Memento Mori by Mandy Pattullo
Mandy Pattullo is a textile artist that uses recycled materials and is based in Northumberland. She works from an attic studio in a converted manse in the Tyne Valley making textile collages out of worn and salvaged clothes and household linen. Much of her time is spent enabling other people’s creativity to take place through teaching textiles and printmaking workshops in hospitals, schools and communities. Her work will feature in a Textile Hub exhibition this summer at Farfield Mill 8th June – 11th August.
Here she talks about a substantial body of work made in response to graveyards and the stories they have to tell.
Life and death
Life and death have been inextricably entangled for me over the many years that I have had my city centre allotment. To reach it I walk through a cemetery (St Andrew’s Jesmond in Newcastle) and over time I have absorbed information about this quiet environment without even really knowing it. As an artist it started with an awareness of the beauty and variation of the stone carving. I photographed things I saw on my walks between the graves and worked on mixed media drawings in my sketchbooks. I have never been very good at holding a sketchbook and pen and ink and water bottle outside! I also made rubbings of names and poignant stories with wax crayons and started to bring these names in to the drawing. I was thinking more and more about the lives of the occupants of Jesmond 150 years or so ago. I was particularly moved by the sad stories told through lists of “lost” children and infants and the early deaths of maidens and mothers. We now have a wonderful health service which keeps us healthy and inoculated, we have warm houses and easy access to contraception but how terrible it must have been to undergo multiple pregnancies and to often loose the children through cholera, influenza, typhus and other major illnesses which badly hit families living in towns like Newcastle.
Baby Clothes transformed
I wanted to make people look again at graveyards and the stories they have to tell, particularly about women in the nineteenth century. I choose to use baby clothes as the vehicle for my creative exploration because they hold a resonance and poignancy for all of us. I used baby gowns that I picked up in flea markets and dyed, embroidered and overprinted these (using a transfer press) with images from my sketchbooks and rubbings of names I had taken from the old graves. Mixed in were also little phrases from Victorian memorial cards which I had started to collect. These too were transferred using photocopy transfer paper and a press.
On the creative journey I also started to use white gloves as a support for my imagery. The handing out of black gloves at funerals was common but white gloves were associated with virginity and my research had uncovered their use in maidens garlands. They were a little bit harder to print, I couldn’t use kid because it just shrivelled up in the heat press, but I persevered though I gave up trying to embroider them while wearing them – my hands were just too big!
Imagery and moving toward digital
The gowns and gloves were exhibited together at Delight in Design in 2007, a Designed and Made exhibition. I still felt they could have another life and that I hadn’t finished my creative exploration. I took them back to the graves that had originally inspired the art work and re-photographed them in location. The images of the textiles rather than the textiles themselves suddenly seemed to be stronger and to enable these to have an even greater impact I realised I would have to change the scale. I could only do this digitally and with help so applied for professional development funding through Designed and Made/Arts Council and was pleased to receive a bursary which enabled me to work closely with a technician in the fashion department at Northumbria University. We worked together to produce 4 huge (approx 2.5 x 1.5 metre) digital pieces which focused on details within the garments on the graves and effectively conveyed the message.
The garments continued to evolve as I started to use them in relation to my print making practice. I teach regularly for Horsley Printmakers so have access to a large Bewick printing press. I finally built up the courage to put the garments through the press and emboss them into wet fabriano paper. This series of ghostIy prints became labelled as “Absence” because there was just a suggestion of something left behind . By now I had been working on my cemetery theme for 2 or 3 years and had huge amounts of work so was ready to think about my first solo exhibition.
Jane Wildgoose and Memento Mori
Another bursary funded me to be mentored by Jane Wildgoose, the custodian of The Wildgoose Memorial Library in London and she helped me to gather together my thoughts, constantly question the concepts being conveyed and the quality of my work. I can’t emphasise how important it is to occasionally have another professional crit your work and enable you to move on. Jane helped me curate my work for my first solo exhibition “Memento Mori” in Gateshead.
It showcased the garments, the original artwork, the digital pieces but most importantly in display cases I was also able to show samples, sketchboooks and peripheral work which I hope illuminated the creative process.More images can be seen on my website mandypattullo.co.uk where you can also read about my response to the maidens garlands and graveyard at Old St Stephens’s Fylingdales.
Article by Mandy Pattullo
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