Richard McVetis: From conception to creation
Richard McVetis’ 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. He was a finalist for the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2016 and was selected for Real to Reel: Craft Film Festival during London Craft Week 2017.
In this article, part of our From conception to creation series, Richard speaks to us about the inspiration for and making process of his beguiling piece Variations of a Stitched Cube, which has been selected to be part of the British Council’s Pavilion at the Cheongju Craft Biennale, South Korea.
Name of piece: Variations of a Stitched Cube
Year of piece: 2017
Size of piece: 120 cm (H) x 85 cm (W) x 150 cm (L)
Materials used: Wool, cotton, Styrofoam, MDF
Methods used: Hand embroidery, seeding stitch, insertion stitch
The making and measuring of time
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
Richard McVetis: My work reflects a preoccupation with process and its ritualistic, repetitive nature exploring the subtle differences that emerge within the repetition process. Many of the ideas are developed in response to the physical act of making or created specific to a moment, visualising and making time a tactile and tangible.
This new work proposed to further investigate the marking & measuring of time. The concept proposal took inspiration from two sources; firstly the origins and methods of measuring time and secondly the work of artist Sol Lewitt.
We measure time in units of sixty; this is based on a system conceived by the Sumerian civilisation. The Sexagesimal System is based on the number sixty: sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour.
The Sumerians also had a calendar with 360 (60×6) days in a year. To make it work for all units of time, the Sumerians also fixed twelve hours (double six) in a day and twelve at night, and roughly 12 months in a year (especially in a 360 day year), sixty is also highly composite.
Variations of incomplete opens cubes is I think, one of the most exciting works by the artist Sol Lewitt. Lewitt’s exploration of the cube, its geometry, intrinsic nature and perception as both a complex and playful shape, has been greatly inspiring to me.
I feel this most directly in how he creates a dialogue for the viewer to consider each cube individually but also has a whole, repetitive and varied with an irrational obsessive quality.
The number 60
In response to these two sources, I created a new sculptural work. The number sixty became the framework for the work; a system of self-imposed restrictions that would allow me to create freely.
The sculpture comprised of sixty embroidered cubes presented on individual podiums conjoined at the base.
The cubes were presented in sequence, each recording time through multiples of hand-embroidered dots measured in increasing and enforced increments of one hour.
Starting with the first cube at one hour of stitching and finishing on the sixtieth and final cube with sixty hours of stitching. Each of cubes measured sixty millimetres in height, width and depth.
As a series I wanted the cubes to show time, an ever-present invisible force, through form as both logical and playful.
Defined by their materials and created through the random process of embroidery and the action of the hand, generating variations with self-imposed restrictions to imply and manifest the passage of time.
Research and preparation
What research did you do before you started to make?
My research was the continuation of the work I was already making, for example, my earlier series of cubes were the starting point for Variations of Stitched Cube. It was through the process of making Units of Time that I was able to develop the concept of marking and measuring time into a larger format.
In parallel to making, I was reading about the concept of time, how we measure time and where our modern day obsession began. Simon Garfield’s book Time Keepers was particularly enlightening.
Research wasn’t restricted to just reading books, it involved podcasts and radio documentaries; Radio lab has a whole series of shows dedicated to the theme of time.
Part of my initial research for this project also led me to investigate Solomon ‘Sol’ LeWitt, the American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. I was initially drawn to his aesthetic, however, it was his statements on conceptual art that later inspired me, in particular, this one:
The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made.
I also looked to Lewitt for inspiration on how to present the final work. Lewitt used the cube as his basic primary structure and the common denominator of works, which followed the principle of progression through addition or subtraction with his structures, universally painted white.
I used my cube format to sketch out a number of ways in which to display the final piece. This became an integral part of the work as it marked a departure for my practice: allowing me to take my work from the wall into the centre of the gallery. I was interested in how I could affect a three-dimensional space with small objects.
Was there any other preparatory work?
There was quite a lot of preparation for this piece. Visiting the gallery to understand logistics and space, designing and drawing up the specifications for the large wooden component that would accompany the embroidered cubes. It involved constant communication with the manufacturer to ensure an on time and on budget delivery.
I had also applied to the Arts Council England for funding, there was a lot of admin and financial planning, all of which had to be put in place before I even began to make.
In parallel to this was the prep of all the materials, printing of the net cubes onto the fabric, shaping and cutting of all the Styrofoam. This was all completed before the timed element of the project so that when I began stitching, I was able to maintain a flow.
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
The material palette was limited and I used only those that I was familiar with, this included a heavy wool flannel, cotton thread and Styrofoam.
The large sculptural component was constructed from MDF.
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
The net patterns for each of the cube were created in Illustrator. These were later printed on dye sublimation paper and transferred to the fabric using a heat press.
The Styrofoam for the inside of the cubes is shaped with a hot wire cutter. The remainder of the making was with a needle and thread.
Take us through the creation of the piece stage by stage.
Heat transfer printing the net pattern of the cube onto squares of fabric and the shaping/ cutting of the Styrofoam cubes.
The longest part of creating was the timed embroidery of the individual cubes. Each of the cubes was embroidered using seeding stitch, a very simple technique. This along with the net pattern of cube allowed me to stitch without having to think too much. I always started at the same point and stitched freely until the allotted time was up.
During this period of making, I became hyper aware of time. Time in my mind had slowed down to the point where ten minutes felt like an hour. As the time increased for each cube, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. The effect of embroidering for longer periods had an effect on both my body and also my mind. The physicality and mental stamina required for this project really took its toll on me.
The embroidered net patterns are carefully cut out.
The embroidered net patterns are folded over the Styrofoam cubes and the edges are carefully sutured. This was probably my favourite part of the making, as this is when the patterns, which until now have been two-dimensional take on whole new life, the mini maps of time flow up, down and around the cube to create something completely random.
I commissioned a film to record the making of the artwork. The film was directed by Richard & Arron at R & A Collaborations.
The film was selected for Real to Reel: The Craft Film Festival organised by the Crafts Council. You can watch the film here.
What journey has the piece been on since its creation?
Variations of a Stitched Cube was created for the 2017 Collect Open exhibition. Collect Open showcased concept-driven and experimental craft works selected by a panel led by designer Faye Toogood.
The exhibition offered a unique opportunity for artists to challenge traditional perceptions of craft and design. This exhibition was organised by the Crafts Council, as part of Collect: The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects, which took place at London’s Saatchi Gallery.
The work was created with the support of Arts Council England’s Grants for Arts award.
The work has since been selected to be part of the British Council’s Pavilion at the Cheongju Craft Biennale, South Korea.
The Crafts Council is lead curator for the British Pavilion at Cheongju Craft Biennale, South Korea. The exhibition will take place between 13 September and 22 October 2017. The theme Form in Motion focuses on themes of gesture, animation and journey in contemporary craft.
The Crafts Council will present a selection of UK artists and screen it’s Real to Reel Film Festival, which premiered at Picture House Central during this years London Craft Week, included in the lineup will be my film about the making of Variations of Stitched Cube directed by R & A Collaborations.
I’m hoping to tour the work across the UK next year.
Read Richard’s interview with TextileArtist.org here.
All the above images of Variations of a Stitched Cube are courtesy of Yeshen Venema.
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