Welcome to eMbroidery, a series of interviews with male embroiderers. This month, Stewart Kelly.
Name: Stewart Kelly
Location: Manchester, United Kingdom
Main embroidery medium: Drawing with Hand and Machine Embroidery
Noteworthy projects or pieces: Recent exhibitions have included Fibremen 5 and Scythia 11: International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art with Scythia Fibre Art in the Ukraine. In addition, Traces, a solo exhibition at Hand & Lock in London earlier this year.
How did you come to be an embroiderer? I recall having an interest in drawing and making from an early age. As a child art and history books appealed to my imagination, frequently making drawings of the characters featured in historical paintings. When I was older I began to visit galleries and view artists work. I knew at that point I wanted to pursue a career in the visual arts. I wanted to be an artist and create artworks to exhibit in galleries, museums and public spaces.
I maintained an interest in the visual arts throughout my schooling. From school I decided to enrol on an art foundation course particularly motivated by my interest in figure drawing. During the course I was able to develop my drawing skills alongside my interest in textiles and surface design.
I enrolled on the BA (Hons) Fashion and Textiles Design course at Liverpool John Moores University with a view to pursuing the textiles pathway on the programme. I selected this course as it allowed a considerable amount of creative freedom. Throughout the course I was able to explore different aspects of art and design including life drawing, computer aided design, weaving, dying, screen printing, embroidery and fabric manipulation techniques.
During the course I exhibited woven and embroidered textile samples with Indigo Salon at Premiere Vision in Paris. This opportunity allowed me to exhibit and sell textile samples to designers looking to source fabric ideas to utilise in their forthcoming collections. My clients included Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Lauren Vidal, Sahco Hesslien and Ralph Lauren Home Collection.
During the final year of the course I focused mainly on producing a series of woven and embroidered sculptural textiles. This body of work was influenced by my figure drawings and allowed me to focus on specialising in creating fine art textiles.
After graduating I received an AHRC bursary to study an MA in Textiles at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course offered me the opportunity to study the correlation between theory and practice resulting in establishing my fine art practice. My research involved studying contemporary theory in relation to my creative work. In addition, the course allowed me to experiment further with drawing, sculpture and photography in relation to my textile practice.
I have continued to exhibit my work in galleries and museums internationally since 2000.
Where do you like to work?
I work from my studio at Bankley Studios & Gallery in Manchester.
How do people respond to you as a male embroiderer?
This is a question I am frequently asked and find difficult to answer. My practice consists of themes and processes which interest me as an artist. I have no influence over another individual’s perception of my work. However, I acknowledge this subject provides an interesting platform for discussion. Ultimately, I believe my practice contributes towards dissolving the boundaries between gender and creative discipline.
Who inspires you?
My current work is inspired by drawing the human form. Many figurative artists have influenced my work through the years including; David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Henry Moore, Frank Auerbach, Vincent Van Gogh, Paula Rego, Frida Kahlo, Willem de Kooning, Euan Uglow, Richard Deibenkorn, Jenny Saville, Robert Maplethorpe and Bill Viola to name but a few… Film, theatre, contemporary dance, performance artists and photographers have also influenced my work.
How has your life shaped or influenced your work?
Throughout my life many experiences have impacted on my creative practice. The opportunity to travel to many cities in Europe and the USA during my twenties had a positive impact on my creative thinking. I was fortunate to visit many galleries and view artworks that had been influential during my earlier life. In addition, the opportunity to share and collaborate with other artists has and continues to be a positive influence on my work.
My work as a creative facilitator has also influenced my practice. It would seem pertinent that the human form should be the subject of my work having worked with people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds in most education and community settings over the last sixteen years. I have been commissioned to facilitate projects in association with schools, colleges, galleries, museums, hospitals and community arts organisations nationwide. In particular I have worked extensively as an artist in the field of mental health. I have a continuing professional interest in studying how the visual arts can be utilised to enhance an individual’s wellbeing.
Do formal concerns, such as art history, interest you?
I believe it is important to be aware of the historical associations within my work in order to locate my practice in a contemporary context.
Are your current images new ones or have you used them before?
I am constantly drawing which generates new ideas and feeds into my studio practice.
What does your choice of images mean to you?
The use of imagery, whether it is figurative or abstract, in conjunction with process is integral to my work. My current practice is inspired by observing and drawing the human form. I use the drawings as a basis to construct layered surfaces which are created using a range of media. In particular, I am interested in exploring the effects of layering drawing and stitching. The accumulation of lines results in abstract images which are open to interpretation from the viewer.
Initially, I make observational drawings in response to the figure. I work intuitively to create expressive drawings which aim to capture the subtleties found in both gesture and movement. I record my responses spontaneously, focusing almost entirely on the subject, unaware of the image evolving on the paper. As the lines accumulate and overlap, the image becomes abstracted. The figures become less recognizable almost camouflaged amongst the multitude of lines. Each mark is unique and documents a moment in time. My observations and responses are distilled into line.
I then transform and develop the drawings by cutting, re-assembling and stitching. Existing drawn lines are emphasized with stitch whilst additional lines derived from separate studies are imposed over the surface. The diversity of drawn and stitched marks create unique textures and quality of lines throughout the work. The drawn line is immediate whilst stitching is slower and more reflective. Occasionally figures are identifiable, whilst in contrast a line may represent a gesture or brief moment in time.
Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us?
They would no longer be secrets if I told you!
How do you hope history treats your work?
I hope my work is treated with care and clean hands…
Where can we find you and your work?
I have been a resident artist at Bankley Studios & Gallery in Manchester since 2008. I participate in the annual open studio event during the autumn.
Throughout the year I exhibit my work in the UK and Europe. Over the last 2 years notable exhibitions have included Fibremen 5 and Scythia 11: International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art with Scythia Fibre Art in the Ukraine. In addition, Traces, a solo exhibition at Hand & Lock in London earlier this year.
Further information and images illustrating my practice are available at the following links:
eMbroidery was created with the support and wisdom of the magnificent Bascom Hogue.
If you are, or know of, a male embroiderer that we should interview as part of this series, contact us!