‘made’ from vegetable sources and customized in size. As a surface upon which to construct an image flowing from the hand, its possibilities are bewilderingly various. Paper always responds; it meets the artist’s gesture, touch, pressure, imprint; it is not inert but active; it has a living quality about it.
Beyond its function as a surface for receiving made marks, paper can be a sculptural material. It can be folded, bent, pierced, embossed, interlaced – for an idea of what a specialist paper artist can do with paper alone look no further than Richard Sweeney or Andy Singleton. In the miraculous engineering of origami, paper becomes the medium for visual representations of advanced spatial mathematics. There are powerful associations with marriage and funeral traditions in Oriental cultures. In Europe from Renaissance times folded paper forms have been associated with the presentation of gifts and personal tokens of affection.
Viewing two of nine pieces, grouped together as Impressions of Stitch, constructed with paper and the action of stitch, these considerations described above play in the imagination. A 25cm square custom-cut surface of thick watercolour paper provides the responsive tactile area for a fashioning of forms.
These paper-constructed images gather to themselves interventions of stitch. Thick paper yarn has been threaded to produce lines of hooped forms standing at their highest point about a centimetre away from the paper surface, as though reinforcing or emphasizing the embossed pattern they follow. In one, embossed marks possibly made from stitched patterns pressed into the paper provide a play of frond-like forms on the paper surface. Two of these fronds are raised with applied stitch to make, seemingly, a pair of snakes whose shadows provide a play of additional marks that shift and reform as the viewer moves and passes the eye across the stitched area. In the other, the same hooped stitch is contained in straight horizontal lines like a hieroglyphic text from an unknown culture. Hole marks complete the form where stitched characters might have been or may yet be sewn – a template or guide for the writing of stitch.
These pieces are quiet forms: to use Barbara Hepworth’s designation of a series of her stone shapes in white marble. Framed and hung (and from a distance), the viewer barely perceives these images beyond an empty creamy white square. One has to move close enough to enable a condition of reading: lines on a page; a message, perhaps, a declaration to be read. The eyes move left to right, following the lines as in a text. It is difficult to consider either images as complete forms. In such an aspect their qualities are sublimated into a general whiteness and shadowing. Very close, at a distance at which one might read a book-size text in 14 point, the texture of the paper medium and its stitched intervention are revealed. In some respects, as images framed and beyond the intimacy of a domestic setting, close-up photography may be the best medium to reveal this artist’s message – as interpretative images on her website suggest.
Stitch is so often infused culturally with the intimacy of the female hand, the quiet and reflective space in the bedroom, the chair beside the fire, the cleared corner of a cluttered table in the kitchen. These quiet forms in paper are redolent with such intimacy. They sing gently the music of silent reflection on the tenderness of loving, holding, being held, the press and mark of fingers on the body, paper so like skin, strokable, responsive, a living surface to fashion abstractions of memories and dreams.