The textile industry through art
From 2nd December until 4th November 2018, East London artist Alke Schmidt will be exhibiting her latest project at Bradford Industrial Museum, Wonder and Dread, telling tales from the textile industry, which will feature a selection of our fabrics.
The exhibition explores the textile industry through time, on a local and global level by featuring local stories from the wool industry in a global context. Each work incorporates a different fabric, chosen for its association with the story being told and combined with painting, stitch or print.
One of her objectives for the exhibition was to use locally made materials where possible. To support three pieces of her work for the exhibition, we supplied the base fabric, Main Line Flax in Newbury and Barbican and Silk in Divine, used as the canvas for these oil paintings. Alke wanted the cloth to shine through on each painting, which show scenes inspired by her recent visit to Haworth Scouring in Bradford.
We spoke to Alke to find out more about her work and the exhibition:
A little about your work…
My work combines beautiful form with thought-provoking subject matter. Painting is often intertwined with the decorative patterns of found fabrics, stitch or print, selected for their historical, cultural or symbolic associations. Fusing the roles of the artist as maker and critical citizen, I use the visually seductive qualities of my works to challenge contemporary social and environmental issues. I aim to put those issues into a historical context, which reflects my belief that we must engage with the past to understand - and improve - the world today.
Can you tell us more about the series of paintings which feature some of our wool fabrics? How do they contribute to the whole exhibition?
This little series of paintings are all about the Bradford/Yorkshire wool industry today. Many people assume that the industry has all but disappeared, so I wanted to show it's alive and well (albeit a lot smaller than in the 19th century).
The paintings show scenes observed during my visit to Haworth Scouring in Bradford earlier this year. I wanted to paint them on woolen fabric made in Yorkshire, using a very local supply chain to tell a contemporary Bradford story in an exhibition that includes different stories from the global textile industry past and present.
Why did you choose these fabrics from Camira to paint on? Do the natural fibres help?
I came across samples from Camira in Haworth Scouring's showroom and then went to the Camira showroom in London to look at wool- rich fabrics. I took lots of samples on which I did tests for painting with oils and acrylics. The Silk and Main Line Flax fabrics were most suitable for painting on and I liked the colours.
I did not want to prime the fabrics much prior to painting on them because I did not want the fabric to lose its character so in the end, I only used a very light coating of transparent primer – pretty much not priming at all – and then painted on it with oils. The effect was a bit like watercolour or pastel, which I quite liked. I also wanted the painting to cover only part of the fabric so that the fabric remained a clearly visible element of the painting.
How did you find these materials to work with?
It was a bit tricky and needed lots of experimenting with primers, acrylics and oils, but I'm pleased with the result!
Alke was awarded an Arts Council England grant to develop the work for this exhibition, which can be seen from 2nd December at Bradford Industrial Museum.