Patricia Casey Interview: Memory, imagination and dreams
Australian artist Patricia Casey combines photography on fabric with embroidery details to create ethereal work that centres on the themes of memory, dreams and imagination. She has exhibited worldwide in countries including Australia, China, France, Korea, Malaysia, United States and United Kingdom.
In this in depth interview with Patricia, she talks about her rigorous research process and the need to have something to do with her hands.
Theory and philosophy
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Patricia Casey: I love to make things with my hands. Working with digital photography there is a distance between the work and myself. Stitching or crocheting on the image inserts the self into the artwork. The photograph is handled, the surface pierced by the needle. This is of course not usual for the photographic medium – where the pristine photographic surface is revered.
This transforms the work from an image into a treasured object and adds yet another layer of meaning.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
I am quite interested in photographic theory and philosophy and I think about these things a lot as my images are of places and events that do not exist in reality. I am constantly questioning the veracity of photography to tell a truth.
In terms of the textile elements of my work, my mother and an elderly neighbour taught me how to sew and crochet. My mother had won a scholarship for her embroidery and made beautiful things in her youth. Sadly she was sent to secretarial college instead. If she had been born in another time perhaps she may have been an artist.
Our neighbour was crippled with arthritis and she taught me purely with the sound of her voice, as her hands were too crippled to hold a needle and thread. I spent many hours with her and those memories are very special, comfortable ones. There is a meditative quality about repetitive handwork. The hands develop their own intelligence and instinct takes over.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
I was an artist long before I realized it, as I was always making things, drawing, painting, etc. I however, did not go to art school until the age of 35. By this time, I was married and had 3 little children to care for also, so it was a wonderful busy time. I did my initial studies at a Technical College, and then went on to further study and graduated from the University of Sydney, with a Master of Visual Arts (Research). My earlier training was all about how and the latter about why.
Memory, imagination and dreams
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques ?
My work consists of photography on fabric with embroidery detail. I take the photographs and make the images and they are printed digitally directly onto fabric that has been treated for pigment printing. Then I will embroider details of the image – birds, leaves, trees.
I have worked with transparent georgette and lately with a thick cotton fabric. Sometimes I use embroidery cotton, at the moment I am working with metallic thread.
I am not too concerned with technique and often just use backstitch. Sometimes I stick to colouring within the lines, sometimes I don’t.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
My work is very much about listening to the heart. I am concerned with themes of memory, imagination and dreams. The images of interior worlds are a combination of beauty and unease, knowing and the unknown and of seeing and being seen. Essentially I am combining multiple elements to create an event that has never taken place or a location that does not exist in reality. Often I give clues in terms of perspective and composition, that something is not quite right.
In terms of contemporary art I am an artist who works with photography, drawing and textiles. My stitching is a form of drawing and I make my own idiosyncratic marks that puncture the surface of my images. I seem to fall somewhere in between these spheres as all elements are equally important to my practice.
Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
I photograph constantly and go on regular field trips, so I have a great bank of resource images to work with. I have images from all over the world as well as from a wide variety of locations here in Australia, including some taken on a 3,000 km road trip in Western Australia.
My models are usually people that I know, either my own children or their friends who are always keen to have the experience of working with an artist. I shoot them at home in ambient light or in the garden. Occasionally I have approached a stranger and have photographed them in situ with available light.
My studio is downstairs in my home and our dog Tessa, an ageing Dalmatian, usually keeps me company. I look out onto a mass of green from studio window. My working process is a combination of the cerebral and the domestic. Often when I am stuck with an image, I will put on a load of washing, or sweep the floor and come back in 10 minutes with fresh eyes. In the evenings I continue my stitching upstairs with the family around me. I seem to have a need to have something to do with my hands.
When starting a new series I will go through a period of research, which involves reading both literary and philosophical texts; and looking at lots of art. I make images from multiple photographs and will try various combinations before resolving the work. Once it is printed onto the fabric, I begin to have a little love affair with each work as I hand stitch the detail.
Do you use a sketchbook?
I always carry a little moleskine sketchbook and also have a larger one, that I call my visual diary, for the studio. I write quotes from literature or philosophy relating to my current work; keep mementoes like special leaves, feathers, images that inspire. Often I will sketch out my idea for an image or series of images and will label all the detail. Sometimes the result is very different, but this is always my stepping off point.
Not everything that I draw or write about in my visual diary is worked on at that moment – there is a fluidity in my timelines as I will go back and revisit ideas.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The landscape is inspirational and I am my happiest immersed in it with camera in hand. The landscape has become a metaphor for emotional states and altered realities. I also find the young people in my images very inspiring. They are on the verge of their lives and are still shiny with the possibilities of the future.
I am fortunate enough to also work part time as an Arts Facilitator in the Art Program at Studio Artes here in Sydney. Studio Artes is a supported studio for artists living with disability and I am constantly immersed in a creative culture as a result. I find the artists that I work with incredibly inspiring and their work so full of imagination and heart.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
I am most fond of a work titled “Evoke” made in 2009. It consists of layered photographic images printed on georgette. This was part of my first series using textiles and made while my father was dying of cancer. I found the repetitive motion of the stitching very soothing and the work was portable so I could take it with me to the hospital and stitch while we all spent time together. The meditative action of working with needle and thread really got me through this difficult time. Also, Dad loved this image so it has remained very special to me.
Listen to your intuition
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work is constantly evolving and I am always experimenting. In terms of my themes, they remain constant. It is just the ways that they are portrayed that may change.
I have used crochet in some past work and I am revisiting that at the moment using wire, which is a new challenge. A waterfall of woven wire is spilling out of my lap – It is about 3 metres long and growing.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Listen to your intuition. That inner voice is rarely wrong.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I can’t do without a needle threader and my camera is pretty important too. Also I love metallic threads and their sparkle.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I give workshops from time to time, usually in conjunction with an exhibition. Readers can find details posted on my facebook page or my website where you can see some photographs of some past workshops on my blog.
Where can readers see your work in 2014?
For more information please visit: patriciacasey.com.au
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