Richard McVetis: The act of making
Richard McVetis is a British artist-maker who studied constructed textiles at The Royal College of Art and is now best known for his meticulously embroidered drawings and objects.
His artistic practice centres on his training as an embroiderer through the use of traditional hand stitch techniques and mark making. Using laboured and meticulously worked wools and multiples of embroidered dots and crosses, he explores the similarities between pen on paper and thread on fabric, using a limited vocabulary of mark making and deliberately subdued colour to create a binary simplicity.
Richard is a member of the renowned 62 Group of Textile Artists and has recently contributed to their latest exhibition, Making Space. This year he was shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawings Prize and he won the Jurors award at Craft Forms in Wayne, USA.
In this interview, Richard talks about his attraction to paper and pen and how drawing has been a central part of his practice. We learn about his meticulous technical process and the various stages his work has been through, which lead back to embroidery.
Exploiting contemporary possibilities
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Richard McVetis: My initial attraction to textiles began on my foundation art and design course. Inspired by the passion of my tutor Amanda Clayton, it was here that I was able to see the potential of textiles as medium for artistic expression.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by embroidery?
On a visit to the open day of the Embroidery degree at Manchester Metropolitan University really opened my mind to the broad sense of embroidery as form for expression. What attracted me to this place was the chance to learn one of world’s oldest crafts whilst exploiting the contemporary possibilities of this medium at the same time.
The diversity and exploration of the medium were liberating. It was here during my degree that my imagination was captured by embroidery. Through great tutelage, I was able to develop my artistic style.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life influenced your work?
Drawing has always played a central part to my practice and since I was a child the medium I had most access to, was pen and paper. I would create entire worlds on the back pages of my school exercise book, building and destroying futuristic cities with a black ballpoint pen.
The miniature scale of these worlds I created is a key element in the understanding and organising of space that I have now. I found this method of drawing with black ink to be very satisfying and my interest in this continued right through to high school and college.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
After my foundation, I studied for an Embroidery BA at Manchester and then became Embroiderers Guild Scholar. I took a year out from education and then headed to the Royal College of Art (2006-2008).
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
My artistic practice centres on my training as an embroiderer through the use of traditional hand stitch techniques and mark making. Laboured and meticulously worked wools, multiples of embroidered dots and crosses explore the similarities between pen on paper and thread on fabric.
Embroidery has become an extension of this exploration of surface through rendering. Using this limited vocabulary of mark making and deliberately subdued colour to create a binary simplicity.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
Yes, I do. I keep one book of small sketches, photos and stitch samples. I mainly use them to record ideas so they don’t get lost in my head. I’ve become less precious with my sketchbooks. I used to spend hours, sometimes days on a single page; instead I now focus on stitching.
My camera also plays a significant part in developing ideas. I take a huge volume of photos and I make sure to print these out. All of these everyday compositions for some reason attracted me and I want to make sure I give these the attention they deserve.
The speed in which we capture images and the pace of every day mean these events are short lived and replaced by the next thing. Sketchbooks have an amazing ability to pull all this together, its there as a physical and tactile record of your thoughts.
What environment do you like to work in?
Alone and in my studio. I like a quiet space with good light, although when I’m in the throws of making I do like to listen to the radio or a good podcast, Radio lab or This American Life usually do the job.
I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m in the studio. This is total ‘me’ time and I need this space to think and be alone. As an introvert and perfectionist, embroidery has become more than just about mark making but about taking control and slowing parts of my day down.
Elevating the mundane
What currently inspires you?
I’m inspired by process and the act of making, its ritualistic and repetitive nature. In addition, mapping out space, marking time and form are central themes. Ideas are often developed in response to, or created specific to a moment, visualising and making time a tactile and tangible object.
Many of the patterns and marks that appear in my work happen to be the ones that are very rarely noticed. These patterns are inspired by the every day, a place you pass routinely, the metal tread of a station entrance or the shadow created by the morning sun light. Taking notice of these, removing them from their context, elevating the mundane to a higher status.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
‘My Grey Pencil Case’ is one of those works that holds a particularly fond memory. The work was created using my RCA pencil case. By unpicking the seams the case revealed drawings and marks on the inner surface, pens and pencils secretly recorded the rhythms of daily life. Here can be seen the abstract trace of my body’s movement over a period of years. It was really the first work started my fascination with textiles and its ability to record and communicate time.
This work has inspired my most recent series of work ‘Units of Time’. In this series, I look to measure time and physically represents this invisible force. The objects ask how we experience presence, transformation and notice the passage the time? How objects, materials and places through the action of hands bear witness to the passing of time.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
My work has gone through various stages of development, two-dimensional and three-dimensional, non-stitched and heavily stitch, film and installation. At the moment though embroidery is my focus. I want to increase the amount of embroidered cubes I create, thinking of them more as whole so that each work of art is created into modular sections. They can then be reorganized and reused to create new works.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Challenge and question yourself, critique and continually contextualise your work. Apply to as many exhibitions as possible. Be passionate. Look beyond the world of textiles for inspiration.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
- The Constance Howard Book of Stitches
- The Craftsman– Richard Sennett
- The Fabric Works– Louise Bourgeois
- Hand Stitch Perspectives – Alice Kettle & Jane McKeating
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I’ve also become obsessed with the British Libraries online audio series Craft Lives. Craft Lives is part of National Life Stories, an ambitious oral history project. The interviews with makers, artist, and crafts person last about eight hours long and discuss everything about their lives. You can access all these fantastic interviews online. Definitely essential listening and completely fascinating.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
Definitely a needle and black thread. I’m lucky that my practice doesn’t rely on any complicated tools; it means I’m able to create wherever I go. I like the honesty, simplicity and accessibility of these tools.
I would probably also have to add my camera to the list. Most ideas begin with things I see when I’m out and about. My camera allows me to record these moments quickly so that I can review them a later date.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I regularly run workshops at Raystitch in London, here I focus on the basics of embroidery and mark making with stitch. I love the variety of people that attend these sessions; their passion and enthusiasm inspire me.
I also give talks about my practice to various Embroidery Guilds.
More information can be found on my website.
Richard McVetis at work. Photo by Cornelia TheimerFor more information visit: www.richardmcvetis.co.uk
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