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Hazel Jacket 1989. Stitched Hazel Leaves

Jackie, I know you were involved in the first Women Artist's Diaries - can you explain how the Diaries started and what exactly they were?

The Women Artists Slide Library (WASL) started around the same time as I finished my B.A in 1979. It was an Artist-led slide library set up to highlight public awareness of the practice, impact and achievement of women in visual culture. This was a very exciting initiative that I wanted to be part of so I submitted some slides which were accepted.

The Women Artist's Diaries were published by WASL. Each year, I’m not sure for how many years, a diary would be published, and WASL members works would be selected for inclusion in the diary. I always coveted these diaries; you could find them in Gallery bookshops like the Whitechapel and Serpentine. I would ask for one as a Christmas present.


How did you get involved? How did you hear about the Diaries?

In 1999 I was asked if “Hazel Jacket” could be included in that year’s diary. I even got a fee of £30! HH


Was it typical of the work you were doing then, in the 1980s?

“Hazel Jacket” was a small but very formative piece of work for me. It was made in 1989 when I was pregnant with my second child. I had been making large environmental sculptures with natural materials. Now heavy and with my thoughts focusing more on home and this coming infant, I started to think about nature clothing this child.

Following a traditional matinée pattern with yoke, “Hazel Jacket” is made from Hazel Leaves stitched with grass, but the leaves have been allowed to curl and dry in their own way.                                  

I was fascinated by the social context of a “matinee” jacket, an item of clothing one took one’s baby out in for afternoon visiting.

This started a long term relationship with natural materials and clothing. The coat / jacket has now become a metaphor for mankind.  

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Chestnut Coat in the studio, 2007. Stitched chestnut Bark


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The Art Historian’s Coat,1992. Stitched Oak Leaves


Have you see all or most of the Diaries since then?

Not the diaries but I subscribed to Make which was the Newsletter of WASL. This was a powerful voice for Women Artists at that time. The newsletter evolved into the Women’s Art Magazine and looking through there are names familiar to us, an interview with Paula Rego by Rebecca Fortnum, a review of a show of Laura Godfrey-Issacs at the Sue Williams Gallery. It also had a brilliant Gallery Listings section.


What changes do you see now?

In 2003, WASL ceased to operate as an independent organisation and the slide library and all of its publication archive was given to Goldsmiths College.


It’s exciting that SLWA are now publishing their own diary, acknowledging the vibrancy of the WASL diaries.

What direction is your own work going in?

My work seems to be going in many directions at the moment. I am becoming more involved with the “form” of clothing as a shape to work with and less with the concept. I have been making casts of trees in situ. It is the shape of these casts that is being used to suggest clothing. The casts are filled with specially treated leaves that retain the shape of the cast. That’s quite hard to describe, you’ll have to wait till they’re ready and I will show you!

I have always been fascinated by memory, how it changes, fades, comes back into focus - so alongside the large works I am experimenting with “leaf lace”. At the moment these works consist of sheets of lace cut and formed from leaves. These sheets are incredibly fragile, like objects from history that are imbued with memory.

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Dried Beech Lace, 2011. Dried Beech Leaves.


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Light Lace. 2011. Green Beech leaves.


I know you like experimenting with different materials and creating items of clothing out of unconventional objects, such as hair or leaves - how did this interest start?

When I was a young child my Father was studying for a Botany Degree part time. He was looking at moss, and I have a very strong memory of wandering into the spare bedroom where laid out on tables were trays of different mosses, all labelled.

I was fascinated and I think this started a relationship with natural materials. I would absorb his scientific approach to materials, analysing their properties and behaviours. What processes could be applied to those materials? Looking at the lace experiments it’s almost like, hey, what else can I make this leaf do? I am a very tactile person and I want to work directly with my materials. I have less interest in depicting them, although I do like drawing them to gain a greater understanding.

The two pieces I exhibited in the library illustrate my approach to materials.

“Spun Coat” was formed whilst I was working in my studio which has a vaulted roof where a lot of cobwebs loom .Looking up, I was struck not only by their beauty but their possibility as material. Using a long stick I “spun” webs into fabric with which to make a miniature coat.

This coat took on all sorts of myths and fairy tales. As I sat in my freezing studio working the webs I did feel like Rapunzel, nightly weaving piles of straw into golden threads. Recent work with Spiders webs and Golden Spider Silk is phenomenal. The Golden Cape by Simon Peers, recently displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, is a thing of ethereal beauty.


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Spun Coat 2011.Spun Spiders Webs.

“Where Worms Have been” also resulted from looking up. Whilst mooring a boat on holiday last summer, I looked up at a lime tree to see that every leaf had been nibbled by a moth or caterpillar. These leaves had a strange fragile quality that echoed my leaf lace experiments.


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Where Worms Have Been. 2012. Lime Leaves

 

Do you have any longer-term projects you are working on at the moment?

I am currently working on “The Beech Tree Project” with the amazing beech trees at Burnham Beeches that are mentioned in the Doomsday book. They are incredible sentinels to our past, yearly bursting into leaf despite being continually eroded by time.

At the moment I am developing my relationship with the trees through drawing, getting to know their twists and turns. What is extraordinary about Burnham Beeches is the atmosphere; in some parts the history is palpable. I’m hoping that the body of sculptures I develop will evoke this atmospheric presence.

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Beech Trees at Burnham Beeches. 2012