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Art of the Stitch 2006 & Scholar

14 May - 18 June, Royal West of England Academy, Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol
7 July - 28 August, The Hub National Centre for Craft & Design, Navigation Wharf, Sleaford, Lincolnshire
17 September - 19 November, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, Slatey Road, Birkenhead

The selectors for this Embroiderers' Guild exhibition have taken great pains to ensure that there is something for everyone. There will, of course, be complaints of there being 'too much weird stuff' but, in an exhibition which aims to be innovative and ground-breaking, that is inevitable. It did seem that the quality of work was 'patchy', with some pieces neither innovative nor technically sound. There was lots to see but, given that I visited on one of the hottest days of the year, the gallery was stifling, making it impossible to concentrate for long. A great deal of stitching was in evidence and here are some of my favourites. Alice Kettle, who never disappoints, exhibited a triptych entitled 'In the Guise of an Angel' (detail right). This was classic Alice with angels drawn sketchily on complex backgrounds of heavy stitching, the impression of movement enhanced by their towering wings.

Sara Impey showed incredible mastery of the sewing machine with her 'Context' piece, outlined letters remaining unstitched within squares of light stitching; colour changes were incredibly effective. Chris Berry's 'Ancora, Acqua, Alta' had a cut-out overlay placed above the stitching, which gave a different perspective of the underlying layer as the viewer's position changed. I loved Shizuko Kimura's 'After Tiepolo, Chateau, Vigny and Dancing Figures' (see below) with its sketchy, light and airy approach.
Art of the Stitch & Scholars
In the Guise of an Angel - detail, Alice Kettle
Photo by James Newell
Art of the Stitch & Scholars
After Tiepolo, Chateau Vigny and Dancing Figures (detail), Shizuko Kimura
Photo by Junichi Kanzaki, Kanzaki Studios, Kyoto


Also outstanding were Zara Merrick's 'Perseus Chapter 1' with its great story-telling, and Sarah Burgess's 'Glove Drawer' series; Sarah really makes the point that good drawing skills produce excellent work. Great stitching from Mary Cozens-Walker in her 'Housewives Choice' and Melanie Miller's 'Costume Nation'. Two pieces made me laugh, surely a valid reason for their inclusion, quite apart from the fact that they were beautifully stitched. Val Jackson's 'Sandra's Getting Engaged' (see below left with detail right) spoke of growing up, the shoes, the clothes, the comments were brilliantly observed.


Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Sandra's Getting Engaged, Val Jackson
Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Sandra's Getting Engaged, - detail
For me, the best piece in the show was Colin Jenkins's 'Purge', where body prints were spaced on a large cloth background with areas highlighted with intense stitching. This spoke of action and reaction with a dynamic quality. This piece richly deserved Anchor's 'most innovative exhibit' award.

Caroline Marcum Dahl's 'Shopping Mall Day of the Dead' was both clever and beautifully worked. The detail below shows part of the 'skull mart'.



Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Shopping Mall Day of the Dead, Caroline Marcum Dahl
Photo by William Matthias
Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Purge - detail, Colin Jenkins
Running alongside Art of the Stitch was the Scholars exhibition and this was fascinating. Each year, the Guild awards two scholarships, one for under 30s and one for over. This exhibition selected 12 of these winners and showed the work they were doing at the time of the award and compared it to the work they are doing now. The difference was, in most cases, very noticeable. Michelle Griffiths has 'gone big' and it's great and Christine Keys' quirky hats have evolved into sophisticated creations. Jenny Bullen's work has changed so much. 'Sussex Landscape' (right) was the original piece and her new work, 'Borders II' (below) needed careful inspection. I loved the understated use of stitch in her collagraphs.




Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Borders II - detail
Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Sussex Landscapes, Jenny Bullen

Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Borders II, Jenny Bullen
Other pieces that caught the eye were Joanna Waller's intricate dreamy swirls (see right) and Clare Proctor's 'Bags of Advice', tiny bags, beautifully constructed bearing advice on household matters such as ironing collars and darning. I so admire Louise Gardiner and her progress was dramatic. I don't know how she gets so much information into a piece without it looking too busy. Masterly design.





All in all, I thought 'Scholars' worked brilliantly. Art of the Stitch can be compared to the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition - too much to take in readily but some wonderful work when you seek it out.

Art of the Stitch & Scholars
Waterfalls, Joanna Waller




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