Within the walls (2016)
160 x 160 cms
Cotton warp, wool, cotton and linen weft
(photo by Mei Lim)
British tapestry artist Jilly Edwards paints with wool. Her subject matter is what she senses from her surrounding reality which she weaves into abstract canvases. The results are a celebration of colour and tone which have a timelessness and show why she is enjoying such a long and illustrious career.
What is your background in textiles?
I studied Textiles first at the West of England College of Art, Bristol, (now UWE, University of the West of England). 1966-69
Then in 1979 I went to Edinburgh College of Art,( now Edinburgh University) 1979- 1981 and studied in the Tapestry Department.
What is it about tapestry weaving that appeals to you?
It’s a tactile way of working, I feel I’m painting with yarns, you can layer the colours giving a transparent appearance, yet creating dense areas in other places. I love every element of my work, from the initial idea stage, drawing, sampling, making a cartoon to the actual weaving stage, even the finishing off and mounting, its all part of the whole process.
How do you describe your work?
That’s always a difficult question! I suppose abstracted in its content, but the content is about reality, my reality, what I see/hear/sense/feel/ read and listen to. Full of colour and subtle changes in textures.
Where do you work?
I now have a studio that is part of our home. I have worked like this on and off for several years, in between I’ve worked in groups studios with other artists, both I enjoy, but having your own space, where ever that is, that you can walk out of at the end of a day and leave to return to the next day (just as you left it) is magical. I recently moved to Bristol and I have what is ‘the garage’, but it has a small kitchen and bathroom at the back, so is very self contained! So I don’t go into the house and see something that needs doing and get distracted. Also the space was designed with underfloor heating, cars don’t need that kind of pampering, well not in the UK!
What type of loom do you use?
I started out with a four shaft loom, but at Edinburgh I worked on their vertical scaffolding loom and have done so ever since, its so flexible, you can change its height (the vertical sides are Accro props so give you tensioning and the inner pole can be raised to double the height. You can also have different horizontal poles so width can be varied too. I also use a small wooden frame to weave my miniatures and samples on, which I tie onto my scaffolding loom, this means I sit in a good position, especially for posture.
How do you work?
I use sketchbooks all the time, I try to record my daily musings/mutterings/idea and thoughts, I take a sketchbook out with me, even to the local shops, as you never know when something needs to be recorded. Then I have a drawing wall in my studio, with a plastic square gutter pipe on the floor that holds a roll of wide paper, I can roll it up and fix it to the top of the ceiling and draw on a larger/freer scale.
What or who inspires you?
Everything around me, especially as I travel. I love going to visit exhibitions of any art and try to keep my mind open to what I see, but a concert or a book can be just as much a joy.
Artists like Paul Klee have always been an inspiration especially his Diaries. Agnes Martin I just adore, her grids and subtle use of colour and graphite lines, I love to just sit and stare at her work and let my mind wander and Howard Hodgkin’s because of his magical use of colour. Sculptors like Cornelia Parker and Phyllida Barlow, constructionist like Sheila Hicks and Eva Hesse.
Artists in my own area, like Lenore Tawney and Kay Sekimachi, both artists who push the medium, always developing. Tapestry weavers there are many who I could name, but I would forget one and be mortified.
What are you most proud of in your career?
The fact that I’m still doing it, probably! There have been memorable moments, recently having my work bought for the permanent collection at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester and showing in the Project Space for the Crafts Council Collect 14. Both these opportunities came from being selected by professionals in differing fields.
What advice can you give to aspiring textile artists?
Go with your heart, but seek out other people to get advice from and now, not in the future. Start as you mean to go on, but adapt if necessary. Think positively and when not in your art space absorb as much as you can from around you.
You’ve had a long career, how has textile art and tapestry weaving in particular evolved over that time?
Its always been about, but not always valued! In the 60’s when I started being interested in tapestry weaving it was usually work from the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, (now called the Dovecot) with artist weavers coming to the fore, with people like Archie Brennan, Maureen Hodge and Fiona Mathison, people who had an art school training and worked at the Dovecot, so we saw not only the studio working with artists from across the world, but the studio working with artists from within the studio itself.Other tapestry studios too in the US and Europe.
There were also exhibitions of eastern European tapestry weavers like Magdalene Abakanowicz. These exhibitions and the Lausanne Tapestry Biennials from the 60/70’s were so different to anything we had thought of as woven tapestry, in scale and how the medium could be described.
We have over the last decade or so seen woven tapestry come to the fore not just as decorative art but saying something in areas like politics and anthropology. Also technological advances in Jacquard weaving means that artists are working with other skilled artists to produce work by this method, people like Grayson Perry have brought the term ‘Tapestry’ back into everyone’s visibility and here with Grayson Perry we see the benefits of being articulate and erudite really being a help.
We don’t all weave tapestries in the same way, mine take a lot longer to produce than Grayson Perry’s but that doesn’t belittle either form, they compliment each other, it’s the content and quality that’s important. Its important that the medium brings something to the creation, not just weaving for the sake of it.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I have work especially made for an exhibition called ‘HERE&NOW’, which was curated by Professor Lesley Millar, UCA Farnham and Bryony Windsor, Exhibitions Officer at NCCD, Sleaford, Lincolnshire. This exhibition open on the 1 October 2016 – 15 January 2017 it is touring to the MAC, Birmingham from 01 April to 4 June & The Holburne Museum, Bath 24 June – 1 October 2017. There is a beautiful catalogue for this exhibition.
There are also exhibitions coming this year containing woven tapestry, The Turner Contemporary, Margate ‘Entangled: Threads & Making’ 28 January – 7 May 2017 & Chris Ofili ‘Weaving Magic. National Gallery, London 26 April – 28 August 2017.
Also Heallreaf 2 at West Dean College, nr. Chichester. W. Sussex. 10 – 22 April & Leyden Gallery, London, June/July 2017 TBC
I am part of an exhibition being organised by The Goldsmiths Company title: ‘Table for Two’ see www.goldsmiths.co.uk for more information.