Bethany Walker interview: Cement & textiles
We were drawn to Bethany Walker’s work at the recent Knitting and Stitching show in London, not only because of its beauty, but because of the unusual combination of materials she uses to create her captivating pieces. The juxtaposition of cement and textiles means that her work has a fascinating tactile quality. In our interview with the artist we learn how Bethany enjoys challenging traditionalist viewpoints and breaking preconceptions.
Generations of inspiration
TextileArtist.org: What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
Bethany Walker: From an early age I was always interested in art and would eagerly ask my mum what we could make out of any empty cardboard boxes I would find around the house.
I come from quite a creative family, my Grandma and many of my Aunties are skilled embroiderers/seamstresses; having made their own clothes and items for the home for a number of years. I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma when I was young; we would sit and make pompoms together, for cushions she had made, drinking tea by the gallon – a real family time that I will always remember.
Fast forward 20 years and whenever I see my little cousins they always ask if they can paint or do some drawing with me – another generation inspired! In fact my 10 year old cousin will be visiting me in the studio during the school holidays where I will be teaching her how to use a sewing machine; she is so excited.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I opted to study Art at GCSE and A Level before going on to do a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design. It was here that I knew I definitely wanted to pursue a career in this arena after learning so much about all aspects of ‘Art.’ Most importantly that year taught me that being an artist was not about being the best at painting or drawing (which is something I often felt at school) but not being afraid to do something a little bit different.
I went on to study a BA Honours in Design Crafts at De Montfort University in Leicester. This was a multi-disciplinary course covering a broad range of specialist areas including ceramics, wood, jewellery, silver-smithing, glass and textiles. This course enabled me to experiment with a diverse range of materials and begin mixing media. My three years at University gave me the time and facilities to find out who I was as an artist.
A fusion of textiles, sculpture and fine art
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
My work uses a combination of Cement & Textiles. An odd combination you may think – but this dynamic combo creates beautiful and captivating pieces which possess immense tactile qualities. Embroidered and knitted fibres are embedded in a hand cast concrete composition. I have developed my own individual hand techniques’, meaning each piece is individual and creates intrigue with its integral shape, colour and relief. It’s a bit of a messy process but that makes it all the more interesting.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I class my work as ‘Mixed Media Textiles’ – it is a fusion of textiles, sculpture and fine art as it crosses a number of disciplines. I am aware that it does not fit the ‘traditional’ textile genre but appeals to a new and growing art culture and I hope that it will be the catalyst in enabling this style of work to feature more in the general world of textiles.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
As mentioned, I have developed my own individual hand technique which has an element of accidental design to it – I don’t always know exactly how a piece will look when I turn it out of its mould. When coating my textiles with cement an element of control is lost; the cement has a mind of its own, I can guide it and set certain constraints but the final look is down to the cement itself. As you can imagine there was a lot of experimentation at the beginning but I believe that I have now mastered the process.
At present I practice from my studio in Nottingham; here I continue to carve out a niche for myself within a thriving textile world. You will often find me singing aloud whilst working in the studio, I have always found music to be a form of escape allowing me to really get into the zone and focus on my work. This dates back to my time at school: I remember getting a tap on the shoulder in my GCSE Art exam; looking up, all eyes were on me and the whole class was in hysterics. Music on and headphones in I was so in my work that I was unaware that I had been singing aloud to the whole group. Not wanting to subject anyone to my singing too much, I work alone most of the time but I find this works well for me as there are less distractions. I do, however, have studio visits from other artists and I visit there’s.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I tend to use my sketchbook as a place to record my observations; mostly through mark making and photography. I like the hands on approach so a lot of my design work is 3-D sampling.
Photography plays a huge part in my practice; finding beauty in the strangest of places I am always armed with a camera so I am ready to capture things that, I believe, will feed into my work. I have recently opened a Pinterest account which I suppose acts as an online sketchbook whereby I can obtain imagery that inspires me from a much wider source. I’m hooked and not quite sure how it has taken me so long to join (follow me at: www.pinterest.com/bethanyswalker).
Getting to know concrete
What currently inspires you?
The outdoor, urban environment is a constant source of inspiration for me, things we all observe daily but often overlook. This includes: graffiti, dereliction, erosion, peeling paint, nature leaving its mark. I aim to celebrate the mundane qualities of those things commonly seen as dull and insignificant – giving it a renewed appreciation.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has developed a lot since starting out. I came across the combination of materials towards the end of my time at University. My knowledge of concrete as a medium was limited so I have spent the past couple of years getting to know its qualities and honing my technical skills. I still have lots to learn but am happy with the progress I have and continue to make. Concrete lends itself to bigger, permanently installed pieces so I am now working towards bigger public art commission work – watch this space…
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries – be the artist you want to be!
It’s true what they say; ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know.’ Join a creative network, get involved and stay active.
Which resources do you find most useful?
Design Trust offers support tailored specifically to creative businesses. I have recently taken part in a couple of their webinars; these have been invaluable and I am now working through the advice given in order to build my cliental and run a better, more viable business.
I am member of Design Factory; a creative agency that supports and develops the very best designer/makers in craft practice today. Their website does not only offer information for members but lists various exhibiting, commission and other opportunities for all to access.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I would not be able to live without my ‘Brother Sewing Machine. I bought it during my second year of University and has since had everything put through it from tarpaulin ground sheets to crisp packets – a definite good buy!
To find out more about Bethany and her work visit:
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