Harriet Maxwell: Up Close & Personal

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Harriet Maxwell is an embroidery artist from London who creates machine embroidered portraits that get up close and personal.

“My current work is focussed on the portrait, on the subtleties that can amount to the representation of a person. By looking closely at the face, I concentrate on the layers of pattern, colour and contours that create the subtle qualities of the skin. I like the idea of looking so closely at a face that factors such as gender and age become ambiguous and unimportant. I am more interested in small, gestures, how a slight turn of the head can reveal new details, how a change of lighting can transform colours, altering the perception of a face.

“With the use of the Irish sewing machine, I am able use stitch as a drawing tool, to create both fluid patterns, dense areas of rich colour and thick textures, allowing the stitches to combine to form a sheen evocative of flesh. I use stitch in much the same way as paint, creating marks with the needle in the same way that I would with a brush. Yet rather than simply focussing on the surface of the skin, I feel that stitch allows me to construct the flesh, building up thread to reference layers of skin, mapping out lines and contours with the direction of the stitch.

“Embroidery enables me to create a dense, indulgent and tactile cloth that I believe not only refers to surface, but to the composition of the surface. The direction and density of the stitch contribute to a rippling effect, a rising and falling, which produces an almost sculptural outcome. Depending on the light, this can create an ever-changing portrait, light and shade emphasizing and diminishing details, creating alternative portrayals, just as in life.”

We’ve seen portraiture quite a few times at the Cutting (& Stitching) Edge, and Harriet’s work elicits comparison with the work of Cayce Zavaglia. However Harriet’s faces have amplified caricature; the perspective and light emphasize the shapes and contours of the faces and revitalise interest in subjects that might otherwise be taken for granted. I like ’em.

Connect with Harriet at her blog and visit her etsy store to buy pieces of her work.