Marianne Kemp: Horsehair weaving
Dutch textile artist Marianne Kemp began sewing at the age of 13. Her early interest in textiles led her to study art at The Royal Academy of Art and Design in The Hague, Holland before moving to London to pursue an MA at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
She specializes in weaving with horsehair and unconventional weaving techniques, combining texture, colour and movement.
In our interview with Marianne we discuss her collaborations with other designers and how this helps feed her knowledge and continued experimentation.
Loom, warp and weft
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Marianne Kemp: Textile Art has been my interest for such a long time. It can be used and applied in so many ways; like size, a public installation for architecture or smaller pieces sold in galleries. Also material-wise; it can be hard and solid or soft and flexible. In the beginning it was mainly the textile art from the seventies which got my interest.
Not so much the ‘look’ but because of the technical knowledge, scale and you could also see the time and energy that was put into one piece of work.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My mother used to sew a lot dresses for me when I was young, so I started playing with all the left over bits making hair accessories. I started sewing at 13 and soon after designing my own clothes.
Besides clothes I was soldering jewellery and using a jig saw to make brooches. I was just creating all the time – and if I wasn’t making I was thinking about it or going to the library, looking for inspiration.
I wouldn’t say that creativity was in the family, I come from a more a technical background. My three brothers all work in a technical area, which could explain why I’m interested in the more technical textile technique of weaving. I love finding new ways of using the loom, warp and weft.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
After a fashion degree I went to art school; The Royal Academy of Art and Design in The Hague, Holland. It was here that I got to learn how to weave.
In the beginning I wasn’t interested at all – I thought it was boring, making stripes and checks. Back than I could never have thought it would become my favourite technique!
Since we only had to do weaving on the course I got to learn it well and soon realized that I didn’t have to use thread or yarn in the weft – I can put any kind of material between the warp threads. First some rubber from bike tires, strips of fabric, plants and beans, plastics etc.
In the end I dropped fashion design and started focusing more onto the fabric itself.
My aim was to pull textiles from it’s flatness, by creating textures through playing with the warp and weft yarns. Creating a different character and feel in fabric by using unusual materials and by developing new weaving techniques.
It was in the final year when I started weaving with natural tree fibers and horsehair.
I worked from early mornings till late in the day, designing and sampling new weavings. The stream of ideas and designs kept flowing. I graduated with wall panels, a seat, window panels and collages, all made with horsehair and plant fiber weaves.
Immediately after graduating I went to London, to follow an one year Masters degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design. I did a lot of theoretical research on the use of colours in interiors/exteriors and how people use space, privately and publicly. Finally I graduated in 2000 with three models of multifunctional floors.
Half a year later I got a studio in the Cockpit Arts in central London, going back to weaving, again with horsehair. It was in 2001 when I got in contact with John Boyd Textiles, professional weavers of horsehair. I showed them a few of my horsehair weaving designs. They were interested to see if it was possible to weave mechanically… and yes it worked! The magazine World of Interiors wrote an article about it. It was the first publication of my horsehair weaving, so proud!
After 3 and a half years of London it was time to go, I left to Cape Town SA.
With just one tail of horsehair and a borrowed loom from the local Weavers Guild of Cape Town, I designed many interesting and exciting new weavings. It was a great time, learning from local weavers and giving them workshops too, helping them discover new techniques. The head-piece I made in these 6 months was a large wall hanging which was called Africa.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work can be described as playful and is often not recognized as weaving. I think this is important for textile art – not the technique itself (weaving, knitting etc) but the concept and the outcome. I use the weaving technique because it’s the best way I can present my creative ideas. The concept of my work lies in discovering techniques and its application in shape and size.
My work has an obvious path that it follows. At first I research patterns and colour combinations. After that I do more research into weaving textures, the feel of the fabric is important. Logically this is followed by ‘how does the fabric fall or stand’. Then I get into creating 3D weaving techniques. At the moment I’m excited about experimenting with size, shape and combinations of different weaving techniques in one piece.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I see my loom as a tool on which I can create new surfaces. The factor of playing is the most important in combination with colour and scale. Colour can make or break a piece, not all colours work well with the different techniques. Often it happens that I create something with a plan, from the beginning till the end product. But often in the end I change its purpose. This is because as soon as the fabric unrolls from the loom, its character comes alive.
I find it important to let the fabric ‘speak’ and tell you how it wants to fold or flow. Does the ‘weaving’ have shape itself as an object or does it work better as a wall object? The combination of materials and technique together makes the shape of the object.
This way of working: strictly using the warp and weft in a certain way and the spontaneous use of the outcome makes it very exciting. And often gives me new ideas for new work.
Collaborations with other designers
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The last few months I have been working on a series of fashion items, which was a logical path for me. Showing as a weaver what you can do with hand weaving, how specific you can design a fashion item. For example the character of the fabric decides the shape of the clothing, let say a jacket. Do you want something special to happen on the shoulder instead of stitching it later on the on the jacket? Or is it more interesting to weave it in at the same time as the fabric of the jacket?
Besides doing my own weaving work, I do collaborations with other designers. In the past I did a project with a ceramic designer, an interior architect and a fashion designer. Working with a designer from another discipline helps me to broaden my views on the use of materials and its shaping.
Recently I started a new collaboration with a leather maker – making bags using horsehair weaving with a jewellery designer.
I like to work both ways – making art pieces, continuing my research on new ways of using warp and weft as well as designing new products using horsehair weaving.
Do you use a sketchbook?
My inspiration comes from everything; nature, fashion, architecture, images in newspapers, books, but mainly it comes from just playing on the loom. The warp is my clean sheet of paper.I have many boxes full of weaving samples.
Often while weaving something I get ideas for new techniques or objects and immediately make a small sample on another loom.
I also have notebooks, take photos and I have scraps of paper everywhere with drawings of products, colour combinations, weaving textures and technical drawings showing new ways of using the warp and weft.
After many years of working by myself in a studio I now share a studio with another weaver, which works perfectly, in both a technical and a creative sense.
An original step forward
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Generally I’m most fond of latest piece I’ve made. Creatively speaking, it has to be something that I haven’t done before. An original step forward is the most important thing to keep it interesting for myself.
Of course I have fond memories of the first little horsehair weaving samples I ever made, so original.They are still a good source of inspiration to develop even further.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Since 2001 I’ve shown my work at many different places from the Salone in Milan, Italy and throughout Europe in Paris, Munich, Amsterdam and London. My wall panels and lighting pieces are sometimes exhibited in luxurious interior design stores. Next September I will show my work in a small weaving museum in Leiden, where I can use all the different spaces to show my large and small installation work.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I would recommend:Warp & Weft by Jessica Hemmings Weaving as a metaphor by Sheila Hicks
Fashion (Taschen 25th Anniversary) by The Kyoto Costume Institute
Besides looking into textiles books I’d also recommend looking into other kinds of art and design books, like painting or architecture. For me these are the greatest inspiration for new work.
For more information in Marianne please visit: www.horsehairweaving.com
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