If you’re in Milton Keynes and want to escape the Christmas commercialism you could do worse than find your way to the Hemmed In: Embroidery and Needlework from MK and Beyond exhibition which started at the MK Gallery today and runs to 6th January 2013.
The exhibition contains a range of works by a wide range of artists and it’s one of those rare occasions when it really does make sense to pick up the free Exhibition Guide and let it guide you round.
Entering the Cube Gallery you find a range of selected work from the Embroiderer’s Guild National Collection. You are greeted by the most classic work on display in the exhibition within this room. The second picture Elizabeth Grace Thompson’s My Mother has an interesting feel. Stitched in 1935 it has an art deco aspect within it, with odd nods to Rennie Mackintosh. Looking at it I was struck by the way that it resembled some Vivienne Westwood work and so it seems that Westwood may have been influenced by Thompson. For a bit of history about Thompson and other embroiderers of the time this post on the History of Embroidery is worth a look.
Beryl Dean whose work is also mentioned with the History post was the artist behind the next piece Firebird which was embroidered in 1950. It is a beautiful work with a human figure of ambiguous gender being part of the Phoenix. Angel wings mix with peacock feathers in this work.
Within this room the other work which most grabbed my attention and was one of my favourite bits of the exhibition was Jan Beaney’s Landscape within a Landscape. The vibrant colours and obvious yet abstract flowers reminded me very much of looking at Monet’s work. It seemed that this machine embroidery over fabric scraps was an embroidered interpretation of the great painter’s work.
Moving on to the Middle Gallery the work within it comes from the MK Embroiderers’ Guild (MKEG) and those who have influenced them. The works within this area were all of a reasonable quality but some were more outstanding than others. This made it feel like you had entered a 6th form or college end of year display. Note here that is in no way disparaging the work, having attended a number of such exhibitions the standard of work is high.
The set of eight inch squares representing different aspects of Milton Keynes were part of this years creative challenge set by the Chair of the organisation. Within it there were, unsurprisingly, some recurring themes such as the dome of the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Campbell Park and the Ray Smith sculpture Chain Reaction, the grid system and the juxtaposition between the glass and grass. Amongst my favourites was Suzanne Miles’ City Heartbeat which was a strikingly simple silhouette of the skyline. Joyce Fernee’s cross stitch of Christ the Cornerstone was one of the most traditional pieces of the whole exhibition. It also highlighted that within the city the building is iconic and was very much designed as a modern cathedral. Bonnie White and Jackie Siggers both captured the curves which exist in the city which is so much more than the grid system. White’s The Real Milton Keynes was my favourite of all these 8 inch squares. It captured exactly how within the grid system lie lakes, streets and open spaces that don’t follow lines but rather curve and slope and do all the other things that urban environments are supposed to do.
Bonnie White was also the artist behind the most fun square Iconic Cows. She had two coming out almost 3D. On one side was the cows in their “natural state” and on the other were the cows after their recent make over which I have previously blogged about.
Amongst the work of artists who had influenced them was Sally Hutson’s Pockets of Constraint which was a set of embroidered bibs depicting the reality of childhood and where it leads. Linda Miller’s An Eight Inch Square looked like it was a page from a child’s reading book with the mum holding a little Scotty dog with her scarf flying away from her body. This was next to Madeleine Millington’s The Owl and The Pussycat which was in beautiful reds and blues and had a beautiful nursery feel being applique with dyed, recycled blanket.
Cheryl Montgomery is Chair of the MKEG and was co-curator of this exhibition. She had a couple of works on display. Within the eight inch squares was a clever depiction of the city with the grid system, foliage and plastic elements displayed. As you walked towards the Long Gallery through the foyer was a larger work by her. It was called Spirals are Free: Essays on Hundertwasser. Confession time, I’ve never heard of Hundertwasser (wonderful name) but having looked him up and found this site the work which was interesting enough on its own makes even more sense. Montgomery’s work is a tree with a black netting frill as the roots. A white trunk then extends upwards towards the sky. Embroidered upon this trunk are words of wisdom from both secular and religious sources. Finally the branches are spirals which look like vivid, oversized lolly pops. You expect to find umpa lumpa’s jumping out from behind them and then spinning down the tree in the manner of Moonface and co (if you were bought up on Roald Dhal and Enid Blyton this will make sense).
Also within this foyer area is a Alter Frontage by Beryl Dean which is on loan from the Chaplaincy Department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation, in association with Hospital Arts. The shiny symbols from a variety of faiths were gorgeous. Another fun piece in this area was Hummingbirds by Zoe Williams. These were a set of cuddly birds which were mounted onto the wall on wood and reminded me of Hilda Ogden’s ducks.
Then it was on into the Long Gallery. As I entered this gallery I gasped this was not what I thought of when I thought of cross stitch. The work in this gallery was all selected by Mr X Stitch Jamie Chalmers. It was absolutely brilliant. Kirsty Whitlock’s Losses was based upon the Financial Times and the impact of the recession. There was a digital print of a business man holding the paper which was embroidered (and a version of which was displayed next to the print).
Bridgeen Gillespie’s Rock n Roll Outlaws was the most effective and yet simple depiction of the differences between New York and UK punk. A 7inch Blondie record sleeve has been embroidered with an industrial image whilst a Siouxsie and the Banshees single cover had been embroidered by fluffy bits of wool thread which resembled the jumpers which were popular amongst the 70’s punks.
The most unusual bit of cross stitching was Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene ‘s Way of Roses which was flowers cross stitched upon a green metal car door with rust coming through.
One of the features of this contemporary cross stitch is the mix of pop culture, cheek, politics and fun. The fun bit was mixed with politics in Penny Nickels’ Women Rise Up. It was in black and white and had a Victorian or Edwardian feel to it but the embroidery was a set of various hand gestures. It embodied the spirit of first wave suffragettes.
Within this set of textile work there was only one piece which resembled Tracey Emin’s and that was dutch artist Tilleke Schwarz’s Playground and Welcome to the Real World. The former was bright yellow and the latter dark blue and both had text and image embroidered in the style of graffiti wall of messages.
Sarah Greave’s Blue Door was exactly what the name suggests. It was a 1970’s blue door with grubby net curtain and names engraved on it as well as some embroidered slogans.
In addition to the Punk sleeves there were two other works directly inspired by music. The first was Hellfire by Karen Grenfell. This had the Progidy line “I am the God of Hellfire” embroidered in stark black stitching but then being consumed by beautifully stitched yellow and orange flames. Above them is a picture of what looks like a hamster. The largest work in this gallery is Night Knife by Ben Venom and is heavy metal image made up of quilted fabric and found t-shirts. With the Anthrax, Motorhead, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Motley Crew era shirts it looked like Donnington embodied in art. Amazing.
The Long Gallery was by far my favourite and I have no hesitation in saying it is by far the best work I have seen yet at the MK gallery. It is modern and edgy but also highly accessible. Loved it.