Barbara Cotterell interview: From frugal foundations
Mixed media textile artist Barbara Cotterell grew up in a world where necessity meant that she learned the skills and techniques to make her own clothes; to this day a careful and imaginative use of resources is reflected in her work as a textile artist. She is passionate about using her chosen medium to raise awareness of our collective responsibility and impact upon the environment. Stylistically, the strength of her work rests on three principles; reusing and recycling, producing work with a cloth-like quality and the repetition of patterns.
Barbara has a BA Hons in Art in the Community and a Diploma in Stitched Textiles. She regularly exhibits as part of the group Material Space. We were lucky enough to see the group’s work at the recent Knitting and Stitching show and were inspired by its quality and diversity.
Here, Barbara discusses the importance of belonging to Material Space and explores in more depth her commitment to the environment through art.
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Barbara Cotterell: Since childhood I have loved textiles, in particular the feel of fabrics and the way in which they move.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My mother was a methodical needlewoman who taught me all the basic sewing and knitting skills. Living in a home without much money, the need to make my own clothes particularly as a teenager gave me lots of practice making everything I could, and as cheaply as possible.
What was your route to becoming a mixed-media textile artist?
Working my way through Windsor/East Berks. College, doing City and Guilds, Diploma and finally my degree in Art in the Community with Thames Valley University. Gradually growing in confidence and finally feeling as if I was doing something different which was valid and appreciated. Also, being given the opportunity to exhibit with ReOrsa which encouraged me as an artist.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I always prefer to work with found materials, mostly from around the home. I try hard not to buy anything new, even the wire I try to get from the scrap yard. Being around familiar objects always gets me thinking about what I can do with them. Manipulating materials, finding out how they behave individually, how they perform as a group, what kind of fastening works. Everything is about repetition, the similar but slightly changing unit. Like my mother’s sewing it is overall very neat but on inspection wonderfully untidy.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Experimenting with the materials, at my desk, in my space, surrounded by my stuff with simple tools to hand. Once I have worked out the process I will work listening to the radio or cd’s, giving myself plenty of time to get into the rhythm of the repeating image.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Structures. Escher is so very clever and monochrome for emphasis.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
‘Cow‘ was a challenge to make from a finite years supply of milk “bottles” which I was pleased to achieve without compromise. Photographing it was also a fun with my daughters help and a lot of playful and inquisitive cows in a place where I enjoy being.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I think it now has its own identity and I am becoming more confident. I know when something is right and when to stop making.
Tell us a bit about the Material Space Group. How did you become involved? What are the plans for the future? Are you a member of other groups?
Being part of a group helps to focus on exhibiting, to share the load and expertise in organizing exhibitions and to have like minded people to bounce ideas around with. We got together after we had all gone our separate ways to do our degrees, that was about five years ago. Working on an exhibition helps to focus each others skill set and it seems to be working quite well. We would like to do an exhibition in Europe to broaden our experience of how our brand of textiles is viewed. I have exhibited with a small group for Bucks Open Studios and also with ReOrsa an artist initiative based in Bracknell.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Link up with some other like minded people, share your work and the load if you want to exhibit. Making progress and moving on is dependant on doing stuff and showing it to people.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Timing, loyalty to the group, suitability of the space, likely footfall, and the costs involved. Also is it an upward move, side step or something else?
Where can readers see your work in the near future?
For more information please visit: materialspace.com. Our next venue to be decided, hopefully Paris.
Read our interview with fellow Material Space member Pippa Andrews: Japan and old bedsheets
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