Kirsty Whitlock interview: Embroidery transforms
Kirsty Whitlock works as a designer and maker in the medium of mixed media textiles. Having gained a first class honours degree in Design Crafts from De Montfort University in 2009, she now lives and works in Hampshire, where she continues to practice and develop an exciting body of work.
Kirsty’s goal is to push the boundaries of embroidery and textile art through the use of a variety of materials and their application. Here she explains how she’s eager to challenge the preconception of textiles by creating work that surprises and inspires.
Broadening horizons of knitting and craft
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Kirsty Whitlock: Knit 2 together exhibition (2006) at the Crafts Council Gallery, the exhibition featured a range of innovative and experimental work that pushed perceived boundaries within knit, emphasizing concept, technique, process and material. I loved how this exhibition subverted the expectation and broadened horizons of knitting and craft. It was a visual example to how risks are both exciting and very important within art.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I use a sketchbook to document and record my thought processes. My work is concept based so my sketchbook contains mostly research from documentaries, newspaper articles and imagery.
Challenging preconceptions of embroidery
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I graduated in Design Crafts at De Montfort University in 2009, gaining a First Class Honours degree. Here I established the use of materials and techniques I continue to use in my practice today, as a mixed media textile artist.
During my final year at university I spent a lot of time exploring paper as a material; combining this with machine stitch I became extremely excited how embroidery had the power to transform a material or surface. I was immediately attracted to the tactile qualities and process of machine embroidery, using this as a drawing tool and a technique for mark making. I was particularly eager to challenge the preconceptions of embroidery as a ‘limited conservative craft’, so I became interested and curious in sewing on materials and exploring subject matters that were not normally associated with embroidery.
Communicating a social message through reclaimed materials
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I use recycled and reclaimed materials as a response to the throwaway culture of consumerism. My chosen medium depends on the concept I am exploring. I love to re-use materials if I can sew on it I will usually work with it! My work explores the potential of communicating a social message through the use of discarded household items, including plastic carrier bags and newspapers, using them as a format for machine embroidery.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I consider my work to be textile art, my work lies between fine art and craft. As a mixed media textile artist there are no boundaries or limits to cross disciplines.
Experimentation with materials and processes
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Sometimes I start with a current affair or contemporary issue, though sometimes the found material inspires the concept. Once the concept or the title of the project is decided I spend a large amount of time researching the subject matter. This concept led research will then feed the creation of the body of work. My initial Ideas are generated and developed through experimentation with materials and processes. These exploratory samples then lead into resolved specific and one-off applied elements.
During 2009-2010 I gained a residency at De Montfort University, Leicester. I built a close relationship with the students, and found it very motivating working in an energetic environment alongside likeminded creative people from cross disciplines. I currently work from my home studio but would like to work in a shared space in the future.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
Moments in daily life, the media, politics and the impact of social media are all major sources of inspiration. During my time taking part in UK Young artists (2010) I had the opportunity to be introduced to the art of Spoken Word, in particular the collective Point Blank poets and their unique response to contemporary issues. The power of their poetry had a great impact on my work particularly with project I am currently working on ‘A Stitch in Time’. In this body of work I am exploring the potential of communicating ideas through stitch, print and digital technologies. I intend to explore how textiles can be concerned with and comment on contemporary issues and affairs focusing on the 2011 London Riots.
Kurt Schwitters has been an admiration throughout my creative journey; he was one of the greatest masters of collage art. I admire his contribution to the Advant Garde movement.
Mistakes can be rewarding
Do you suffer artists block?
Yes on occasions it’s always important to step away from your work sometimes, in order to see new directions. Most importantly I have learnt not be scared to make mistakes or take risks this is very important to the development of your creative process. Some mistakes and errors are the most successful and rewarding.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My embroidery and textile art first started on paper, books and magazines the final outcomes were unrecognizable as the original item. During my creative process I began to explore the content of the material and the overlooked qualities of the items working with the chosen printed material.
Through Research and experimentation I hope my practice will also evolve new approaches, and new perception, investigating new areas of practice. I aim to push the boundaries of embroidery through the use of materials and application, eager to break the preconceptions of textiles
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
In 2012 I started my first workshops, and this year I will be taking my workshops into schools, The Embroiderers Guild Scholarship has enabled me to be introduced to lots of branches throughout the UK and I will be holding a number of talks to local branches during the year.
Why are you an artist?
Having no restrictions and being able to take risks. I like the unknown, trying new experiences and never knowing what opportunities are round the corner. As artist I enjoy the opportunity to engage with people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. I have always been creative from a young age. The support and feedback from the public, tutors, friends and family I have had through my journey has been very encouraging, but the main thing would have be my own passion and determination for my practice.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Visit www.kirstywhitlock.com for more info.
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