Hilary Bower interview: The feel of fabrics
Hilary Bower is perhaps best known for creating extraordinary work through focusing on the ordinary and seemingly insignificant elements of life. Her art is created through quiet observation, often expressed with a combination of materials, such as wood and metal in conjunction with cloth and thread.
You can find permanent collections of Hilary’s work in the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, as well as Winstanley College in Wigan. She was also the recipient of a grant by the Arts Council England in Yorkshire.
In this interview, Hilary discusses the therapeutic value of art, the importance of having her own special and creative space, and how she stays current on the constant evolution of textile art.
To study for art therapy
TextileArtist.org: What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
Hilary Bower: My father was an art teacher and so art and art history were a part of life. My mother knitted, and she made a lot of our clothes as well as home furnishings, so both directly and indirectly these things would influence, I think. I also remember from being a young child enjoying the feel of fabrics, of their textures and the smell of new fabric waiting to be made in to a garment.
What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Texture; the interplay of differing surface qualities and materials which could be embraced and manipulated and the richness of colour and pattern within many ethnic textiles.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
As I as was studying for my my A levels, art being one of them, I was also becoming very interested in the lives of people of all ages. I was mostly interested in working with young people, so after completing my A levels I spent three years working in Residential Child Care. It was in this work that art became important both to me and to the young people I was working with. Thoughts of going to study for art therapy became a possible way of combining art with social work, so I applied to do an Art Foundation Course to get me going again.
Whilst on the course I was introduced to weaving by a tutor who suggested that textiles was an area for me to consider investigating. I found it opened up a whole new world for me and this then led me to taking a degree in embroidery at Birmingham Polytechnic in the early 1980s. I immersed myself in the course, finding it a wonderful time for exploration and it helped me to realise that an art and creative future was the right thing for me.
I didn’t follow up he Art Therapy in a formal way but I feel that the mentoring work I offer brings this to life.
Ideas and concepts need to be realised
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
From working mainly with fabric and thread for many years, I began to incorporate paper, wire, metals and wood. This exploring with appropriate materials and mediums is now at the core of my work; some found objects are also beginning to find there way into recent pieces.
Stitch, whether as a means of construction or used as a drawing tool is still critical to my work and making. I employ a range of techniques which include nailing, piercing, rubbing, painting, and drilling. At present, I would describe my work as both sculptural mixed media textiles and mixed media drawings. I feel that drawing and mark-making are key to the exploration, understanding and clarification of thinking and concepts running in parallel with the making and constructing with materials such as cloth, wood, metal, and paint to enable a depth of consideration and outcome. I feel that my work straddles fine art, textiles and drawing, in its broadest sense, and does not fit in to one category. I am looking forward to exploring new exhibiting opportunites in the year ahead.
I have to make the work I need to make. I am not static in my work; it is an ongoing process that shifts and alters as ideas and concepts need to be realised.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in.
I have a studio at The Harley Foundation Studios, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire and it is a space that is very special to me. It is the hub of my arts practice and where I feel at one with myself and the world. It is where I can reflect, ponder, make, explore, plan, understand and do battle at times. It is my second home!
I have various points around the studio where different processes take place, allowing me to work on a number of things at once. This all helps to keep everything moving and developing.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I have always used sketchbooks and find that they are integral to my work and thinking. I have two or three on the go at the same time. I use these in differing ways; a place to reflect, write, draw, think; another to explore an abstract thought, things observed and another to hold fabric and other material explorations and tests. I always use black plain bound sketchbooks in a variety of sizes and the joy of beginning a new one is a wonderful thing.
Social history and the undervalued
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I am, and have been for sometime, inspired by the small things observed around me, such as the insignificance of life which can be very significant in other ways. I am researching the notions of silence, stillness, waiting, matter and marking, materiality, shadow, and light, and exploring ways to make these intangible things tangible. I am inspired by object and human life, such as what makes people create, social history and the undervalued, the skills and crafting and art of others are key things that inspire and feed in to my current work.
Eva Hesse has always been of huge inspiration. Her work encompassing both 2D and 3D and her confidence to embrace new and unusual materials to work with; to take risks and see what happens.
Louise Bourgeois is another artist I also have huge respect for, including her lifetime dedicated to obsession, production and of trying to speak about such difficult issues so successfully and bravely.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why.
I have fond memories of a number of pieces I have made over the years, as each phase of my making has come along.
One piece I made for a solo exhibition in 2006 and 2007, Of Quiet Observation, was titled, ‘Gathering the Small’. It was the last piece I made for the exhibition and it just seemed to sum up so much in that one piece. It was a coming together and a realisation of so much.
Another piece of which I have fond memories is the work I made for the Cloth & Memory 2 exhibition at Salts Mill, Saltaire in 2013. It was the largest piece of work I have made and holds within it those who gave me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing exhibition – those who helped with the making and installing and those who inspired the piece.
Be intuitive and exploratory
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has evolved hugely over the last 30 years from colourful, patterned purses and wall pieces, through vessels and work involving wax, cork, felt, and animal images and on eventually to the present day where my work is more minimal. The coloured greys and what I call the in between colours call me to use them as I explore the subject matter that has interested me for a few years now.
This current work is seeing a wider variety of materials within them, allowing for differing constructions and yet still covers both 2D and 3D areas. I am working on mixed media drawings. This is a way I have always worked, but these seem to be a big part of my work at present. It is a way to be intuitive and exploratory and feeding in to other, as yet unknown, work ahead.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
To an aspiring textile artist I would say that hard work and tenacity is needed, along with a real need and desire to make and develop an identity in this area. To be discerning about where you show your work, research and visit shows and galleries before submitting if you can. Have an intention and a 3-5 year plan of what you would like to achieve and set out to do that. Keep to a good accounting structure!
What other resources do you use?
I subscribe to Crafts, Embroidery, and Artist Newsletter as these give me a broad look at current art and craft practice. I also buy sculpture and ceramic review as this is another area I like to know about and be inspired by. I am a member of the 62 Group of Textile Artists and our newsletter is very informative and gives a good guide to what is going on with members’ exhibitions and opportunities to consider.
Group and individual mentoring
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I would have to say a pen and sketchbook, quickly followed by cloth, a needle, and thread.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so, where can readers find information about these?
I run an ongoing programme of development weekends, exploratory workshops, and group and individual mentoring in my studio and in the Harley Foundation Education Room. I also offer talks and lead workshops with various groups and I am happy to discuss specific requirements with interested parties. I am also leading workshops at both SITselect and for Lesley Morgan at Committed to Cloth this year.
Get more information at:
Where can readers see your work this year ?
An exhibition of new drawing and mixed media pieces can be seen at The Harley Gallery, opening on the 14th February and running until the 12th April 2015. The title of the exhibition is ‘Silence, Space, Shadow’.
Want more information? Please visit: www.hilarybower.com