Every year, Hand & Lock organizes a competition for the prestigious Prize for Embroidery to promote the use of hand embroidery and to discover emerging embroidery talent. The 2020 brief, “The Poetics of Colour,” invited entrants to use colour as a fundamental component of the design process, employing inventive embroidery and textures that enhance and enrich or contradict and counter the colour choices.
Today we’ll meet the second-place winner in the Student Textile Art Category, Lillian Cellan-Jones.
Location: South London
School(s) (include what year or the year you graduated):
James Allen’s Girls’ School (JAGS) – 2016
City and Guilds of London Art School – 2017
London College of Fashion – 2020
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
My entry for Hand & Lock was called ‘The Apron’. This piece tells a story of personal identity and relationship between two very disparate ancient crafts. Played out across the design is the contradiction between the repulsive and beautiful, the harsh and delicate, the brutal and feminine. Connecting with the practical nature of the work place, the design plays on the idea of the traditional leather apron worn by butchers, the two-piece shape of the apron was influenced by the art of dissection as if applied to the human form; the top half that juts out is evocative of a rib cage whilst the red flesh beneath is exposed.
Rooted in the value of craftsmanship and the slow-textiles philosophy, I wanted to sustain and celebrate one craft practice through the medium of another. I was inspired by my years working in a butchers. Butchery is a craft much like embroidery that has been passed down through generations and requires the knowledge and the skilled hands of the craftsman to be carried out.
In a world where it seems knowledge and technical expertise are becoming ever more irrelevant with the over-reliance on technology, I wanted to create a piece that reminds us that these are the skills that made us human in the first place, without them, what would be the point in having a mind? I want to seriously question the idea that just because we could use technology to replace the hand and mind certainly does not mean we should.
Are there any secrets you can now reveal about your entry?
Well, actually, I only had three weeks to construct the piece as the email confirming that I was a finalist went to my junk box (I am hopeless with technology)! Luckily most of the embroidered features were completed already but to design and construct the finished piece I had to work day and night. Little sleep was had! Moral of the story is always check your junk box!
When and how did you first discover embroidery, and what impression did it make on you?
I have always been drawn to working with fabrics. I love how fabric can be used so fluidly and the outcomes are endless. I began in fine art making collages out of embellished fabrics during my school years, this then led me on to using stitch to paint with and also to manipulate fabrics into 3D forms. Something I found particularly charmimg about embroidery, a slow-craft medium of art, is that it requires years of technical expertise to master and because of its time-consuming nature, there is a sincerity to it. When you experience these hand-made embroidered pieces close up, you can sense the time, diligence and soul of the maker encapsulated within each one.
My job in The Funk Files is to interview “pioneers on the embroidery frontier.” That’s you! What is the embroidery frontier, and what does it mean to be a pioneer here?
We are currently part of a quiet revolution where society is re-evaluating what we consider to be ‘craft’ and what we consider ‘fine art’. Increasingly, the academic understanding of Textile Art is being re-understood, not only as a craft, but as a powerful form of self expression and an honoured medium of Art. In my opinion, too much modern art glorifies in its own lack of technical talent, I think being a textiles—and specifically an embroidery—artist doesn’t allow you to create lazy art works, not only do you have a message to communicate but your slow medium means you have to pour your time and, therefore, soul into the work. Being part of the embroidery frontier means that we continue to draw attention to this art form and drive a renaissance in the appreciation of embroidery and textiles as Fine Art, with a hope to move away from this commercialised movement of mainstream art.
What projects are on the horizon for you?
I am taking part in the knitting and stitching show in 2022 where I should be exhibiting in Dublin, Harrogate and London. I’m also in the process of setting up my own studio in South-East London. Here I will be working on my most recent pieces of textile art inspired by taxidermy, obsession, delusion and hallucination. Besides this I have been freelancing at Alexander McQueen and for a luxury textile export company designing samples.
Where else can we see your work?
You can follow my Instagram page at @lilycjart, or see collections of previous projects at Arts Thread. You can also come to Hand & Lock’s Embroidered Arts Exhibition this November 2021 between the 3rd – 7th at the Bargehouse OXO Tower on the Southbank. Tickets can be booked online at Hand & Lock.
What one piece of advice would you offer someone who wants to create art?
KEEP GOING! Don’t be distracted by what someone else is doing or their method of working, anyone can be an artist if they harness their own unique experience and find their own way of working. Remember that no one can do it the way you do it, never try to be someone else, and most of all don’t give up on yourself. Artists have an unfortunate habit of judging themselves by what they achieved yesterday rather than looking at the bigger picture- not every day will be a success but sometimes you have to get through the failures to reach something that is completely unique. Failing is part of the process.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
A book you’ve enjoyed recently: Jarett Kobek’s I Hate The Internet
You must include something edible in your next piece. What do you use, and how do you incorporate it? Mushrooms, crystallised in gelatin
If you were not an artist, what would you be? An Apprentice Jockey
You are making lunch for the artist of your choice—and she/he/ze will love it. Who is the artist, and what are you making for lunch? Spag Bol for Caravaggio
Favorite scent: Combined scent of the following: antiques, lillies, dogs and fresh cigarette smoke
You must turn a song into an embroidery. What is the song and what do you create? ‘Carnival’ by Natalie Merchant, an homarge to Aileen Wuornos
You must create a garment or accessory for an animal. What is the animal, and what do you create? A three piece tailored suit for my dog Boswell.
You can shop for free at one store. What store do you choose? Boots
A celebrity wears something you’ve made to an awards show, and you receive fame, fortune, good health, fitness, and cake for life. Who is the celebrity and what does she/he/ze wear? Tilda Swinton in a wearable sculpture
What was the best gift you’ve ever gotten? Siblings
Thank you, Lily!