I allotted two hours to write this interview for a Russian magazine and then spent nearly six! So I thought I would milk it a little since you guys are unlikely to be in Russia and read it!
Where were You born and where do You live now?
I was born in Detroit, USA, to an English mother and American father, we moved to London when I was five and lived in many places until as an adult I settled in East London.
How long have You been making art?
I drew intensely as a young child but it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that the passion really developed into something more serious. It was at a talk at the V&A on my 17th birthday by the artist Alice Kettle that really cemented it. I had been tinkering around with embroidery and was very moved that my teacher had invested in me so, to take me. I was incredibly inspired by the talk and the permission it gave me to make very deeply involved time-consuming work. I really went for it after that. I fell in love with embroidery partly because of the epic hours and the total immersion that it not only created, but quite visibly represented, but it also held a conceptual devotion that I find very powerful as well as its exaggeration of sensation, visual and sensual, it was so generous. I felt that generosity while making it and saw that when people viewed it they also felt it too.
Do You have any art education?
I made two attempts to go to art school, two months of a Foundation and nine months of a degree, but it was not for me and eventually I released myself from the obligation. I was always driven to sew and make work and it was a very intimate and personal relationship, having teachers that I didn’t deeply know or trust try to coordinate what ‘art’ should be felt very unnatural and awkward. So I left the weird incubator and just got on with it.
How much time did it take to create one piece of art? Do You have the idea before starting the process or is it always an improvisation?
Each work can take anywhere between a week and a year. It is not so much the sewing that takes the time, because once I have started, I am mostly unstoppable, but the thinking beforehand, I wouldn’t call it planning, but more like a morphing spirit floating around my head. Plucking up the courage to begin takes some time, that first stitch can be a wrestle to manifest. Doing some residencies in the last few years and having time to experiment, but also a definite time slot to perform has changed the way I work. In those times I have been rushed into mistakes and they have wounded me, but it has also added elements to my work that I really enjoy, different media, collaboration and technical breakthroughs. It revealed to me how much I love ‘live sewing’ and changes in scenery and now cannot stand being squirreled away while working. The live sewing allows me to be almost completely improvised, since it is already a consistent outcome, the action and the seamlessness between the work and I, is already visually strong and already out there, therefore it become all about the journey of the making.
What do people usually say when they see Your beautiful artwork?
My work has always received a good response, I don’t mean to be arrogant though, it is just rare that I have received negative feedback, I think the humanness of it and the way people feel a sense of comfort in relation to textiles opens doors in people and inspires a sense of communion. There is no glass wall, or any sense of being outwitted. I also think that embroidery is inescapably beautiful and I think people respond to that and the optimism that it inspires. The criticism has been mainly linked to people that seek an intellectual experience rather than an emotional experience when viewing or perceiving art, looking to contextualise it or put it in a box. I think, also, that some hardcore traditional embroidery enthusiasts find me a bit of a heathen.
How did You come to the idea of making this unusual kind of art?
My work has developed quite organically over time, each era of new work formed of a combination of new inspiration and dissatisfaction with previous work. In my first solo show in Berlin, after I put up all these flat pieces against the wall and walked around the space, the empty space infuriated me and that is what drove me into more 3d work, the flatness just feeling so flaccid and inadequate. With the mattress idea, I had originally thought of emulating the mattress by cutting curves into the stretchers, I thought it was visually a nice touch and set the scene, but then I was walking along the road with my daughter in the pushchair and I happened upon the butterfly mattress just lying in the road. I had a real moment there looking at it and realising if I didn't take it home, I wasn't going to be an artist and should give up, it was so unusually beautiful and conceptually almighty, but at the same time a big risk, not only the dragging a gross mattress into the home of my child, but committing to and feeling powerful enough to make such a big piece that deserved an element of fearlessness I had yet to harness in my work. I took it home. It was a real beginning. I think having my daughter made life so intense and continually challenging that that just seemed to be the realm I operated in now, so I think motherhood was a great inspiration.
What things in life inspire You?
I am inspired by so much, but I think conversation, communion and confession holds the main food, the quest to make visual diagrams of experiences, in the predictable and startling unique way people ramble along their thorny paths.
Do you like the idea of hiding from real life in the imaginary world, like many artists do?
This question seems to really strike a nerve!
No, I don't like that idea! Hiding is a vulnerable word and 'imaginary world' just sounds like mental illness!
No, I want reality, I feel best when I feel connected and with everything under control, I don't always find that easy, but it is always the goal, if I do hide from reality, I am usually not living it up in an imaginary world, but in a purgatory of worry. I do however like to carve out my own life, I think it is inherent to artists to not feel tied to society's general rule-book on how to live a life and it takes imagination to carve out your own existence and stand by it. My daughter is a very grounding force and is about as real as it gets and I only hide from her if we are playing hide and seek! I find juggling motherhood, my career and managing a house alone, unimaginably challenging and often feel overwhelmed and pulled in all directions, but I am really striving to master it, so an imaginary world is quite an insulting concept!
I do however like to explore the space between reality and the imaginary in my work, but more for the fact that reality can be so limited and lacking in description, the more ephemeral aspects of reality so often invisible, that by supposing them, to me it creates a greater truth. I have also been experimenting with giving the embroidered figures real life experiences, like I recently gave a translucent embroidery of a lady a bath, since she got covered in soot from some oil lamps in an exhibition. I was inspired by the concept of 'The Uncanny Valley', but also some kind of natural mimicry for greater conceptual validity, since if the embroidery constantly evolves and goes through different visual and physical processes, that it may resonate in the figure, with the life experience akin to the historic sense a mattress has.
Therefore I conclude it is the opposite. Its as if I am trying to drag the 'imaginary world' into reality.