Sue Ferrari Interview: The intimacy of fabric and thread
Award winning fiber artist Sue Ferrari is a graduate of the South West Institute of Tafe and currently lives in South West Victoria, Australia. The multi-layered meanings within her work explore both personal and cultural experiences through the use of fabric and thread and traditional textile art techniques.
In this enthralling interview Sue shares her experiences and tells us her journey to becoming a professional textile artist as well as the emphasis she places on concept within her work.
The passion for making
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Sue Ferrari: For me it is the infinite potential of traditional techniques, the past domestic skills that have connected generations of women together and how these techniques can be taken into a contemporary context for artistic expression.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My mother made clothes for me, herself and my dolls on a singer machine, the sound meant the promise of something new, but I truly loved the sound of the scissors cutting through a piece of pristine cloth and the excited anticipation of what it was to become. She taught me how to sew at a young age and over the years, stitch and the anticipation of the end product has just continued to grow.
My mother in-law, taught me the art of darning and mending, taking the old and giving it a second life, long before recycling was considered good practice. It has developed into an important aspect of my arts practice.
My life experiences continue to influence work.
Establishing a career as a professional artist
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I have always had an interest in art and sewing, like so many I studied art in my final years at school and then life took me in a different direction, raising children, working alongside my husband in our farming business and living in a relatively isolated rural community didn’t give much opportunity to pursue a creative career. Once our children were raised and they were off establishing their careers I decided it was time to pursue my dream, I had seen a small ad in a local paper to study a Diploma of Studio Textiles and Design at a local Tafe, local being an hour away! With no more ambition than to see where it would take me. So for the next two years I learnt new skills alongside like-minded people under the tuition of inspiring and generous teachers who really expanded my vision. When the Diploma ended I was still hungry for more so I enrolled in a major in drawing and a major in tapestry weaving then an Advanced Diploma of Fine Art, taking up the challenge of taking my textile practice into the realm of fine art. Along the way I took advantage of every opportunity that came along, winning a graduate award that gave me my first opportunity to exhibit outside of student exhibitions, at each step I have grown in confidence establishing a career as a professional artist.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I am always researching and experimenting with different traditional textile art techniques, the vision for the final outcome dictates my choice of materials and techniques, it always involves textiles, either cloth or thread and whatever else I think is necessary to bring the initial idea to a finished piece which can take either a 2 or 3 dimensional form. Fabric and thread has such a female connotation that I have found it the perfect medium for self-expression.
The rich history of domestic crafts
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My interest lies in examining inherited textile traditions and recognising the value in the rich history of domestic crafts. Through my work I attempt to show the intimate and significant role that fabric and thread play in our lives.
Through the use of dress forms and corset sculptures I express ideas about women’s personal identity. Producing a series where I deconstructed the form and idea of the corset, questioning its function to inhibit and reform the female shape. These works reinvent the corset as a representation of the pressures society puts on women to be remade / remodelled into an expected ideal. A series of dress forms give a sense of being, a bodily memory, echoing the temporary nature of our existence, the use of silk organza creates a sense of fragility and loss, of life, of traditions and the hand stitched words give an extra dimension through the faintly cast shadows.
Describing the human condition through the exploration of inner personal themes and universal ideas of life, love, loss and concealment, my recent work explores words about fabric, thread and stitching that have evolved into our everyday language. This body of work draws on the parallel between the fragility of cloth and the ultimate fragility of our lives. Our desire to mend damage to ourselves, both physical and emotional, and also the way that we attempt to ‘hold things together’
I have to confess I have a real aversion to being pigeon-holed, I have found there are a lot of preconceived ideas about being labeled as a textile artist, although I do believe my work lies comfortably in both the fine art and textile art worlds and anywhere in between. I see myself as an artist whose chosen medium for self-expression is grounded in textile practice.
The power of concept
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My process is about using our connection with textiles and associated practices to explore and express the concepts I want to represent. Some construction can take place at the machine; most of my work usually involves some form of hand stitching. Once I have the initial idea I work instinctively, the initial idea usually evolves as I stitch, I find it very meditative and it takes me to a private place. I work at home in a shared workspace which is relatively small so I do gravitate to different areas of the house depending on what I am working on at the time.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I do work with a journal where I jot down ideas; from here I explore them in more depth, through research, writing and thumbnail sketches. I believe in a well-researched concept to underpin work.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The world we live in, personal experience, my continued interaction with textiles, so many things.
I have long admired the work of Louise Bourgeois, earlier this year I had the opportunity to view an exhibition of Bourgeois titled Late Work here in Australia, it included many of her textile works and I found it both moving and inspiring to see the work in person.
While studying at Tafe I was able to participate in two workshops with Melbourne based artist Ilka White, under her gentle and inspiring guidance she showed me the importance of knowing the full potential of your chosen materials and techniques, the power of a well-developed concept behind work and the way to take textiles into the fine art arena, having this opportunity was a real turning point in my personal practice.
Keeping old techniques alive
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
A work titled ‘A Mothers Apron’ holds a special place in both my heart and artistic development. It was the Winner of the National Tertiary Art Prize / Sculpture in 2008, an award that was open to all forms of medium, a sign for me that I was on the right path and that textiles could hold their own in the fine art world. It was also one of the first pieces where I began to understand the importance of research to create work that has a strong and meaningful concept. The work was strongly influenced by the passing away of my mother in-law, a woman who had devoted her life to being a mother and grandmother, the piece was hand stitched with words that explore the multiple identities, and emotions of being a mother. I talk about the piece in the past tense as it went missing from the exhibition; I say this with a smile as I do believe it will turn up again someday, it is the image I chose for my business card and will continue to show images of at artists talks, it makes for a great talking point!
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I would like to think that my work has and will continue to evolve through research as a means of developing strong concepts. The textile practices that underpin my work are important, I see contemporary practice as a means of keeping old techniques alive. Having also had the exciting opportunity to work in collaboration with two other local artists on a site-specific installation I see myself continuing to explore installation work as well as continuing to exhibit in both solo and group shows. I am always prepared to push the boundaries of textile practice though the choice of both material and techniques.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
To know the full potential of the materials and techniques you are working with, to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way and most importantly to allow yourself the time to become immersed in your artistic practice.
Can you recommend any books for textile artists?
Because of my interest in what has come before I have found the following publications invaluable:
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I have a small sewing kit which holds my needles a few pins and embroidery scissors, a small pocket for a spool of thread and this can also hold small works that I am working on at the time, very portable.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I am currently a sessional teacher at South West Tafe in Warrnambool teaching in the Visual Art program and the off campus Tapestry course, where there is both national and international students enrolled. I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to work in my chosen field, to encourage and inspire students on their personal journeys.
I have given talks and have begun running workshops in Contemporary Hand Stitching and Darning and Mending as an Art Form. Both workshops focus on ways and means of developing ideas and interpreting these into stitch.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Research; find out the type of art the gallery shows, look at the work of the artists they represent and make sure that my work will fit into the gallery’s profile and setting.
Where can readers see your work this year?
I am currently working on a new body of work but there are no firm details as to where I will exhibit as yet. When they are available they will be posted on my blog.
For more information on workshops and exhibitions please visit: sueferrari.blogspot.com
If you’ve enjoyed this insight into the work of Sue Ferrari why not leave a comment below to let us know.