Many years ago, my teacher and sometime mentor, basket maker Virginia Kaiser, recommended the workshops of Ruth Hadlow, textile artist. A few months ago I had the pleasure of following up this recommendation, and did not regret it. Ruth turned out to be a wizard at helping other artists to analyse and develop their own practice. Or in my case, to rediscover something of my mojo.
One of the exercises in Ruth’s workshop involved researching other artists whose work appealed to me, and analysing why I was attracted to those particular works. This exercise made me aware of a couple of things. Firstly, I am attracted to bold graphic lines and contrast. Secondly, I wanted to find a way to marry drawing with my basket making and sculptural work. Drawing was my original passion, from when I was a small child. Much of my youth was spent with a sketchbook on my knee, with the TV on in the background.
Since much of my recent work involves plastic bags, I decided to find a way of drawing on them. I began scribbling and doodling on plastic bags with a well-known brand of ‘permanent’ marker. I immediately liked the way the bright colours of the packaging contrasted with the black. The need to make the branding unrecognisable dictated the design to some extent, resulting in lots of black areas.
I could hardly believe this idea had never occurred to me before. My head was bursting with inspiration. The possibilities of expressing myself with drawing, while making baskets, while upcycling plastic packaging… some kind of creative nirvana seemed to be opening up before me.
Firstly, I made a couple of ‘vintage style’ baskets, inspired by my first basket, a gift from my Great Aunty Olly. This was another long-term goal realised – to revive this form of basket (traditionally made with postcards, greeting cards and the like), but breathe new life into it.
Next I made a wall piece, using cat food sachets stitched together on the sewing machine. Originally this was going to be a 3D piece, but I decided I liked it flat. Since taking this photo, I have extended the piece and added a random weave frame in telephone wire, so that the flat illustrated area is suspended in weaving.
At the same time, in a burst of gardening creativity, I had planted a box of seedlings and labelled them with permanent marker on strips of old plastic. A couple of months later, it was time to replant the seedlings in the garden, but the labels had become unreadable because the writing had faded. I was appalled. So much for ‘permanent’ marker! I was also alarmed. Was the same thing going to happen to all the artwork I had put so many hours into? Admittedly the seedlings had been out in direct sunlight the whole time, but still I would have expected a greater lifespan from so-called permanent marker.
I googled the problem, as you do. It turned out many other people have also found that ‘permanent’ does not mean ‘forever’. It is difficult to predict what the lifespan of my artwork might be, but it seems likely that in a few decades, perhaps a few years or even months, my artwork will fade, and all my efforts to cover up the branding on the plastic packaging will be undone. The marks will last longer if I keep the artwork away from sunlight, but I cannot in good conscience sell work that may change and deteriorate at an unpredictable rate.
So these pieces will be exhibited, but not for sale, in an upcoming exhibition named ‘Aftermath’ (a group show with the wonderful artists Flora Friedmann and Glenese Keavney; Timeless Textiles Gallery, Newcastle, Australia, in March 2017). I hope to write more on that soon.
Meanwhile, the quest to combine drawing and basketry continues.