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Light & Line

Anne Morrell and Polly Binns exploring common ground

Wed 12th June 2013
11am-3pm

Nottingham Castle Museum
Castle Place, City Centre, Nottingham NG1 6EL

This event provided a rare opportunity to gain a unique insight into the personal histories of two of the most significant contemporary textile artists in the UK. Twenty members were privileged to hear Anne Morrell and Polly Binns discuss the development of their practice that has resulted in the ambitious touring exhibition Light and Line currently showing at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery. This major body of works has been four years in the making, and is the culmination of two creative journeys that have made an extensive contribution to textiles - through education, research and practice. This was not only a celebration of two eminent artists, but also a demonstration of their constant searching and material investigation, through observation, reflection and interpretation in cloth – a practice that continues to change and evolve.

Anne Morrell began her presentation by asserting her view that the work ‘is more about the journey than the outcome’. She discussed how ‘marks follow you’ to become the ‘handwriting’ that develops over time. She described the on-going dialogue with her materials, the pulling and tensioning of her stitches, sometimes to the point of ‘torture’. As well as the application of thread, through ‘drawing’ with stitch from the reverse of the cloth, the work was also about ‘taking out’, the removal of stitches, the exclusion of colour and the introduction of space. ‘It is the cloth that makes the mark’. The dense, dark textural surfaces and layers of tone in Nigrescent, 2008 contrasted with the resonating movement of Firstcurve, 2011, the opposing tensions in Rever, 2012 and finally Palimpsest 2, the most ‘critically minimal’ piece in her exhibition. Anne Morrell associated her exploration of cloth and stitch with the process of archaeological research, ‘a working analysis recorded to a standard’; a clear reflection on her extensive research at the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad for more than twenty years. This experience has been a major influence on her work, through her application of traditional Kantha stitch, and in her palette of colour inspired by the rich Moghul gardens of India. At home, Anne Morrell spends time in her garden, looking up ‘at the sky and clouds’ to inform the linear movement in her composition.

In contrast, Polly Binns looks down, studying ‘the constantly changing minutiae and expansion of beach’ at Blakeney marshland and the tidal areas of Norfolk. Her relocation to East Anglia has brought about a significant shift in direction, and there the vision for her work ‘became clear’, ‘knowing what to do and how to do it’. This is a location ‘where nature rules’. Similarly to Anne Morrell’s ‘archaeological approach’, Polly Binns takes a ‘forensic approach’ to her repeated walking, recording the movement of water, its interaction with a breakwater or a change in surface that creates indentations in the sand. Drawing has become increasingly important, replacing the camera lens, and introducing drypoint etching. A series of prints record the development of line on the copper plate. Each image is a stage of looking, a ‘layer of observation’. Painter’s canvas remains her chosen surface, but her recent work on cloth has changed. Stitch has begun to be replaced by paint, partially absorbed by the plasterboard that supports her canvas as she works. Tailor’s chalk has become her drawing tool, and the hand-applied thread has been replaced by machine-stitched line. Members were invited to ‘walk the work’ and engage with pieces in the gallery. Each wall piece was about her ‘own stretch’, ‘own stride’, ‘own view’ of space and distance. For Polly Binns, exhibition and audience is a critical point, where ‘the work becomes itself’, and is ‘no longer mine’.

This was an exceptional day. Anne Morrell and Polly Binns shared with members the creative thinking particular to their practice. Both artists discussed their influences and inspiration, speaking openly about the passion and frustration, highs and lows of what it is to ‘make’. It is clear that the work of Anne Morrell and Polly Binns crosses the boundaries of art, craft, applied art, and more. Over the decades, their creative thinking has broken the boundaries of textile terms and definitions, and their personal account of research through practice re-affirms their unique position in contemporary textiles.

Linda Brassington