Gary Dickins: Hidden talent
Gary Dickins was born in London in 1962 and moved to Somerset in 1972.
In 2004, Gary started working from a shared studio space in the Blackdown Hills in East Devon. In 2010 he constructed a purpose built studio in his garden, he now works at his home in Somerset.
As a self-taught artist, Gary has developed a unique style of contemporary painting from the use of found materials. Handmade paper, canvas, earth, fungi, stitching, paint, textiles, rusting metal, anything. These are combined to create a body of dramatic, powerful and continually evolving work.
In this interview, Gary reveals his journey to becoming an artist and we discover how a combination of very personal everyday challenges and global wars influence his series of work.
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Gary Dickins: Accessibility of materials, easy to work anywhere, able to hide work away!!!!
Initially, I would make work when other family members were out, then hide away before they came home…this continued for several years.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by stitch?
Initially blanking out the eyes of civilian victims of war in my first picture in the series Conflict, anonymising, then realising just how cathartic it was to hand stitch
Who were your early influences?
My grandad was a school keeper in London who spent his spare time making & creating. Designs made from small nails and coloured cotton. This picture shows his work circa 1970 on the railing at Green Park station in London.
Personal art therapy
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I did O level art at school in the 1970’s, had no involvement with art until I was in my late 30’s. My evolution into becoming an artist was something that came out of isolation and struggling with depression. It was my self-created personal art therapy, I just started making & making & making………
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
Randomised hand stitching, to enhance the aesthetic of the work and to enable me to lose myself in the process of stitching.
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with embroidery?
I stitch where I view it is required in the composition of a work. Sometimes over stitching the same area as if darning a hole.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
A dear friend of mine, artist Camilla Nock described it many years ago as ‘contemporary painting’, albeit with strokes of stitch, not paint. It still works for me.
Being on the outside
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
No sketchbook. I collect materials, leaflets, piles of newspaper cuttings, old textiles, anything and everything until an idea comes to me to proceed.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
Initially, I worked on a series until I ran out of ideas, this the case for the Conflict & Blackdowns series. I then limited myself to six images per series ongoing.
What environment do you like to work in?
My studio in my garden or the kitchen.
What currently inspires you?
Being free from 9-5 office work. Just walked out approx 3 years ago during a meltdown! Never went back.
Who have been your major influences and why?
My grandad Herbert Sidney Dickins, a London school keeper for 40 years who still managed to find time for creativity.
My ex-sister in law Katie’s husband, Adrian Higgins. He was the first person I had contact with that actually called himself an artist. It sparked something in me during my dark days, my ‘hiding/making/hiding’. I was an artist myself.
Being an outsider, with no formal training, at the time I started stitching I didn’t have influences, I just did what felt right for me.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
I had joined a small group of artists working in the Blackdown Hills. They helped me to develop by taking me outside my comfort zone and opening my eyes to other materials.
My proudest work, if that is the correct word, is Weapon of War. The subject matter makes me flinch every time it’s mentioned. What man has done to women throughout the world’s conflicts defies comprehension!
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Started in a dark place personally with the series of Conflict, gradually evolving over 15 years, as I have, through Blackdowns, Rust, Weapon of War, Calver Red…with Cunning Cavaliers being my last series to date.
My work invites you – the viewer – to stop, engage and reflect upon both the world around you and your role in maintaining a civil society. It bears witness to the civilian victims of contemporary war. The imagery is a memorial to the lives of loved ones lost.
The inspiration of a new idea; the influence of an image, a piece of text, a rough sketch, no work starts the same way. The process of creating, assembling, glueing and stitching; the utilisation of everyday materials and the final framing and closure of a piece of work, these all bring to me a welcome release in an increasingly pressurised and frenetic society.
I am currently collaging and creating boxed installations awaiting inspiration for next textile series……..
The Conflict series of works are Dickins’ response to the atrocities of ethnic cleansing carried out in Kosovo and Bosnia. The brutal murder of families, men, women and children; the futility of war; the detailed and vivid images on daily television news footage.
The narrative in broadsheet reporting and access to detailed reports on the Internet all combined to provide the catalyst.
The Blackdowns series of works is Dickins’ interpretation of abstract relationships, reflecting the beauty and tranquillity of his spiritual home. These pieces are influenced by the diversity of natural forms, woodland and fungi found in the Blackdown Hills A.O.N.B.
These works were created post divorce, nurtured in a shared working environment of encouragement and safety. The freedom, openness and peace of mind found walking and exploring in the Blackdown Hills.
The Rust series of works were developed having been given the opportunity to create site specific work for Somerset Art Weeks 2010. Dickins explored the dark interiors of the Tithe Barn and surrounding farm buildings at Cotley, nr Chard.
Rusting metal recovered from the farmyard has been re-worked, layered with recycled felt, found paper and hand stitching. Subtle colour has been introduced to reflect both the natural environment and the royal maroon paint associated with these important buildings.
WEAPON OF WAR
The Weapon of War series of works is Dickins response to having read an Amnesty International leaflet ‘ Stop the rape in Dafur – Protect the human’ ‘In Darfur rape is being used as a weapon of war’.
Discarded paper, textile and wound dressings are stitched together as to signify the ‘mending’ of the bodies and minds of women violated during war.
The Calver Red series of works evolved from a chance find at Frome Artisan’s Market on Catherine’s Hill. Having stopped at a stall to taste a local cheese, Dickins noticed that the stallholder was throwing the cheese cloth away in a bin.
But these weren’t just any cheese cloths, to Dickins they were beautifully marked, full of character and individuality. Cheese cloth with velvet and leather, adding depth with found objects are combined to create geometric discourse.
The Cunning Cavaliers series have been imagined and made, combining beautifully patterned antique silk brocade, worn, faded and fragile over time which has been visibly repaired with hand stitching. This has been incorporated with a sequence of images depicting a group of dashing and unscrupulous men plotting their cunning plan.
Contrasting textiles, elements of colour, composition and form have been re-worked and embellished throughout the series to provide the viewer with a layering of texture and detail.
A diverse output of work
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Create work that inspires you personally.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Grandad’s old needles & remaining threads.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes?
I’ve often been asked, as yet no. If there was a call for it locally I would happily open up the studio to small groups or individuals.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Being a maker I have been relatively poor at this, random, sporadic, unsure….lacking in confidence.
I find that having a diverse output of work styles and mediums, it often leaves me not knowing what work to submit where.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Nothing in the pipeline for 2017, exhibited Rust at Salisbury Art Centre earlier this year.
Always happy to provide viewings in the studio & home via appointment.
Will be looking at opening the studio in 2018 for Somerset Art Weeks Open Studios
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