Inspirational Plus

Man/Body/Fiber, interview with John Hopper for Inspirational Plus, published in 2016.

Why fiber/textiles and not another discipline?

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. 

What does it mean to you personally, being a man?

Throughout my professional life I have maintained an interest in studying men’s relationship with textiles, specifically embroidery. During my studies I was influenced by the artists exhibiting in two exhibitions in the USA entitled Boys Who Sew and Men of Cloth. There have subsequently been similar exhibitions in the UK and Europe. The exhibitions consisted of male artists whose work explored cloth and stitch as a means for personal expression. 

Motivated by my interesting in locating my own practice, I established a correspondence with a couple of the artists featured in these exhibitions. The discussions mainly focused on the implications of male artists using textiles and stitch in a contemporary context. It highlighted the significance of these exhibitions and how they have contributed towards dissolving the boundaries between gender and creative discipline.

What does it mean to you being a man in the fiber/textiles field?

I believe contemporary embroidery is an interesting and emotive medium for any artist to work with. It can provide a platform to express certain points of view, challenge stereotypes and encourages individuals to reconsider their perception of embroidery.

Over the last two decades some male artists have used stitch in order to create ambiguous or subversive imagery. This work often addressed themes which included the projection of identity, sexuality and gender. In many ways I identify with these artists, and as I have developed as an artist, my practice has also provided me with a platform to discuss aspects of my own identity.

How do you think that your gender influences your work as an artist?

Historically the hierarchy between fine art and craft has led to certain art forms being considered gender specific. Within my own practice the combination of fine art with craft processes makes reference to this. The fusion of drawing and stitch results in works which are not exclusively drawings or embroideries. They possess an ambiguous identity in both process and subject matter.

My practice has evolved organically over the last 16 years. It incorporates all the areas I have ever worked including fine art, applied art and surface design. I feel my practice provides me with an appropriate platform and medium to discuss my ideas. My current practice is a fusion of both my skills and identity. It is correlation between subject matter, medium and process.

Do you express your gender through fiber/textiles in a general, or more personal level?

I believe all my work is autobiographically to a certain extent, whether I choose to directly discuss issues which concern my identity or reflect upon my observations. 

The human form and human experience is central to my work. Therefore it would seem relevant that issues regarding gender and identity would influence my practice.

Recently I have portrayed the male form in a drawn and stitched piece which fuses together a number of the themes I have mentioned previously.

What do you think that you have brought with you to the fiber/textiles discipline, by being a man?

In some way I feel a parallel may be drawn between the emergence of gay identity and the development of embroidery as an art form over the last 50 years. Historically, embroidery has been marginalised in the same way as gay men. Embroidery has often been stigmatised and the victim of stereotyping.

2017 marks 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Since then gay men have fought to find an identity within society and gain equal rights. During that period embroidery as an art form has evolved and emerged to find a new identity. 

During the 1960’s many artists began to explore the possibilities of using less conventional materials. Artists often used cloth and stitch in order to question the identity of art and the process of making. During the 1970’s the women’s movement influenced many female artists. Embroidery was often used to comment on the changing social and cultural identity of women. 

This history has contributed towards making many art forms no longer considered gender specific. Therefore it would seem appropriate that male artists would consider using textiles and stitch as a means to discuss their ideas in a contemporary context. I believe my practice contributes towards the changing role of men’s artistic identity ultimately dissolving the boundary between gender and creative discipline.

Would you encourage more men to enter the fiber/textiles world, and if so, why?

I would not actively encourage any individual to follow a particular direction as I feel it is important for any artist to develop in their own way. However I do feel my practice has contributed towards raising the profile of men working with contemporary stitch and ultimately creates a pathway for other artists to follow in this area of work.

What next for Stewart?

This year I have continued to develop a new series of stitched works which incorporates figurative imagery. I intend to promote and exhibit this body of work internationally raising the profile of male contemporary textile artists.