Saturday, November 18, 2017

Interpreting Themes in Textile Art[1]
Book Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Els van Baarle and Cherilyn Martin have written an excellent book on textile and fibre art entitled: "Interpreting Themes in Textile Art" [1]. Els and Cherilyn are friends who I have known for many years.

Els is a textile artist specialising in contemporary batik, surface design and mixed media. You can view more of her work at -

"Duet", Els van Baarle.
Batik on Cotton.
Courtesy of reference[1].

On the other hand, Cherilyn specialises in mixed media, experimental quilting and embroidery. You can view more of her work at -

"Memory Cloth #5", Cherilyn Martin.
Rusting, Machine Stitching and Screen Printing.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Prior to the book being published by Batsford[1], I was honoured to be asked to provide a "Foreword" for the book. The "Foreword" below is a teaser as it only gives you a glimpse of what the book contains. You need to purchase the book in order that you can immerse yourself in their artwork and moreover, take advantage of their knowledge that they are gifting to you, dear reader, so to teach you techniques that will transform the art in your mind onto a textile and so make your fiber art more meaningful.

Marie-Therese's Foreword to "Interpreting Themes in Textile Art"
Authors: Els van Baarle and Cherilyn Martin

The fibre art of Els van Baarle (NL) and Cherilyn Martin (UK/NL) spans more than two and a half decades and it represents a love affair with colour, images and textures on cloth, paper and other mixed media. Both have their own signature styles, but when they co-exhibit, there is a natural synergy between their works that is evident - each individual fibre artwork visions on a theme that energizes the other.

I had known of Els and Cherilyn’s art practice for many years. In 2009 I met Els when she was a participating artist in the exhibition that I curated, ‘ArtCloth: Engaging New Visions’, which toured Australia until 2011 and included her work 'Nothing is the Same I & II'. In September of 2011 I was delighted to meet both Els and Cherilyn who, along with myself, were workshop tutors at a five day textile/fibre conference, ‘Cloth Arts@Hunters Hill, Sydney’, which was organized by Glenys Mann of Fibre Arts Australia. Our paths crossed once again in October 2014 when I opened the exhibition, ‘Memory Cloth. Rememberings in Textile’ by four internationally renowned textile artists - Els van Baarle, Cherilyn Martin, Cas Holmes and Glenys Mann at the Museum de Kantfabriek in Horst, The Netherlands.

Els and Cherilyn have exhibited and given workshops in Europe, North America and Australasia and so they are well known across a myriad of artistic landscapes. Art making as well as informing and teaching the current and next generation of artistic practitioners ensures that the techniques they have mastered and the concepts that they have explored will linger beyond their own generation.

Art can be created out of ignorance and by chance, but this book aims far higher. It aims to link your life experiences, your knowledge, your exploration of language, myths, cultures, symbols and motifs to your ability using fibre, and by fibre, I am using the broadest definition possible - from cloth to paper to thread. Of course in the process, colour and texture are an integral part of the development of a concept.

You need to be aware of all the rules and so the Chapter One gives you a comprehensive compositional and optical road map, not to inhibit your creative processes but rather to make you conscious of which one(s) you choose to break. To get the effect you have to know the cause!

"Trees" (detail), Els van Baarle.
Wool, silk, wax dye and print.
The artwork was developed by using a "mind map".
Courtesy of reference[1].

Imagery on fibre can be made incredibly smooth and flat as were the painted and printed images created by Pop Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein - ‘Drowning Girl’ (1963). On the other hand, fibre art can have texture, which gives it an extra dimensionality. Chapter Two is inspired by inscriptions and gravestone imagery and explores this dimensionality from the rubbing process, to embroidery, to the use of crayons and transfer paints.

"Graven Images", Cherilyn Martin.
"This ArtCloth was made in response to details on the headstone of a family grave."
Courtesy of reference[1].

The fascination with images, typography and the texture that exposed walls offer has been with us since the dawn of time, from the huntsman’s marks made on cave walls, to drawings and obscenities carved on clay found in the excavations of Pompeii, to modern day graffiti and the urban, architectural landscapes that surround us. Both artists give valuable insights into their own personal interpretations and working methodologies, which incorporate these themes in Chapter Three.

"Nothing is the Same 1 & II", Els van Baarle.
Batik on Cotton.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Chapter Three’s fascination is continued with the walls of Pompeii in Chapter Four, where it is placed in a historical and cultural setting. Although the voices of the dead can no longer be heard, their endeavours - such as their architecture, the way they lived, how they decorated, their cultural mores - enables a themed artistic exploration in today’s world using techniques and ideas in fibre art.

"Parete #6" (detail), Cherilyn Martin.
Made from batik cotton baptist (cambric).
Inspired by the ruins of Pompeii.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Life experiences play an important part in pursuing artistic endeavours. Can you project artistically ‘grief’ because of a loss, or wondrous excitement because of a birth. Memory plays a part in interpreting these emotional responses as we all accumulate personalized, unique imagery, experiences and sensations during our life times. Preserving memory when it comes to artistic translation can be difficult. Chapter Five gives two in-depth perspectives on how our sensory track can be mastered to create rich visual stories about personal memories.

"EMA", Els van Baarle.
Batik on recycled cotton towels, wood.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Books are becoming electronic but their soul lies within fibre and not in a projected computer language. The smell of the binder, the texture of the paper and the visual concept that unfolds before us, makes us want to see, feel and read and so know the art form. Chapter Six gives practical insights with respect to technique in order to make a three-dimensional, readable and viewable art form.

"Pages #1", Cherilyn Martin.
Fused sheets of plastic, with Spunfab, Angelina fibres and oil paint trapped in the layers and with fusible film laminated on the surface.
Courtesy of reference[1].

Art can be made from found objects and every day materials. For example, El Anatsui is an African artist who works with repurposed materials including wood, aluminium printing plates, tin boxes and liquor bottle tops. Chapter Seven explores the use of common found objects and how they can be incorporated into fibre artworks employing numerous surface design techniques and concepts.

"Souvenir de ma Jeunesse", Els van Baarle.
Handwoven cotton, collage, hand-stitched and partially printed with a wooden block with glued-on matches.
Courtesy of reference[1].

This book is special since it gives practical insights into creating complex imagery and texture using a large range of fibre material. I have purposely omitted in this post any of the authors "how to do" tips and technique descriptions. The author’s want to arouse your curiosity, and engage you in an artistic conversation where you, the reader, will understand what concepts and techniques in fibre art will work for your artistic expression. Sure you need to know the fundamentals, but in learning and exploring your art using this book you have fun as well!

I know you will enjoy this book as much as I have.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski.
Studio Artist and Founder of Art Quill Studio and Art Quill & Co. Pty. Ltd.
Former Co-Editor Textile Fibre Forum art magazine.
Casual lecturer, Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.

[1] Els van Baarle and Cherilyn Martin, Interpreting Themes in Textile Art, Batsford, London (2017). ISBN: 9781849944366.

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