James Hunting interview: A needle and thread toolkit
James Hunting studied textiles at Goldsmiths College, after which he worked as a freelance fashion embroiderer with clients such as Jasper Conran, Julian McDonald and Givenchy. In 1999 James moved to France and took his work in a new direction, shifting away from commercial ventures and towards a more personal approach.
Having seen James’ work firsthand at the Knitting and Stitching Show late last year, we’re delighted that this talented embroiderer has agreed to share some of his wealth of experience with us. In the first part of our detailed interview with James, he engagingly explains how embroidery and textile art came into his life and what his inspirations are.
An engaged, lively, independent and rigorous interaction
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
James Hunting: After a Foundation diploma in Art and Design in Brighton, I knew I wanted to follow an art training and textiles was a media that attracted me. Goldsmiths London seemed the only place to explore this approach without emphasis on the design world and industry biased outcomes.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
If we are talking pre-college it was conversation, theatre, food, in the company of adults who enjoyed discussion, talking, politics and Harira around a table.
An engaged, lively, independent and rigorous interaction with work, books, food, almost everything but no emphasis placed on material goods and trappings, ‘better to buy one beautiful fork than a cheap nasty set’.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
A traditional pathway – A levels, Foundation Diploma Art and Design, BA Hons Goldsmiths in textiles, then a lot of hard work, mixed with seizing opportunity.
After graduating I became a professional embroiderer, learning stitch skill through an apprenticeship with Karen Spurgin. This means that I would sell my skill and knowledge in order to work with others and their design and budgetary restrictions. There was not an emphasis on personal context or engagement beyond executing to the best of ability and standards.
I had a break from my own work for about 20 years, but now no longer work in the fashion or commission arena. A huge developmental point on my creative path was the Embroiderers’ Guild Scholarship; this opened up the pathway to workshops, talks, my Masters at the University of Cumbria, and the eventual writing and launching of the hand embroidery degree, delivered by the Royal School of Needlework, for the University for the Creative Arts which I worked at 2009-2012.
Hand stitch and mark making
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques ?
I use hand stitch for my mark making and piecing and am beginning to re-explore print techniques, which were my speciality at college.
My toolkit is needle and thread. Rather than traditional techniques of embroidery and textile art, I prefer to use traditional gestures of embroidery to achieve the effect I want.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I strive to make emotional engagement, for the viewer, and for myself, visual through the media of textiles and stitch.
It’s made now, it is art, therefore it takes its place within contemporary art sphere. This does not preclude the difficulty of showing textile art outside the craft or specialised environment, but that does not lessen its place.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My pieces begin with making the pieced fabrics; I work on a series at a time. These then become blank canvases on which I bring in images – portraits or full figure. Once worked the decorative or ‘missing’ elements are added. They take the time it takes, and I work all simultaneously. I do not have drawn plans or ideas, I have the overall emotional feeling I want to transmit and then choose from a large ‘library ‘of images and stitch marks. It is important that the work is handheld; I need to feel the drape, and the weight of the fabric.
I will listen to the spoken word, usually Radio 4, whilst working but the actual environment needs to be turned over to work (ie. not lots of toing and froing or disruptions).
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Exploring portraiture, the books of Zola for their over-rich and visual details, the Renaissance, my partner. I think I admire people who approach their work with dedication and rigor.
The act of stitch and sensuality of fabric
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
It’s the first piece that I made after giving up the fashion work in Paris. I had taken a job in a nursery garden in Brittany to earn money. For me it was the piece that enabled me to bring an emotional feeling, that of filling myself up, into the stitch medium. It was the beginning of my analysis of the importance of the act of stitch and the sensuality of the fabric, touching and working in the hand.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has constantly developed, the stitch is more pared down, I have a better understanding of how to use it effectively. I have developed my use of colour and fabric. I do not feel the need to develop an understanding of the myriad of new materials we textile practitioners are bombarded with. However I would like to develop more understanding of the potential of digital print and computer machinery to use alongside embroidery and textile art.
The themes of my work have remained constant – desire, love and sensuality. However they are becoming more personal and quieter.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Yes I do. I am a tutor at West Dean College, I give classes and talks to Embroiderers’ Guild Groups and private groups, I mentor individuals and groups. I am currently looking into expanding this provision as education, development and teaching are vital to me.
Information will be available through my website when it is revamped, otherwise contact me for details or look at West Dean College.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
As stated earlier it is difficult to have a choice to show. I take advantage of, and consider all offers, and one thing leads to another. I am trying to show in the USA in the next few years, and wider in Europe too.
Where can readers see your work this year?
My website is under review as the work is not the most recent. I have just returned from Paris, I have no plans to show this year but for any talk I take my work with me.
For more information please visit: www.jameshunting.com
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6 comments on “James Hunting interview: A needle and thread toolkit”
Lovely to see this, James blew me away when he spoke at Yorks and Humber Embroiderers’ Guild Regional Day a couple of years ago.
An excellent tutor when he came to Pembrokeshire to give us a workshop. His work is amazing and makes most of his students enthusiastic to continue.q
Fab fab work!
Thoroughly enjoyed this article and feel inspired. James work is incredible. To be able to convey emotion with a needle and thread with what appears to be a simple line (but not at all simple), is truly talented. Thanks for sharing….
James is such an amazing person to meet, I was so lucky to have him as a teacher. He saw potential in all of us and we gained so much useful skills and knowledge. That I still use today, going into Bespoke Tailoring at LCF.