written by Philip Hughes
Textiles have a strong tradition in Wales, stemming from the strength of the woollen mill industry of the 17th century. The artists featured in this publication and initiatives such as the recently established Contemporary Textile Practice BA at the University of Wales in Cardiff bear witness to the fact that there is today a considerable body of contemporary textile practice of quality in Wales.
Although historically featuring wordsmiths and musicians rather than artists, narrative art is a significant part of Wales’ culture. There is now significant evidence of narrative in contemporary Welsh visual and applied art, and here we see narrative influences explored through the work of several textile artists. Eleri Mills’ work explores the narrative of the mid Wales landscape. Eleri’s work speaks of the drama of sudden changes in light, the extremes of natural light effects, the elongation of images against the skyline. Her work is an exploration of belonging; she has a heightened sense of place, connected by a network of mythic, cultural and familial associations to the spiritual heart of Wales.
Rosanne Hawkesley’s personal narrative is an odyssey, frequently allegorical and encompassing loss, Catholicism, war and peace, and a profound rage against injustice. She uses a combination of opulence, horror, theatrical and sometimes decadent tableaux to convey her message, which can be subtle or strike like a hammer blow. She is one of the UK’s great embroidery innovators with pieces represented in many collections.
Cefyn Burgess’ stitched textile collages are influenced by the vernacular architecture of Welsh chapels. Cefyn trained as a weaver and has produced figurative work in weave as well as designs for ceramics and print. In his quest to heighten awareness of Wales’ rich architectural heritage but also of its vulnerability, he has created an impressive narrative of small stitched collages of the chapels found along one of Wales’ arterial routes, a road that runs through the heart of Wales linking the north and south.
Primmy Chorley’s work assembles the vernacular and family memories to create pieces full of wonder, featuring layers of movement, colour and figures of lively activity, each of which reflects how she sees the world. Though linked to a strong tradition of vernacular or folk art narrative, Primmy’s embroidery is about things that have occurred in her life; her work is outstanding and quite unique.
Julia Griffiths Jones makes figurative wirework – exuberant embroideries in air – inspired by poems and traditional narrative texts, folk art and dress. She has two major inspirational strands. Firstly, the metamorphosis of textile techniques into wirework and then the literary narrative influences. She is inspired by, among others, the work of Welsh poet Gillian Clarke.
Elin Huws is also inspired by Welsh poets, in particular by Waldo Williams. Many of her pieces use lines from poetry, woven into their substance and meaning. Her subtle use of colour and imagery allied to a maturity of making are proof that she already has total mastery of her chosen medium. She engages with her materials in an almost spiritual way, to produce pieces exploring the themes of belonging, a sense of place, and how context affects cultural identity.
Since re-locating to Wales more than a decade ago, Audrey Walker has embarked on a figurative investigation of glances, encounters, faces – the importance of the individual. Her latest work features faces that have survived a thousand years, (fragments – captured moments surviving the passage of time), and many of these contain narrative.
It is vital to recognise and protect the rich well of experience and material on which these textile artists can choose to draw, and to celebrate the diversity of creative voices that consequently make themselves and their experiences heard in galleries and other public spaces across Wales and beyond.
Ruthin Craft Centre