Issue 17

Interview with John Hopper for Inspirational 17.

Much of your work is based on the human figure. Why is that?

“Cloth is the perfect symbol for human frailty. It degrades…” Alastair Sooke.

The human form and human experience have been enduring themes in my work throughout my career.

As a graduate and an emerging artist, my work was often introspective, sometimes autobiographical. Initially, this included documenting personal experiences of walking in the natural landscape. Later the figure became central to my work. I became interested in exploring themes which included self-portraiture, the projection of identity and the depiction of gender and sexuality.

Over the last few years, my work has focused on observing others, documenting their movements and expressions.

My creative practice aims to document personal experiences and communicate emotions. Therefore, it would seem pertinent that the human form is central to my work.

What intrigues you as an artist about textiles as a medium?

“Stitch can be metamorphic; it can be transitional both physically and conceptually. Cloth and stitch can seem at times to be as one entity, one invisible world of meaning, a harmony of direction and experience. At others, it can seem more like a struggle with identity, an uncomfortable alliance between opposites, both demanding to go their own mutually exclusive directions, their pathways being in no way linked.” John Hopper.

I have always been interested in the ambiguity of textiles, the potential for working in this medium and its ability to transcend the boundaries between fine art, craft and design. I find the possibilities of placing traditional techniques in a contemporary context, along with the potential to draw with thread and paint with stitch, an endless source of inspiration.

I believe this ambiguity alludes to the human condition and continues to hold a specific relevance to my own creative ideas.

The stitch is an important element of your work. What does that single stitch mean to you creatively?

“If we give ourselves half an hour a day with our creativity, our dreams, our music, the soul becomes quiet. We are in our body and we feel nourished.” Marion Woodman.

A single stitch in my day is…

An opportunity to reconnect with myself…

A chance to reconnect with my creativity…

A moment of reflection…

A time to daydream about the future…

A cause to remember the past…

The beginning of a new creative journey…

A chance to wonder where the stitched line will take me…

A chance to consider what the work will be…

You have worked extensively as an artist in the field of mental health. How important do you think the link between creativity and good mental health is?

“Make happiness your goal. Say to yourself: ‘What do I like and what do I want…’Ask your mind for inspiration about everything.” Agnes Martin.

I have a continuing professional interest in studying how the visual arts may be utilised as a means to enhance an individual’s wellbeing.

When we are being creative, our brains release dopamine, which is a natural anti-depressant. Creativity usually takes concentration and it can lead to the feeling of a natural high. Participating in creative activities may even help to alleviate depression.

The average person experiences 60,000 thoughts a day. 95% of those thoughts are similar on a daily basis. Immersing yourself in a creative activity produces an almost meditative state where your mind becomes engaged in what you are doing to the extent that you may temporarily forget your worries. In order to find calm, peace, and happiness in one’s life, the focus needs to be on one’s inner self. This can be achieved by becoming disciplined in a creative activity that will naturally lessen the importance and therefore impact on those thousands of thoughts we experience every day.

Creative expression can:

Reduce stress and anxiety

Increase positive emotions

Decrease depressive symptoms

Reduce distress and negative emotions

Boost the immune system

Increase self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment

Improve concentration and focus

Increase happiness

Drawing and stitching seem to be in a close relationship in your work. What role do they play in your creativity?

The drawn and stitched line are inextricably linked in my work. Their relationship can best be described in the development of my pieces from the Face to Faceseries.

I make observational drawings in response to the figure. I work intuitively to create expressive drawings which aim to capture the subtleties found in both gesture and movement. I record my responses spontaneously, focusing almost entirely on the subject, often unaware of the image evolving on the paper.

I then transform and develop the drawings by cutting, re-assembling and stitching. Existing drawn lines are emphasized with stitch whilst additional lines derived from separate studies are imposed over the surface. The diversity of drawn and stitched marks creates unique textures and quality of lines throughout the work.

Occasionally, faces are identifiable, whilst in contrast a line may represent an expression or brief moment in time.

The layers of drawn and stitched lines record an accumulation of observations, mapping encounters and experiences. The pieces are complex and intense in their construction. Constructing them is often physical and enduring. They become the embodiment of the artist and a record of the time taken to produce them.

 What connects you to your work, and your work to you?

“I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds.” Egon Schiele.

It is difficult to separate my life and my creative practice. Being an artist is beyond a profession, it is a lifestyle choice. I have been very fortunate in many ways, but I have also made many sacrifices.

My work often reflects different aspects of my life. Through my future work and research,I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between myself and my creativity.

The elements of being a creative artist which bring me joy include;

Exploring new ideas…

Exploring my creativity…

Exploring the possibilities of visualising the indescribable…

The excitement of researching a new project…

Completing a new piece of work…

Sharing my ideas with others…

Reflecting upon my achievements…

Stitching and listening to Radio 4…

How has your work developed since Inspirational originally featured you (Inspirational 8: January 2016)?

Since 2016, the main body of work I have developed is the Face to Face series. This project was developed from 2015 to 2017 and consists of 11 works.

This work has developed from my previous projects Fragments and Traces. These previous works focused on an abstract interpretation of the human form. However, the Face to Face series is more figurative and confrontational in its appearance.

I was interested in creating a series of works which are neither exclusively textiles or drawings. The pieces are ambiguous both in process and subject matter.

What are you working on at the moment?

“The act of sewing is a process of emotional repair.” Louise Bourgeois.

During 2018 I have focused on developing my Body Mapping project.

The project was established in 2015 during my Bodyworks solo exhibition and residency at Bankley Studios & Gallery in Manchester.

Several years ago, I completed an introduction to the profession of art therapy. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which making images and objects plays a central role. The essence of art therapy lies in the relationship between art and therapy. As such, art therapy involves both the process and products of imaginative activity and the provision of a safe environment within which it is possible for individuals to discover, explore and share the meaning their images or objects may have for them.

During the course, I was able to experience and participate in many creative and reflective activities art therapists utilise. The course was enlightening and I was interested in placing this experience in the context of my own practice in the form of a specific project.

Subsequently, I established the Body Mapping project. I intended this to be a personal project which incorporated text, stitch and dye in order to create a series of works which embody the space between drawing, textiles and sculpture.

Earlier this year I was invited to develop a series of works to be photographed and published in a forthcoming book exploring the theme of art and medicine. The author has selected certain artists to submit works which reflect upon how creativity can assist an individual in recovering from a period of physical or mental ill health.

This commission offered me a renewed focus for the project and to date I have produced three main pieces of work.

Dream Boxes

The box or vessel is frequently used by art therapists as a metaphor for the body both inside and out. I have made a series of boxes containing self-reflective text which unconsciously reveals both positive and negative feelings, reflecting upon dreams and aspirations.

40 Hands

This piece consists of 40 textile sculptures based on the artist’s hands. The surface of the hands are embellished with hand embroidery and machine embroidered text.

Alter Ego

This piece consists of two life size mapsof the artist body. They hang next to one another as though they are engaged in a visual conversation.

During this year, I have been documenting the development of this project on;

www.twitter.com/skellyartist
www.instagram.com/skellyartist
www.facebook.com/stewartkellyartist

Where do you see you and your work going next?

After nearly twenty years of creative practice, I am beginning to reflect upon my achievements to date, yet also consider how my work will develop.

Further to developing my existing skills, I intend to explore the possibility of using digital media in my work. This will include digital drawing, printing and embroidery.

During the last ten years my practice has essentially been studio based. Therefore, I am interested in exploring the possibility of working in different environments in the form of residencies and collaborations.

I also plan to undertake research trips in the United Kingdom and abroad in order to meet with individuals and organisations to gather information and utilise in my future projects.

I anticipate, these creative developments will require approaching funding bodies in order to pursue additional sponsorship.

Over the last three years, my membership with the European Textile Network and the Surface Design Association in the USA, has provided me with the opportunity to exhibit my work in different territories. I have made many new friends and connections through these organisations and I hope to continue to exhibit my work across the World.

I have frequently been approached by individuals and organisations inviting me provide a talk about my practice. Unfortunately, I have, so far found this difficult to schedule. However, I intend to create a fully illustrated lecture, documenting all my projects and the progress of my work over the last 20 years to tour schools, colleges, universities, galleries and creative groups nationwide.

In support of this, I am interested in devising and facilitating a series of bespoke creative workshops. These workshops will incorporate aspects of my own practice yet will also focus on learning and wellbeing, inspiring an understanding of human experience through creativity.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or events through 2018 that you’d like to tell us about?

My exhibitions and events scheduled for 2018 and 2019 include;

2018

Open Studios, Bankley Studios & Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom
12th International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art, Scythia, Ivano-Frankivs’k, Ukraine
5th Textile Art of Today Triennial, Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava, Slovak Republic
World of Threads Festival, Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre, Oakville, Ontario, Canada
Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project, Tuchmacher Museum, Bramsche, Germany
Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project, Tuch + Technik Textilmuseum, Neumunster, Germany
Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project, International Fibre Festival 2018, King House, Roscommon, Ireland

2019

Open Studios, Bankley Studios & Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom

5th Textile Art of Today Triennial, Tatra Gallery, Poprad, Slovak Republic

5th Textile Art of Today Triennial, Pesti Vigadó Gallery, Budapest, Hungary
5th Textile Art of Today Triennial, Historical Museum, Bielsko-Biala, Poland
5th Textile Art of Today Triennial, The Morovian Museum, Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic
Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project, Museu Nacional de Brasilia, Brasilia, Brazil

 Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project

Fate, Destiny & Self Determination: An International Tapestry Project is a touring installation which features small works by artists from around the World. The installation has recently been displayed in Ireland and Germany. It will be exhibited in South America next year.

Earlier this year, I was invited to contribute a new commissioned piece to contribute towards the installation.

www.linedufour.com

 Scythia Fibre Art

The International Biennial Symposium and Exhibition of Textile Art is the only prestigious international textile symposium and exhibition in Ukraine, which includes artists, fashion designers, educators, cultural heritage groups and professional workshops. The event is organised independently by Ludmilla Egorova and Andrew Schneider.

Earlier this year, I exhibited Face to Face 6 in the 12th International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art.

www.scythiatextile.com

 Textile Art of Today

Triennial of Textile, without borders, a civic association is a non-profit organisation whose main aim is to present the current global textile art in the V4 countries – Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. Their aim is to create a space in the middle of Europe for professional textile artists in the form of exhibitions, workshops, lectures and educational process for students and universities.

I will be exhibiting Face to Face 7 in the 5th Textile Art of Today Triennial from September this year.

www.textileartoftoday.com

World of Threads Festival

The World of Threads Festival is an international showcase of contemporary fibre and textile art. They are a not-for-profit initiative with charitable status. They exhibit innovative fibre and textile art from around the World. The Festival is run by dedicated volunteers Dawne Rudman (Festival Chair & Curator) and Gareth Bate(Festival Curator & Designer).

I will be exhibiting Face to Face 1, 2, 3 & 4 in the 2018 festival from October this year.

www.worldofthreadsfestival.com