Haf Weighton: Architectural layering
Haf Weighton is a Welsh speaking textile artist who works with paint, print and stitch. Using drawing as a starting point, Haf uses the conventionally feminine language of thread to make marks over and through the traditionally male medium of architecture. Her portraits convey a sensitivity and connection to place, her marks and stitching softening the spaces and introducing a more earthy, vibrant and human element.
Haf obtained a degree in textiles and Fashion from Liverpool John Moores University in 1995. She went on to complete an Art PGCE at Brighton University and taught art for over a decade at Highgate Wood School in North London.
Since returning to live in Wales in 2015, Haf’s art work has sold widely and has become part of private and public collections. She has created many commissions for hospitals and is lead artist for the 25th anniversary of Barry hospital in Wales in 2020.
Haf had her work exhibited within two galleries of the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2018 and has had several solo shows: at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, London in Oct 2017, at Penarth Pier Pavilion and Makers Guild Wales in 2019 and her next solo show is in June 2020 at Y Galeri in Caernarfon. Haf exhibited at the 2018 Swansea Festival of Stitch and will run a master class there in August 2020. She has run workshops on creativity for Estyn school inspectors, Art Teachers across South Wales and for the National Museum of Wales.
Haf is a juried member of the Society for Embroidered Work (S.E.W.) and Society for Designer Crafts. She is a panel member and judge for the Urdd National Eisteddfod for Wales Art and Craft Competition.
Haf’s work has been featured many times on TV and in print media. You can find her online:: www.hafanhaf.com. Instagram: @hafweightonartist. Facebook – Haf Weighton – Textile artist @hafanhaf. Twitter: @hafweighton.
In this interview Haf tells us how her work came to be influenced by buildings – from her father’s home-made play houses to her first stitched building at school and the painted and stitched buildings of Liverpool in her degree final show – and how she uses paint, print and stitch to turn them into textile art.
My teacher became my student!
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium? How was your imagination captured?
Haf Weighton: I have a detailed knowledge of the history of fashion and textiles, largely due to what I learnt from the excellent art and textiles teacher that I had at school. I created my first stitched building in a textiles class at school at the age of about 15. When I ran a workshop on responding to Rembrandt in stitch at The National Museum of Wales last September, my former textiles teacher, Mrs Julie Morse, came along as one of my students.
I went to a Welsh language secondary school in Cardiff. Under the guidance of the art and textiles teachers at school, I would get involved in painting scenery, making millinery and costumes. I thought I might work in theatre or film in the future, but life took me on another path.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I was part of a very close family and was fortunate that my parents offered a very individualised approach to myself and my siblings, which reflected in our very different careers (my brother is a scientist and my sister is a counsellor). Neither of my parents were from an art school background but they could see that this was something I enjoyed and encouraged me to believe in my talent.
My ‘Mami’ can sew; she made curtains and our clothes and even sold the fabric dolls that she made. She also took me to exhibitions and we spent hours trawling junk shops together which helped foster my love of antiques. My father sometimes made houses for us to play in out of old bits of furniture and scraps of fabric which were quite sculptural. He was a lecturer in European Studies and still loves a good discussion. He grew up in Australia and, from hearing his stories of living in Sydney as a child, I always had this desire to go to Australia.
After graduating I longed for a break, I briefly worked as a scenic painter in Cardiff to save up money, then I travelled on my own to Australia. I loved the beach lifestyle and I had many adventures, making lifelong friends. For most of that period I worked waitressing, bartending and the odd office job. I also managed to get some work painting scenery for The Sydney Theatre Company in their base on a large jetty in Sydney Harbour. Sydney is still somewhere I consider home. I believe living on a different continent is something everyone should experience. I also travelled to various parts of the world with my sister – she is a free spirit who pushes me out of my comfort zone. Some of my happiest memories are of hitchhiking along the west coast of America all the way to Canada with her.
I lived in London for almost 20 years. When I first moved to London, my sister and I worked together at Comic Relief in the fast-paced office of the charity, working hard to deliver Red Nose Day, but also enjoying a great social life. I also worked in Corporate Fundraising for Mind, the mental health charity, then briefly for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I would always juggle my fundraising jobs with painting scenery and building props for fringe theatre companies in London. I then trained to be an art teacher and taught Art and Photography in North London for a decade.
My brother still lives in London and I love to visit him there. In an ideal life, I would have a base in London and a base in Wales – and perhaps one other base near a beach in Sydney. The disadvantage of extended periods of travel is that you never again feel at home in one place.
My travels, combined with my life in London, reinforced my belief in the value of diversity and acceptance – whether that be sexuality, race or gender. I truly think difference in all forms is something to be celebrated.
It was only when I had children that I decided to move back to Wales – mainly because I wanted them to speak Welsh, but also because I wanted to live by the sea. Now I live in the resurgent, Victorian seaside town of Penarth on the shores of the Bristol channel. My husband, Russell, is a successful copy and comedy writer. He’s taught me to have conviction in my own ideas and to believe that I could be successful and happiest leading a creative career.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I studied an art foundation course at Cardiff Art College before going on to do a BA in Textiles at Liverpool John Moores University. I loved every second of my art foundation in Cardiff and had fantastic textile tutors there – Gill St John Griffiths and Julia Griffiths Jones – who awarded me a distinction for the course.
I went on to Liverpool to study for my degree. Today, I identify more as an artist than a textile maker. I think that has a lot to do with my degree at Liverpool. In stark contrast to my art foundation, learning in my degree was very self-directed. I struggled with that in my first year and almost transferred to another course. I then changed from fashion to textiles. Textiles turned out to be very interdisciplinary and I found myself doing traditional printmaking and ceramics rather than weaving or knitting.
I started thinking about what I would do after college and the concept of ‘flights of fancy’ was one I kept returning to. I created a giant kite for my final show made out of paper-like fabric, folded to represent origami. The whole structure was inspired by buildings in Liverpool. The drawings that inspired that piece still hang in my house today. It’s ironic that after almost thirty years away, it’s the theme of ‘home’ that I now find myself drawn towards.
I gained a place on a residency at Talacre beach in North Wales. Every Monday a bus would collect me, along with eight fine artists, and one other textile artist and take us to the beach. I spent a lot of that time walking in the rain with my fellow textile student, Carolyn. But I think that having that opportunity gave me a focus outside of the degree. I then sought other opportunities.
Carolyn and I worked for a few weeks for the internationally acclaimed American installation artist, Ann Hamilton, at the Tate, Liverpool. Ann is an artist who responds poetically to the architectural presence of sites with dense accumulative materials and surfaces. I loved that experience; the camaraderie and feeling of working towards a shared creative outcome reminded me of times when I had worked on theatre productions. Ann taught me to use an industrial sewing machine at the Tate. I remember her describing sewing as ‘a sensitivity.’ The installation at the Tate that we created was completely immersive – consisting of a warehouse-sized room containing a maze of hanging sack-like cloth, which we sewed together. A few years later Ann wrote and asked if I’d like to be part of her team at the Venice Biennale. I was in Australia at the time and only saw her letter when I returned home a year later!
After a few years of travel and taking odd jobs from waitressing to painting scenery in theatre and TV, then working in marketing for different charities, I went on to train as an art teacher at Brighton University in 2003. I taught art and photography at Highgate Wood School in Crouch End for a decade. As with any comprehensive school, this was a challenging environment, but also a lovely, creative and nurturing place where the students were truly encouraged to express themselves. I worked with a great team of artists and we took the students out to galleries every single week. I formed a relationship with one of London’s leading art galleries – the Saatchi Gallery. I advised on their work with schools, suggesting that they link their exhibitions to GCSE and A-level exam themes – something they still do today.
During maternity leave, I found that being away from students at the school helped me to revisit my own creativity, and I started developing a body of textiles based on Harringay Green Lanes where we lived. We moved our small family to Wales in 2015 and since then I have been working as an artist, with some teaching linked to the Arts Council of Wales Lead Creative Schools scheme. I have won awards for my work, receive regular private and public commissions and have exhibited widely. I used my teaching contacts at the Saatchi Gallery to exhibit my own work there in 2017, alongside that of a group of children from Pencoed Primary School, Wales. I also work closely with Cardiff and Vale Hospital on their arts for health and wellbeing projects.
Starting with observational drawing
Tell us about your process from conception to creation
I had brilliant teachers at secondary school and on art foundation who themselves were and still are successful artists. I remember them building installations of old vintage and colourful, imaginative objects for us to draw. This inspired my love of drawing and so I begin every project with observational drawing.
I like to record the fabric of everyday life in my drawings – homes, hospitals, shop fronts, chapels, buses, lamp posts – objects that provide us with a sense of belonging in our communities. I then manipulate my imagery using photoshop, flipping my images and then transferring them on to painted backgrounds. I use transfer and silk screen print to transfer images from my sketchbook or from digital images to painted surfaces.
The fabric I use is usually recycled and I have a vast collection, ranging from tiny off-cuts to long swathes of silk. I like to find material that links to the style and history of the building I am capturing to give it authenticity.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques and how you use them
I use drawing, paint, print, hand- and machine-stitch. My techniques have been developed from years of experimentation. I draw using pen and ink into concertina home-made or seawhite sketchbooks. Once completed, I fold out my books and this is how I develop compositions for my final pieces. I was recently featured in an advert for Royal Mint that showed my processes from drawing to finished textiles.
My painted backgrounds are created using acrylic, and I paint with sticks and squeegees. I then add machine- and hand-stitch into my work. I like to build layers in my work, hoping to represent the feel and look of places. I find that the mix of techniques I use provide me with the skill to achieve that.
I think of stitching as drawing with thread. I see myself as an artist who happens to use thread and fabric to realise my work. Sometimes people find that concept confusing, as my style falls between the realms of art and craft.
What currently inspires you?
In 2018 I became very ill with a type of pneumonia and spent over a month in hospital. A friend, Dr Mark Taubert, who is also a palliative care consultant, visited me at hospital and suggested I try to find a way to make something positive out of the experience. Last year I created a body of work titled ‘Brysia wella’ – Get well soon. This was shown at Craft in the Bay in Cardiff Bay. I used messages people had sent me whilst ill to create badges and repeat prints. The exhibition was supported by Cardiff and Vale Health Board and I hope to develop this idea again and exhibit it within a hospital setting in the future as a type of message to help other people who are ill.
I hope to develop a series of pieces based on a closed Welsh chapel in the town of Barry in Wales. Many significant people who are related to the history of Wales formed part of the congregation of that chapel. I will exhibit my pieces based on the chapel in Barry where the chapel is located and then to North Wales to Y Galeri in Caernarfon. I’m hoping the final pieces I create will document a typical type of Welshness. I am planning on working with a film maker and photographer to record elements of the chapel featured and that the final exhibition will be a culmination of both sound and textiles.
I am also developing many school projects. One project is with Ysgol Bro Morgannwg in South Wales which is adjacent to Barry Hospital – who have chosen me to be their lead artists for 2020 – the 25th year of the hospital. I am also working with the Vale of Glamorgan Council on a number of projects in Barry. Recently I have been invited by a secondary school affected by the floods in Pontypridd to create a series of pieces based on the floods focussing on the Pontypridd lido. I am also about to launch an exhibition of work I have created with children from Cogan Primary School at Penarth Pier Pavilion to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Pier. This will be shown at Penarth Pier Pavilion until the end of April 2020.
Success comes from self-belief
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
My favourite piece is inspired by the area of Green Lanes in North London where I lived. Route master buses thread their way along this busy street past the brightly coloured Turkish supermarkets, restaurants, bakeries and clothing shops. It is a street that never goes to sleep.
‘Lido to Brouhaha’ summarises that place. I always feel a sense of ‘Hiraeth’ (longing) towards it, but, at the same time, it is a place I am glad I have left behind.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
People always ask ‘how long does it take to create one piece?’ I always want to answer ‘a whole lifetime’. My pieces are both time consuming physically and mentally, as I often consider an idea for years before it is fully resolved. I think the benefit of a creative degree is the value you gain from having the opportunity to experiment and develop your ideas without worrying about where that idea might take you. My parents worked hard to support me financially – enabling me to do an art degree without a grant. I’m eternally grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.
Being a parent myself has given me the confidence to really enjoy my creativity and I hope as my children get older, my art work will also develop. Creativity isn’t something you can switch on and off, but I think with years of experience I have learnt to keep my creative light on.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
To believe that being an artist can make you truly happy and not to be put off when you don’t sell work, don’t get on a course or win an award – there will always be another opportunity. There are so many talented people in this world.
Being successful as an artist is more about self-belief than creativity. When one door closes, another always opens. I actually look for the positive in every negative experience, however harrowing, as I know I have turned my life around in the past and will do so again.
Being unsuccessful sometimes helps you come up with the most creative ideas and takes you on the best adventures.
For more information visit www.hafanhaf.com
Did Haf’s story or techniques inspire you? If so, we’d love to hear how – please leave a comment in the box below.