Pauline Burbidge: Visionary moments
Pauline Burbidge makes unique, special ‘one-off’ quilts and wall hung textiles, thus creating her own visual language in fabric. Pauline has been making quilts for 40 years and has exhibited worldwide, mainly in the UK & USA. Her work has grown from the tradition of quilt making, together with a love of fabric and stitch and, in recent years, has been inspired by the natural world around her in the Scottish Borders, where she lives and work.
Pauline’s work is in demand and has been purchased by major museums of the UK, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Glasgow Museums, and the Shipley Art Gallery; and also for major collections in the USA, including the International Quilt Study Center & Museum, and the Collection of John M Walsh III.
Publications include ‘Quilt Studio’:(The Quilt Digest Press, now McGraw-Hill) 2000; Portfolio Collection: Pauline Burbidge (Telos Art Publishing) 2004; Pauline Burbidge: Works between 1975 & 2012 (A twistedthread publication) 2012; OPEN STUDIO: Allanbank Mill Steading (Pauline Burbidge & Charlie Poulsen) 2014; ‘Quiltscapes & Quiltline’ (Ruthin Craft Centre & The Bowes Museum) 2015.
In this interview we discover Pauline’s route to becoming an artist, she gives us a detailed insight into her influences, techniques and processes and tells us what motivates her now after 40 years in the business!
The freedom to work
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Pauline Burbidge: I have always enjoyed working with fabric, and was trained in Fashion/Textiles at St. Martins Art College in London. Three years after leaving college, I took up patchwork and quiltmaking, I felt it allowed me great freedom to work and create in an unrestricted way with the fabric, cloth, stitch and colour.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by quilts?
I found an old 1920’s book called ‘Patchwork Quilts and the women who made them’, by Ruth Finley, and I also visited an exhibition organized by The American Museum, on show at The Commonwealth Institute, in London. These two things grabbed my interest, and once I had started a few samples, I somehow knew that I wanted to make a career out of this – it was one of those visionary moments! How lucky I was to have seen this!
The natural world around me
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
As a child I lived in a busy Farm House in Dorset – where we were always busy making things, stitching, knitting, cooking and gardening, with a keen interest in animal life and the natural world around me.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
My art teacher at school really aroused my interest in the Arts, he had a great enthusiasm for the subject and was also a brilliant teacher! After leaving school I took a two-year general Art & Design foundation course, at a local technical college. Then went on to complete a Degree course in Fashion & Textiles at St Martins Art College, London. This was in the early 1970’s.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
In my early work I was ‘hooked’ on piecing plain dyed fabric together to create my imagery. This came from the tradition of patchwork, yet I designed my own images. The work I made then was extremely controlled, hard edged, geometric piecing. In the mid 1980’s, I decided to ‘loosen up’ a bit, and made paper collage studies to help me do this, which then led onto fabric collage, which I pursue today.
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with quilting?
I continue to work in a very free-form way with collage, stitch and quilting, sometimes machine stitching, sometimes hand stitch. I love to draw with my machine stitching line using my Handi Quilter machine. I have developed this work into usable and functional quilts, that I call ‘Quiltline’ – they are a little like my drawings. For example, ‘Rye-Grass’ is an example of a ‘Quiltline’ quilt. Whereas the pieces that I call ‘Quiltscapes’ – are made deliberately as textile wall hangings, and are more like my collages or ‘paintings’, in fine art terms. As an example, ‘Honesty Skyline’ is a ‘Quiltscape’ piece.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
Currently I feel I am making ‘Textile Landscapes’.
I think that Textile artwork sits in its own category – straddling fine art and fine craft work. My work is mainly enjoyed by other makers – however I feel that this is broadening.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I love to draw; I draw with pencil and paper; I draw with my stitching line. Yes, I do use sketchbooks and photographs to collect my preliminary studies. I also use sketchbooks to roughly plan processes of my quiltwork, for example, a plan for stitching, what colour thread, what type of stitching. Sometimes this is necessary as I can only view one section of the work whilst I am stitching, as the whole work will be stretched onto a frame.
Surrounding myself with images
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
I have gained confidence, over the years, in working directly with cloth. When making my ‘Quiltscapes’/ studio quilts / wall hangings I try to allow the inspiration of a place to dictate the processes that I use. I have acquired a lot of different techniques throughout my long career, which I can dip into at any time.
I begin with, the place of inspiration, I observe and absorb it. I may make drawings in my sketchbook, take photographs, collect items; leaves, grasses or sand from this landscape. I can quite often think about fabric when I am in this landscape – it may remind me of cloth in some way; the ripples in the sand could remind me of the texture of some pleated cloth that I have been working with. Or the reflections in the river may look like shredded cloth to me!
On returning to my studio I surround myself with these images. I begin to make fabric samples that relate to these images. I may choose to make some mono prints of the mark making that was in my sketchbook drawing, or print from the collected grasses using Cyanotype, or make rubbings of those grasses onto cotton organdie.
Gradually the samples get larger, and I begin to collage a large size piece together, probably with a great deal of hand stitching.
When the image is complete I begin to plan and think about the quilting stitching, it may be a whole lot of hand stitching or a whole lot of machine stitching. Gradually it turns into a finished piece. I get very involved in the process of the making, which can take months, possibly almost a year to make. Often when I get to the finish, it can be rather a flat feeling, as I am no longer engaging with the work; it’s over. I just hope I have made an important and inspiring statement!
For my ‘Quiltline’ pieces, they are quite different to make. The concept of these are good design, practical and functional pieces. At the moment I am drawing directly onto a whole piece of cloth, and then drawing with my quilting machine stitching throughout the whole quilt, turning it into a very textured, usable and functional quilt.
What environment do you like to work in?
When I am making my work I move between three studio spaces. One where I collage and assemble the work, another space I use for printing and painting cloth, and the third area with my large quilting machine, this area also has finished quilts stored and boxed up, ready to exhibit. Our garden and the surrounding countryside is now a very important part of my working environment too.
What currently inspires you?
Special selected rural places, often here in the Scottish Borders, where I live. A landscape that holds a special atmosphere.
Who have been your major influences and why?
Currently, I love to see ‘one-person’ exhibitions, where I can really have an overview of an artist developing their own visual language.
I have so enjoyed seeing the development of my husband, Charlie Poulsen’s drawings over the last 8 years. Seeing his work is part of my everyday life, here at Allanbank Mill Steading, and his work probably does influence me, without me realizing.
Also, recently meeting the Canadian textile artist, Dorothy Caldwell, I enjoy her developed world-wide textile knowledge and understanding, and her love of mark making and stitch.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
‘Lindisfarne Revisited’ is one of my favorite pieces. I made it in 2011 when working towards my Retrospective exhibition held in 2012. The fabric, collage & stitch, reflected the landscape around Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, a very special place situated about 15 miles south of us, on the Northumberland coast. It now belongs to the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, they bought it with funds from the Art Fund and Northern Rock.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I have gained confidence, over the years, with my use of fabric, cloth & stitch. Everything used to be so ordered, but these days I work in a very free-form way, and wish to continue this. Each piece of work has new challenges, and as long as I am exploring new things, developing and moving on, I am happy!
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Please believe in yourself! In case this falters at any time, try and find a couple of people who believe in your work too, they are very valuable to you! Don’t allow rejection of any application to get you down, it’s all part of the artist’s world, just have another go!
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
- The Fabric of India, edited by Rosemary Crill. V&A publishing.
- World Textiles, by John Gillow and Bryan Sentence. Thames & Hudson.
- African Textiles by John Gillow, Thames & Hudson.
- TEXTILES by Mary Schoeser, Thames & Hudson.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Paper & pencil, scissors; and my HQ18 quilting machine!
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I give talks and workshops connected with my current exhibitions, as listed on my website www.paulineburbidge-quilts.com.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
Occasionally, these days, I am invited – as with the Bowes Museum and the Ruthin Craft Centre and the International Quilt Study Centre, USA. Once the loose invitation is there, I have to seriously follow it up!
Where can readers see your work this year?
My quilts are for sale in the above exhibitions;
Quiltline pieces range between £1500 – £2000, and Quiltscape pieces range between £5000 – £15,000, more details about these can be seen on Bob Shaw’s website.
Our OPEN STUDIO this year will run from 5th – 8th August 2016. It is a very special annual event, held at Allanbank Mill Steading, we make a very special effort to display work throughout our Studios and garden, and open for 4 days.
I have a one-person exhibition in the International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) in Nebraska, USA. Beginning on the 14th October 2016 and showing until 25th March 2017.
For more information visit: www.paulineburbidge-quilts.com
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