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Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Spike Dennis.
Name: Spike Dennis
Main embroidery medium: Cotton Thread/Canvas/Linen. Normally with a split stitch.
Noteworthy projects or pieces: My unicorn-porn project –www.unicorn-porn.com
How did you come to be an embroiderer?
I fell into it last autumn after visiting an incredible exhibition of Indian and South East Asian textiles at Dovecot Studios, in Edinburgh. Over the year or two prior to this I’d made a rather major return to drawing within my practice. However, I’ve always been fascinated by material qualities such as texture, shape, surface and so on, and so taking the step from work on paper into embroidery seemed quite logical and very natural. Despite training as a painter I’ve been working with textiles for a few years and I’ve found that embroidery has acted as something of a bridge between different eras of my practice.
What does it mean to you?
Embroidery is a lot less immediate than the drawings I was producing previously and the process becomes even more meditative. I do find the whole process very therapeutic. I used to spend forty to sixty hours working on a drawing and now I’m doing the same with stitch instead. Somehow working with stitch is even more therapeutic than drawing; probably due to the material. The whole process/action of stitch is a lot more gentile than the process I employed to create some of my earlier drawings.
There is also some unexplainable sensation that I find stitched works exude. It’s something to do with the physical presence of the material and the history attached to the processes that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Where do you like to work?
I recently wound up my studio unfortunately due to financial reasons and so I primarily work from home now. Normally whilst listening to the Five Live Sport on the wireless or to a soundtrack of drum and bass and jungle.
How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer?
People’s reaction is always very positive; though sometimes there is some surprise. A local Gallery Director who I’ve worked with in the past always chuckles at the thought of me spending my Sunday afternoon at home supping a cup of tea whilst embroidering.
Who inspires you?
Mother Spike: http://monicadennis.wordpress.com/
How or where did you learn how to stitch or sew?
I’ve dabbled in craft activities for years and I suppose credit has to go to Mother Spike for teaching me how to stitch and sew. She used to create traditional cross-stitched samplers and I used to create small cross stitches from patterns when I was 10 or 11 for birthday cards for the family and friends. Mother Spike still has a couple of my old cross-stitched works hanging on the walls at home.
Are your current images new ones or have you used them before?
I’ve only really returned to embroidered stitch work within the last twelve months so all of the images are relatively new.
How has your life shaped or influenced your work?
As what one might call a Contemporary Fine Artist (eurgh!) my life constantly feeds my work although my approach is often rather introverted. I see my work is as a visual philosophy; trying to understand those things in the world that I haven’t quite yet found a way to otherwise articulate clearly. The unicorn-porn works for example are, in part, the result of an interest in the conflict between society’s moral values and art. One of the questions that led me down this route was: Can an individual really appreciate a work for its artistic merit if the work conflicts with one’s moral values?
At a practical level of course there is the influence that my Mother has had on me as I mentioned earlier. I also spent a couple of years working alongside the Textiles department at Cardiff School of Art and Design which most definitely influenced me in terms of turning from my education in Painting to work with textiles and stitch.
Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you?
Formal concerns with regard to the physical construction of a work such as perspective aren’t things I would normally explicitly consider within my work. Art history is fascinating though. It’s a while since I’ve undertaken any substantial research but examining the symbolism of the Unicorn for my current project has been really enlightening. It’s wonderful to uncover the different ways in which symbols and their meaning have been deployed my artists over the centuries and I’m currently looking for ways in which to incorporate further layers of significance in my new works.
What do your choice of images mean to you?
My images are all self generated. The transfigured unicorns are the result of my research into the symbolism of the unicorn and its use throughout the ages as symbol of fecundity and fertility. I’ve over-sexualised these creatures to reflect concerns and issues prevalent in parts of western society today. I’ve also created some larger more stylised works (e.g. Circle of Life) which explore similar meanings but bear a more explicit reference to the historical-mythological symbol of the unicorn.
Do you look at your work with an eye toward it like what can and can’t be visually quoted? In other words what you will or won’t cut out?
Not really. At least not in terms of the creation of the final embroidered works as the research is undertaken before hand through sketches and drawings. My works do tend to be fairly minimalist in terms of their composition though as I am conscious that I don’t want to become narrative works or illustrations.
Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us?
Boring as it might sound I don’t think I do? At least not that I can articulate in any coherent way.
How do you hope history treats your work?
Well, of course I’d hope that at some point I’ll create something lasting; something that people will enjoy looking at for years to come but who knows what’ll happen to it? I would love to think that might hang in museum collections in the distant future but I might need to make something more family friendly first!
Where can we find you and your work?
You can find me online in a number of places but my main websites are:
If you fancy a little digitally disembodied chit chat you can find me on Twitter: @Spike_Dennis and you can find my work on Instagram using the hashtag #boyswhosew – I’d like to encourage any other male embroiderers to adopt the hashtag too; it’d be great to see who else is out there.
And if you want to see my unicorn embroideries in the flesh you should head to Cultivate Gallery‘s ‘Bodies’ exhibition from Friday 1st June until Wednesday 13th June 2012. Cultivate, Vyner Street, London, E2 9HE
eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.
The Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery. Committed to changing the way the world thinks about needlecraft.