Above image: One o’clock, Anne Morrell, 2008. 59.5 x 66 cm. Photographer: Michael Pollard
As I entered the Light and Line exhibition at the Nottingham Castle gallery, I felt as if I was entering a space of calm and serenity, partly due to the peace and quiet of the gallery – a welcome change to the bustle of so many in London. But, it was more significantly the calm, stillness, serenity and beauty of nature and the landscape that both artists Polly Binns and Anne Morrell have captured in their work that emphasised this feeling.
Anne Morrell’s inspiration for her work draws upon an instilled connection to her childhood home in Madras, India where she grew up with British parents until her teens when she moved to Britain. The contrasting culture, environment and weather in Britain have also been a significant influence. In both places, Anne has observed patterns that form out of weather changes in the sky and water – cloud formations and vapour trails, cracks in the ice on her garden pond. In her introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue, Dr Jane Webb explains: ‘(the work) comments on luminosity and the passage of time, providing bold statements that can be seen from afar. However Anne’s work is more complex than this because her home is where cultural space and historical time are also contained. It is these concepts that provide the work’s intimate details’.
Despite her education, teaching and extensive technical research into embroidery stitches, Anne uses stitch as a ‘ ‘mark/language’ to capture closely observed moments in nature’, rather than in the traditional way. She preferred to take an ‘unconventional’ approach and defied the rules that came with being taught needlework at school which resulted in her ‘bad sewing’, as she explains in her accompanying leaflet to the exhibition and talks on her work. Examples of this unconventional approach include puckering up the cloth in between stitches while stretching the fabric taught in others.
There is a continuing reference to water symbols inthese pieces and her much earlier work. These come from observations of American Indian water patterns and patterns in the very first embroidery Anne saw while at school in the Nilgri Hills in South India – the Toda embroidery. Water patterns are expressed through the techniques mentioned above – stretching and puckering the fabric, but also through more regular, rigid stitches such as couching thicker thread to form zig-zag patterns more reminiscent of traditional Indian embroideries, such as those of the Banjara communities in South India. These can be seen in the piece One o’clock above.
In some pieces colour is used, either before stitching with dye or spray paints, or after stitching. On some pieces the thread is un-picked after the colour application, leaving lines of white spots, like footprints in the snow or light reflected ripples on water. On the other hand, the colour can create a more negative response, creating an uneasy feel through the dark colours resembling stormy clouds and shadows, and further emphasised by the tension of the stretched fabric.
Through these skilled and intensive processes, Anne demonstrates an excellent technical understanding of the construction of the fabric and explores the multitude of patterns and textures that can be created by altering the fabric’s shape and surface through stitch. These pieces embody not only many years of long hours at work and study in embroidery across the two cultures of India and the UK, but also serve as a language, communication and expression, like the embroiderers in India whose work she has studied so closely.
Polly Binns’ work, for me, captures the essence of British landscape, weather and nature. Indeed, Polly has spent a lot of time travelling the country’s coast before settling in Norfolk and taking long walks along the coast there. Polly uses photography and drawing to capture the ‘light on the sand, mud and water, ropes mooring boats, the tide’s detritus’ (Jane Webb, exhibition catalogue). However, photography was used in a meditative way, to provide a moment for remembering, rather than to produce a physical image to work from later in the studio. Webb in her introductory essay, endearingly refers to Polly’s drawing practice as creating an ‘after life’ originally noted by Walter Melion, Images of Memory, 1991). Melion described drawing not only as creating a scene but the movement of the artist’s eyes over the landscape. The final piece then captures this moment and pauses it, creating a lasting impression. Polly’s pieces strongly resemble the movement and flow of landscape and nature though, and so the viewer can almost see in her work the continuing movement experienced whilst on her walks, without having to visit the area themselves.
The technique of layering translucent pigments and paints over one another onto canvas effectively creates a watery effect and this is emphasised further by folds, stronger painted lines, machine and hand stitches. The pieces give the viewer a sense of being in the natural environment that Polly walks in, and feeling the wind and sea air, rather than portraying visual details of the landscape.
Polly created these pieces following her permanent move to Norfolk after living in London and working in academia. She left academia to be free from the structure, expectations and deadlines, and so her work could follow a more intuitive path. Indeed these works are clearly produced in a very free and flowing way following the pace of the landscape which they were inspired by.
Light and Line was on tour at the following galleries during 2012 and 2013:
Nottingham Castle gallery from 11th May to 7th July, the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh from 2nd February to 16th March and Barnsley Civic 22 November 2012 – 4 January 2013
NB – this article has been corrected since it was first published on 5 August 2013.