Earlier this year I was invited to be involved in an interesting project by Rosalyn McKenna of Tighnabruaich Gallery.
‘Paintings are for People’ - "The Argyll Collection was established between 1970 and 1990 as a learning resource for the young people of Argyll and Bute. The collection consists of 173 pieces including prints, paintings, ceramics, textiles, drawing, sculpture and mixed media works, covering a wide range of subject matter. It has become a snapshot of Scottish art and is an important public asset and a rich and relevant teaching aid. Tighnabruaich Gallery are proud to announce that they will be hosting an exhibition of a selection of works from the Collection displayed alongside work by our own gallery artists. There will be an accompanying programme of talks, workshops and tours.There will also be a sister exhibition on display at the Burgh Hall, Dunoon."
This collection of artworks was purchased by Argyll and Bute Council as a resource for schools. “At the time of its inception it was believed that young people in the area did not have the same access to museums and galleries as their contemporaries in other parts of the country. The aim of the collection was to redress this situation by allowing young people direct access to a wide variety of quality art. The works would become an important teaching aid which would allow students the experience of viewing and connecting with genuine art”
When Ros got in touch about the exhibition of work at her gallery she asked me to look through the collection online and see if a particular piece resonated with me. The idea being that I would then make a new piece in response which would be displayed alongside. Ros mentioned that she had an idea which artist I might choose, but didn’t tell me which as she didn’t want to influence me!
There are so many stunning artworks in the collection and so I began listing pieces that inspired me, however as soon as I saw the work of Jennifer Hex the decision was made. Working with textiles and embroidery, observing the light and colours of the west coast and using a combination of hand and machine embroidery it seemed the natural choice. This wasn’t the only connection I felt with her though. Two works in particular stood out - Gott Bay, Tiree and Gott Bay Study 2 - the abstract shapes and restricted colour palette were telling their story in a language which was very familiar to me.
'Gott Bay, Tiree - Jennifer Hex. Image courtesy of The Argyll Collection.
'Gott Bay Study 2 - Jennifer Hex. Image courtesy of The Argyll Collection.
Jennifer Eda Hex was born in London in 1938, but shortly afterwards moved to Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, her mothers home town. Sadly Jennifer passed away in 2016 and despite searching for more information about her and her work, the only piece of writing I have found is an article from the Campbelltown Courier published on 4 Nov 2016 - Jennifer Hex: 1938 - 2016 - an appreciation. This article gives a brief account of her studies at Glasgow School of Art, teaching positions in local high schools and time as an artist in residence in Argyll. As I can gather from this short account, she seems to have lived a full and creative life, and was a woman who gave her time generously to the education of young people.
However it was the description of her interests, vision and inspirations which made my heart beat a little faster:
“Jennifer had her own particular vision. She saw things that other people tended to overlook or take for granted or pass by; but they were not in any way strange or exceptional things. They were things which we might all see, every day, if we simply possessed a clearer vision of the sort that she had. She saw elemental things: water, air, fire, earth; that’s to say, the sea, rivers, waterfalls - even the very small ones in a burn interested her - the sky, clouds, the moon and stars, grasses and sedges… natural things in movement or flux. (she) manipulated cloth in many ingenious ways; they suggested rock faces or geological formations, the flow and eddies of the River Ness in spate, a big wave breaking over the rocks on Islay.
This was her way of understanding the world. It helps us to see, and adds to our understanding. This is what a real artist does.”
It seems I have found a kindred spirit, someone I did not know existed until this year but whose vision is so very closely aligned to my own.
Making a piece in response to Jennifer’s work gave me the impetus to finally explore some ideas I have had in my sketchbook for a while.
The piece I have made for the Argyll Collection Exhibition, inspired by the work of Jennifer Hex, is titled ‘Kilbride Bay Study 1’. On a visit to Kilbride Bay, Argyll in May 2017 I captured the scene in the photograph below, which immediately came to my mind when I started this project.
I see colours and abstract shapes created by the sand, water, rocks and trees. Taking each of these shapes and colours, I reduced them to geometric forms, the essential information about the landscape. Each shape hand cut from Harris Tweed and stitched to form a striking interlocking combination of angles, texture and colour.
It retains what I enjoy about a geological map or diagram; shape, form and colour telling a deeper story, but it also evokes a feeling and a memory of the place through those shapes and colours at the same time.
I'm grateful to have been given the opportunity to be involved in this exhibition, learn more about the Argyll Collection and of course to discover Jennifer Hex. When I'm busy working on different projects it can be difficult to allow time for experimentation, to expand on or follow the trail of a thought in my sketchbook. It can almost feel like an indulgence just to spend time in the studio 'playing' with ideas that may or may not go anywhere, but in fact it is really important do exactly that.
So, again, I'm grateful that making this work has allowed me to justify some time to play and in turn delve a little deeper into my motivations and practice.
The exhibition will run from Saturday 28 April - Friday 1 June 2018 in the Tighnabruaich Gallery.