Cas Holmes: A continual challenge of ideas
Community, teaching and consultancy work on exhibitions and art projects is founded on a lifetime working as a community artist. This includes work within education, museums and the health sector as well as projects in support of environmental conservation.
Trained in fine arts at the University of Creative Arts (honours degree) Cas Holmes’s early research was with papermaking, paper and textiles supported by Barcham Green in the UK and in Japan with awards by the Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship and Japan Foundation Fellowship. Cas is the author of three books for Batsford publications the most recent ‘Stitch Stories’ (2015) and is senior tutor at West Dean College.
Her ongoing interest in sustainable practice and issues surrounding the environment is reflected in her continued association with plantlife.org. Cas is also a member of the British textile group, Art Textiles: Made in Britain. She recently won the Pfaff Award to support an exhibition at European Patchwork Meeting (EPM), 2014.
In this interview, Cas Holmes talks to us about how community, nature, and art combine to shape and influence her work. We learn how she brings a piece to life and what challenges she faces in the future.
The human connection
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by painting, drawing and textiles?
Cas Holmes: I hit on a method of destroying and reconstruction when painting over a previously painted canvas as part of an art project at college. The original image kept coming through, and in frustration, I ripped up the canvas.
I looked at it and said, ‘Oh, this is more exciting.’ I thought the substance of the canvas was more important than what was on it. As resources and finances grew tight I started to experiment with waste paper and fabric for surfaces to work on, the next logical stage to make larger works was to piece them together somehow and stitch seemed the most obvious way
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
My grandmother and my father. Both encouraged me to explore and use what is there. My grandmother was a Romany Gypsy and led a thrifty life full of stories. My father loved a good tale and studied signwriting at Norwich School of Art.
I have always looked at the landscape and our fragile relationship with the local and global environment. No one who has grown up in the flat Norfolk landscape as a child can fail to make connections between change and man’s impact on the land through farming, building and use of world resources.
During my last year in college, I did some voluntary work at the local hospital and enjoyed getting others involved in creativity. Working with different projects and regular teaching form a major part of my creative professional life. It keeps me firmly grounded and encourages a continual challenge of ideas.
A response to environments
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work has been described as ‘Painting with Cloth’ and ‘Stitch Sketching’ the processes are reflected in my publications the most recent being Stitch Stories. To create my pieces I use mostly low-tech techniques, found materials and vintage cloth. These are dyed, printed with household emulsion paint and stitched.
A big part of my work is the human connection. Many of the textiles and papers I use are written accounts of family memories and everyday waste paper, and cast-off clothing and household fabrics, things gathered in my travels. I’m interested in the history of these fabrics, what we do with them. Sheets, clothing; the familiarity we have in our own life.
What environment do you like to work in?
I mainly evolve ideas as a response to environments, situations and stories as an artist and a teacher. I have a small studio yet am equally happy to work on the move and be challenged.
Do you use a sketchbook? What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My sketchbook and a portable drawing and sewing kit are physical things I could not manage without. They support the flow of creative ideas and observations on the move.
The rituals of making
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion
I continue to develop my techniques, drawing and use of colour remain the foundation for all my work. The fragments of found materials are painted and dyed, layered and stitched. The process marks the passing of time, the rituals of making (drawing, cutting, gathering materials, machining, sewing) acting as part of the narrative of the work. I work reflectively with materials so nothing I make is “designed”. Pieces rather evolve and change until the last stitch, paint or mark is made.
At first glance, the materials and techniques she uses give the impression of something we ‘already know’, yet the artist is able to conjure up familiar images and associations and give them new meanings. Stitch, cloth and memory combine with paint, mark and image to create layered ephemeral pieces in which nothing is explicit; Influenced by the ideals of wabi-sabi, things often overlooked, details, worn surfaces and the beauty found in the transience of things imperfect, her work often contains snippets of text or discarded materials that have associations or conjure up memories. There is always a dialogue with the materials she uses. They bring their own history which is woven into the work. These collections of ephemera might seem meaningless but their apparent banality is open-ended. They are available to stimulate the imagination through the poetry of ordinariness. Everything has a connection and each viewer makes their own connections.
Moira Vincentelli Essay for the exhibition ‘Reflections’
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
I have a piece which appeared in my first book The Found Object in Textile Art. These were Liquorice Allsorts and bonbons made with handmade recycled paper. My father’s favourite sweets. I cannot look at a Liquorice Allsort without it bringing back fond memories of my wonderful, storytelling dad.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I remain open to change and have worked in many different situations and with different people. This response to people and place is never static. I believe my work reflects transition and change. I am interested in developing more collaborations in the future. Early in my career, I worked as a community artist in all kinds of places from hospitals to theatres, on buses and in prisons. I would like to build on this and see how my work may change again as part of a collaborative process. Tea Flora Tales an installation shown here at the European Patchwork Meeting 2014, is an example of just such an ongoing voluntary collaboration which seeks to raise awareness of local flora and habitat and the work of Plantlife.
The industrial landscape
What currently inspires you?
The relationship between urban and nature, the views from our windows, the verges of our roadsides, weeds and flora on brown belt land and field edges, and the places where our gardens meet the greater landscape. I have recently become interested also in the industrial landscape which changes the landscape on a global scale. Working with stitch sketching, I seek to capture a moment or thing before it is gone. Those who view my work are open to interpret my pieces in their own way but they do seem to get the essence of the pieces.
Who have been your major influences and why?
All medias and genres which talk about the world around us. I am specifically interested in the point where cloth meets or merges with painting and other media. The work of generations of stitchers who has gone before. Thrift, re-use referencing the everyday. John Sell Cotman, Turner, Sonia Delaunay, Louise Bourgois, Eva Hesse, David Hockney (his communication is brilliant), Matisse. I could go on..the list changes.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Be open to challenge and change. Give things a go and dare to create.
I have learnt to remove the words ‘but’ and ‘if only’ from my vocabulary as much as possible. For example. “I would like to do more with my work/art but I do not have the time/space/experience” Instead, “I would like to do more and I will look at creating the time/space/resources.”
Work hard, don’t give up, respect your work. It is never easy yet can be very worthwhile and rewarding.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
- The seminal Subversive Stitch by Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock.
- Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Schoeser
- Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories Paperback by Sue Prichard
- TextileArtist.org recommends Stitch Stories by Cas Holmes
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
Embroidery, The Quilter (UK magazines) Fiber Art Now and Cloth, Paper Scissors (USA) and online textiles sites/publications including TextileArtist.org, Inspirational Magazine (John Hopper) to name a few which will keep you abreast with what is happening now. Workshop on the Web.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I am a workshop tart and love engaging with people. All open workshops are noted on my blog. I also do workshops and projects by invitation in education, museums and in the community context.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I am intrigued by the changing dynamic of seeing my work exhibited both in gallery and also non-gallery spaces. I have exhibited in an old army building in France, and office block, a church and outdoors in the last year alone. I have even created an animated stitched Crow.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Activities in 2016 include one person exhibition at Visions Art Museum in San Diego, until July 3. I am also working on a small exhibition locally with the Kent Wildlife Trust near Maidstone. I am equally delighted to be taking part in the Festival of Quilts with Art Textiles Made in Britain. All are on my exhibitions and events listing on my blog.
Find links to my other on-line presence to see updates on exhibitions and events on my website.
Statements by others about my work
Cas Holmes has a down-to-earth approach to life and her art takes her on flights of fancy, which evoke folk cultures, traditions and mythology with an abandon which ignores all barriers. Sometimes figurative, sometimes wholly abstract she has an unerring faith in her feeling for her materials. Confidence pours from her work and with it a power and sophistication that brings to it an almost religious sensation of ancient wisdom revisited.
Her work is inevitably influenced by her visits to Japan but more as someone who would use that influence to reaffirm her own strengths. That is her originality.
Her materials are overwhelmingly organic and appear to have been given new life. Paper ages and crinkles with a will of its own and is made exquisitely into Japanese style panels allowing light to pass through, or are incorporated into one of her unique quilted hangings. Behind it all there is a sense of grand design under the control of the artist. It is both decorative and rich in symbolism.
A sense of provocation displays her commitment to art as part of life and shows richly in her dedication to community projects into which she throws herself like an avenging demon.
All my images and text are protected under copyright – please contact me via the contact link on my website to use or reproduce them.
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