Rachel Parker: Art that inspires
Rachel Parker is a freelance textile designer working in print and embroidery. Collecting, cross-stitching, grids and symbols are big influences in her work. Recent projects include a Giant Cross-Stitch piece for Coats which was launched in Cologne at the h+h fair.
Rachel is a member of Studio Flock working with recent graduates to create beautiful contemporary furnishing fabrics that are stocked by Liberty, Heal’s and Studio Four NYC to name a few – with an exciting new collection launching in 2016.
‘Art that inspires’ is a series for TextileArtist.org, in which established textile practitioners discuss artists and pieces that have been influential in their own creative journey. Here, Rachel reveals five works of art that have had a major impact on her art and creative process.
Artist: Evelin Kasikov
Size of piece: 21 x 28cm
Materials used: Paper, Heritage 315 gsm. CMYK-embroidered letterform, stitched with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black thread
I first came across Evelin Kasikov’s work in an interview in Embroidery magazine in 2011 while researching for my Textiles degree. It was a real game changer for me! The timing was perfect. I was struggling with my direction – I knew I wanted to work with embroidery but I just kept coming up against a brick wall. When I first saw her grid based, analytical, contemporary cross-stitched art I was instantly captivated because her work is completely not what I’d thought of as “textiles”. Handcraft versus technology; graphic design meets craft. Wow.
Evelin’s Handprinted Alphabet utilises the halftone screen process of four colour printing, exploring the relationship between digital printing and the slow process of stitching by hand. To me, it’s all about communication. I love that she conjures up a printed page created by hand, translating a mechanical printing process into handmade type. The process of cross- stitch is deliberate and methodical, perfectly suited to CMYK which is the universal language for designers.
Everything appears to be meticulously planned, organised and working on a grid is a necessity – then you see the back of the piece and it’s a whirlwind of crossing threads, knots and colourful chaos. Four years on and it still makes my heart sing.
Artist: Karen Nicol
I find Karen Nicol’s mixed media embroideries inspirational for so many reasons, not least because she bridges the gap between textile artist and designer so effortlessly. She has a very impressive list of clients from both the worlds of fashion and interiors, as well as working on bespoke commissions for private clients. Her embroidery pieces are truly fascinating to me, and I long to see them up close! Karen creates ‘couture creatures’ using a variety of materials to hand. The beauty of these pieces is in the textural layering and detail, they’re a visual feast for the eye.
I actually came across Karen’s work when I was writing about collecting for my dissertation. In a fascinating interview with TextileArtist.org she describes herself as collecting materials “in a magpie manner, anything that inspires either in shape or quality or texture or technique.” I love the idea of surrounding myself with beautiful or intriguing ‘things’ and seeing what ideas are sparked from them, or how they might be included in my work somehow.
In an interview in Mollie Makes in 2013, Karen says that the best piece of advice she ever had was simply, “Look, look and look”. It’s so easy to stop doing that without realising! These embroidery pieces are so rich and opulent, and are a testament to how completely Karen lives by that piece of advice.
The Parakeet and the Mermaid
Artist: Henri Matisse
Materials used: Cut paper collage. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and charcoal on white paper
Notable exhibitions: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Tate Modern, April-September 2014
The vibrant collage works of Henri Matisse are instantly recognisable for their energetic use of colour and organic, free-flowing shapes. His work is full of life and vitality, which is an amazing thing given that he created them towards the end of his life, unable to stand and with the help of assistants.
The volume of work he created in such a short time is also pretty impressive and serves as a very effective motivator! When I look at a Matisse collage I’m reminded of that sense of urgency, of getting an idea out into the world and then moving on to the next one. There’s something about the method of collage on a large scale, of physically cutting into the material and in effect drawing with the scissors which means the shape really is the product of that particular moment in time.
I was lucky enough to visit The Musee Matisse in Cimiez in 2013 which I’d highly recommend to anyone with a love of colour. My memory is of wide open spaces, bright, clean light and saturated hues. The scale of the pieces is truly incredible. The Parakeet and the Mermaid has been described as a ‘blossoming indoor garden’ which captures it beautifully – the shapes seem to bloom and grow as you look at them. They’re both raw and elegant at the same time. I always think of that particular blue as a ‘Matisse blue’, and I can’t think of any other artist who owns a colour in that way.
Artist: Maurizio Anzeri
Materials used: Embroidery on photograph
Size of piece: 23 x 17 cm
Maurizio Anzeri works directly onto found photographs, obscuring, transforming and embellishing through embroidery. Sometimes he adds to the image by creating elaborate headpieces or jewellery, or he might create eclectic spiralling shapes that seem to give us a glimpse at what the person’s really thinking behind that formal portrait façade; sometimes he uses dense areas of stitch to almost completely obliterate the subject, almost in the same way as you might scrub out someones face with a sharpie, but carefully, in a very deliberate and considered way and with the added menace of the needle.
I find his work both uplifting and unsettling. Firstly, there’s the sadness that I always feel when looking through a box of old photos in charity shops and thrift stores, and the inevitable unanswered questions. I imagine these photos once held pride of place in ornate frames in family homes, now discarded and forgotten, a token of a distant past. The artist invents new narratives for these people, recasting them in a contemporary light. The original identity of these figures has already been lost, so perhaps he alludes to who they could have been. The act of masking the face also raises questions surrounding tradition and cultural identity, transporting the figure to a different point in time.
His use of colour and geometric shapes often gives the images a slightly alien or futuristic quality, as if the thoughts and emotions of the captured figures are an unstoppable force bubbling over – a hybrid of old and new.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Artist: Eric Carle
I love children’s books, so this list of inspiring art wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the work of one of my favourite artist illustrators, Eric Carle. Of course we’re all familiar with the timeless classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which I fell in love with all over again when reading it to my niece many years ago). The collage illustrations are so bold and vibrant; like Matisse they are full of energy and life, but with a greater emphasis on texture and layering.
When I was younger I used to be quite obsessed with copying pictures from my favourite books, and I had a go with painting on tissue paper and recreating some of Eric Carle’s pictures. I loved the technique and the way that the delicate paper becomes strengthened by the paint whilst retaining some of its translucency. Carle paints onto tissue paper using a variety of brushes and tools, which he then files into drawers by colour to create a pallette to work with.
I just love the idea of colour organised neatly! Without really realising it, I’ve begun to work more and more in this kind of way – building up a library of drawings, marks and textures to use for future designs. I tend to then scan these marks and play with them on photoshop, cutting, cropping, layering; digital collage I suppose. I hadn’t made that connection before…
Well there you have it, five pieces of art that currently inspire me. It was insanely difficult to narrow it down to five, but I’ve found it really interesting to think it through. The fact that three out of the five are collage artists is quite revealing, and has actually helped clarify the direction that my work’s going in. Ask me again next year!
For more information visit: www.rachelparkerdesigns.co.uk
If you’ve enjoyed this article why not share it with your friends on Facebook using the button below?