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 first-place winner in the Open Textile art Category, Sorrell Kerrison.
Location: Liverpool, UK
Describe your Hand & Lock entry and the inspiration behind it:
I decided to do a life size self portrait to really test my abilities. It’s always good as an artist, to mark the passage of time and it is a challenging project to work on depicting your own face. You have to distance yourself from your perceived ‘flaws’ and look at yourself as a collection of shapes and connecting lines.
When I first started doing the sketches, I was unaware that I was pregnant. Once I started the hand embroidery, I was aware that I was pregnant, so it also took on the air of documenting myself as I was transitioning into motherhood. I had a very difficult pregnancy, lots of morning sickness (which lasted all day for 20 weeks!), then gestational diabetes and SPD. So I wasn’t having the best time of it. Yet the thing that it did do is make me value myself in a different way. Separating myself from my ‘looks’ or ‘attractiveness’ and more as a vessel of new life.
Tell us about your background and how it led you to where you are. I’m especially interested in how you wound up doing embroidered portraits. You have a history in film and music, and you entered embroidery through cross stitch, but do you have a history in drawing and painting? Why portraits?
I was in bands and supporting bands in roles like working as an agent or as a tour driver and manager, so I always thought that music would be my main calling in life. Yet, being in bands you have to be multifaceted. You learn to screen print so that you can make band t-shirts, you learn to draw so you can make posters, you learn to drive giant vans so you can get everyone around etc etc.
When my last band decided to go its separate ways, myself and my husband were considering a move from Bristol to Liverpool. For a few years I had been doing small cross stitch commissions and very mundane things that I would not consider ‘art’ at all, and my want to be creative wasn’t being itched. I’ve always loved embroidery as a medium. I like to approach it like I would draw or paint, however it slows down my process. I call it ‘enforced patience’! I have to be more deliberate and thoughtful with my marks as it takes such a long time to layer and build in hand embroidery. When I draw I usually use very basic tools like biros or felt-tips and I draw fast, almost like scribbling it out of my system. Then I translate that work to embroidery and it lends this sense of movement and intensity.
Portraits are great as the human face will always be interesting to us humans. It’s also much harder to create a human face than it is to do a landscape or a room or an inanimate object. You’ll notice that a lot of embroidery artists avoid the face, sometimes disguising it or purposefully hiding it in their pieces as it’s the hardest part to get right. I didn’t want to give myself an easy job so I faced it head on. Literally.
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?
Wow! That’s so kind to be considered a pioneer! I think I just like to look at everything, all art and mediums as inspiration. I think you can get too stuck if you just look at embroidery and textile arts. I have a greater appreciation for textile arts as I know how painstakingly detailed and difficult they can be. However, I think it’s important to look at other art and always be expanding. I’ve been knitting myself a free form jumper, knitting is not natural to me, I’m not very good at following patterns of any sort, I like to let it flow. Yet I think doing this has been a great test of me using my skills in a different way.
I’m currently making quilts with embroidery portions, paintings and a sound immersion for the Liverpool Indy Biennial this summer 2021. I shall be digitising my pieces and releasing them for sale on a crypto-art gallery called Known Origin. I may even be the first embroidery artist to transition and sell works in the NFT forum.
You’re the first I’m aware of!
So, the best way to pioneer is to keep moving, gather inspiration from everything, all arenas, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Just keep trucking forwards!
Where can we see more of your work?
What one piece of advice would you offer someone looking to be an
If you create art, you are an artist. Full stop. I think the difficulty is transitioning into it being your full time ‘job’. Don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to be called an Artist with a big A. Just tell enough people that’s what you do, and it will become what you do. Also be consistent and make art every day. Even if it is just a little doodle or a poem. Don’t get wrapped up in what people are doing on social media, often people are expressing their ‘success’ but never their struggles. We all struggle and there is no such thing as an overnight success. It takes one step at a time.
Rapid-fire Round: (Don’t think too hard about these.)
If you weren’t an artist—that includes all art: film, music, textile, etc.
—what would you be? I really love quantum physics and scientific theory. So maybe I would’ve explored working in that arena. I wish I would’ve known how creative science could be when I was a kid. It was taught as a very dry subject. However, I like to read about quantum theory and atomic level physics, astrophysics and stuff like that as a way of meditation. It reminds you that you are an organism on a rock spinning in space and no one really knows what’s going on, so you should just do what makes you happy.
Would you rather embroider with cooked spaghetti or bicycle chain? A bicycle chain definitely. I love that idea in fact. I love DIY and hardware shops and would love to work in more metals or wood pieces. I’m slowly expanding my practice as I would like to eventually make really gigantic immersive pieces, so maybe I will use bicycle chain in the future! Thanks for the suggestion!
And you’ll let me know when you do, right?
Do you save the best for last? With regards to embroidery, I always stitch the eyes first. Once I have the eyes done I can see the soul of the piece. As a life question though, nope, I think you should just dive straight in.
You can shop for free at one store. What store do you choose? A charity shop. Probably the one that has great furniture and books around the corner from me. I don’t really like shopping. The idea of it as a pursuit kinda makes me come out in hives! I think the only kinda shopping I like is charity shopping. Oh! Or to Aberkhan fabrics!
Color gurus are naming a new color after you. What is it called, and what does it look like? It’s called Pluvial. It’s a cliff-face grey with an undertone of jewel coloured blue. Pluvial is also the name of my musical solo project. I love it as a word, it brings to mind water erosion on rocks and flooding.
What was the best gift you gave someone? When I met my husband, when we were dating I sent him one of those awful seaside ‘Welcome’ ornaments that had seagulls on a beach scene in the post. You put batteries in it and put it near your front door. When the door opens you get greeted by awful squawking of seagulls and a whooshing sea sound.
When I visited him (we were dating long distance) we opened the door and we were greeted with the noise of the seagulls. Right then I knew that it was love as no one would EVER put batteries in such a disgusting ornament unless they were in love. It now sits by our front door, but with no batteries in.
NASA is sending another capsule into space, hoping it might be found by aliens. They’ve asked you to make something to include in it. What do you make and why? I’d make a really cool Rube Goldberg machine. You know the ones where you press one thing and it sets off a chain reaction? Mostly because I’ve always wanted to make a really complex one, but also because I don’t know anyone that a Rube Goldberg machine doesn’t bring an immense amount of joy and levity to.
What is your dream commission? Probably working with someone I really admire. I love Nick Cave and Susie Cave (her fashion brand ‘The Vampire’s Wife’ is beautiful). Doing something as a collaboration with Susie or as an album cover for Nick would be incredible.
On the other extreme, I really love the Wellcome Trust and would love to do something for their health and medicine museum.
You get to make lunch for a famous person (she/he/zie will love it!). Who is the person, and what are you serving for lunch? I’ve been listening to a lot of the ‘Off Menu’ podcast with James Acaster and Ed Gamble. It’s been a daily listen whilst I work on my pieces for the biennial and it is so absolutely hilarious. I think I would make them burritos and then a pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. I think I would be in great company and probably laugh a lot.
We’re hosting a show of “performance embroidery.” Describe your piece in the event. It’s a room of rope set up in a grid formation. There are different coloured ropes on giant spools. I physically climb in and out of the grid with the rope as it unravels off the spools and make giant embroideries with the rope. In this instance the human body is the needle.
Thank you, Sorrell!