October ’s Artist of the Month Jackie Bennett talks about the ‘hands-on tactility’ and processes of weaving and the varied inspirations behind her work.
Why did you start making art? I started, like most people, as a child and I found creating things satisfying and a respite from other things in my life. I didn’t stop being creative at school, despite not being conventionally good at it. I failed my art A level but still got accepted onto an Art Foundation Course. I just carried on as it was important to me and something that I enjoyed and felt compelled to do. This could be because I had some communication difficulties as a child and could retreat into making art without having to explain it in words. I also enjoy the hands-on tactility of weaving – it is very calming and satisfying to me more than working with a pencil or a brush. For the same reason, I think, I have always enjoyed ceramics, which I was very lucky to be able to do throughout school and college.
How did you first experience weaving? I think it was on the Art Foundation Course, at Hastings College of Art, that I first tried weaving. There were some table looms but I also made myself a frame and taught myself tapestry weaving from a small book. I found garden string and other materials in local shops and dyed them in my garden to create larger works more affordably. I began to weave landscapes and abstracts from my 2D artwork. I didn’t realise that there were tapestry weaving degree courses though (taught as Fine Art), so I came back to it later in life.
How would you describe your pieces? Over the years I have experimented a lot and also benefitted from learning techniques from other weavers, so its hard to sum up all my work as it varies in appearance and approach. Sometimes the work is flat, to hang on a wall and sometimes 3D. I use several different weaving techniques, which I alternate. I select the technique to best convey what I want to say with the work, or sometimes because I am submitting work for an exhibition which stipulates a certain size. I like to work on large, colourful weavings and also smaller, quieter ones – and everything in between. I work very slowly – even for a weaver – so I can reflect and make sure its the work that I really want to do. I’m not really a perfectionist in terms of the weaving technique but it has to look right to me.
Do you follow a set process or does it vary? I do a lot of preparation work before each piece, trying out different yarns to get the colours and texture that I require. The weaving requires that you have some idea of the size before you start but things don’t always work out the way I have planned initially. I might experiment and change things as I go. I also research the ideas that I am working on and look at imagery, sometimes from other art or from nature, my own drawings and photographs. Sometimes I make a detailed image of what I am going to weave (called a cartoon), other times I work from a sketch or, more rarely, I free-weave. Free weaving tends to be like sketching, it is spontaneous and fun but rarely becomes a finished piece that I am happy with.
What inspires your work? In the digital, screen-age world, I seek to reintroduce texture and three-dimensionality. I am influenced by the physical world around me and my feelings about it, a combination of what I observe and what I experience. I have so many different interests that I am researching but there’s only so many pieces that I have time to weave, so I have to carefully select the work that I most want to weave. Recently I have been weaving local landscapes, Chinese dragons and a family coat of arms.
Do you have any creative role models? I am fascinated and inspired by the lives of many other artists who have struggled to create and survive. In terms of my artwork, I am often drawn to Hundertwasser, Gaudi, Van Gogh, Fontana and others to whom colour, texture and form is important. My weaving inspiration comes from Tadek Beutlich and his former assistant Fay Hankins, who worked in Ditchling.
Do you think about an audience when you are making work? If so what do you hope the viewer gets from your work? When I am starting a new work I don’t think about the audience at all – unless it is a commission piece. As I develop the weaving, I start to think about how others will relate to it but I am chiefly driven by my own vision and not who else will judge it. I enjoy it when someone understands my work, for instance, I made a weaving of my 3D eye scan – ‘Eye Sea’ – to raise awareness about Glaucoma detection and it was great to hear stories from people who could relate to it, or even identify what it was without my explanation. For local exhibitions, landscapes are always popular and I can then talk about how I created the view by sketching and weaving it.
What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far? Each time that I have work selected for a juried exhibition it is a huge boost, so currently I am very proud to have a weaving selected for the Environments exhibition. It is important for me to show my work alongside other media and not just in weaving shows. It think the work should stand for itself and not just be about the techniques and media.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of? I am proud of all my works. They all involve tenacity to bring into being. “Pells Fog”, which is in the Environments exhibition is one of the largest weavings that I have done recently so I am particularly proud to show it, as a lot of exhibitions have size restrictions.
What are your hopes for the future? I would like to take my artwork out to meet new audiences. I have been doing a lot of local shows and specialist textile shows but it would be good to have it appreciated in new places – and hopefully sell more work. That would enable me to continue to grow and develop as an artist.