Monday, November 17, 2014

An Introduction to Issue 2 of Inspirational

Welcome to the first general introduction to issue 2 of the Inspirational project from The Textile Blog. As promised, this article will give some details as to the artists involved in this second issue, which includes the disciplines of ceramics, painting, 3D/basketry, glass, and textiles.

I am extremely grateful and thankful that the eight artists involved in this second issue of Inspirational have agreed to take part as enthusiastically as the original eight artists in issue 1. I personally feel privileged to include the artists and their work within the Inspirational project and know that they will add significantly to this new venture.

The eight artists featured in issue 2 are, India Flint, Sarah Purvey, Deidre Adams, Meredith Woolnough, Sue Hotchkis, Karen Gubitz, F. E. Clark, Jonathan Fuller. The list is purposely varied, bringing together a range of disciplines, personal perspectives, and geographical locations. What all hold in common of course is that they are all inspirational and aspirational artists that take their unique view of the world and pass that through to their work.

This particular article also reveals the cover of the second issue of Inspirational, which I am sure will become very familiar between now and the release date of issue 2. The cover features the work of the artist F. E. Clark and seems a perfect fit for the projection of the magazine and the project in general.

This second issue of Inspirational will be on sale from January 14, 2015. From now until then there will be regular updates and publicity for this second issue.

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all of those out there who both bought and helped to promote the first issue of Inspirational, you know who you are! Without your selfless assistance and boundless enthusiasm, there would never have been an issue 2, and for that, I will always be grateful. Thank you!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Handcrafted in Ghana - Weaving the Contemporary and the Traditional

This article is dedicated to the work of Akosua Afriyie-Kumi who founded AAKS with the intention of introducing the planet to the weaving techniques produced by the women of Ghana, and through this engendering sustainable employment for those women. Handcrafted in Bolgatanga, in Ghana, AAKS creates woven bags that manage to incorporate the best in tradition whilst maintaining a contemporary feel for the world market.

I feel that it is best for Akosua and AAKS to tell their story in their own words. Therefore, their story follows:

"In a small village in the Northern region of Ghana, hamlets scatter over the savannah as far as your eyes can see. A group of local artisan weavers sit under a huge baobab tree laughing away, on close inspection you see plies of colourful raffia and in between the noise of chatter and laughter these women are hard at work. Their hands move so skilfully and with an innate knowledge tending to a craft that has been handed down by generations.

The craft is the art of weaving. Using skills and techniques that are unique to this part of Ghana, the craftsmanship is the foundation of our brand. This is where AAKS handbags are made. The bags are woven incorporating the use of raffia and leather. It takes approximately one week to complete a handbag. This attests to our unwavering dedication to modern style and interpretations using traditional methods.

Made by hand each bag bears the fingerprints of the person who fashioned it and we add a signature tag to prove authenticity. We strive for beauty and individuality in each product and natural variations in texture and colour forms part of our designs.

While constantly experimenting with new materials all of our handbags are made using ecologically harvested raffia from family farmers in Ghana. We utilise as much of every raffia as possible and reserve scraps for smaller bags. The use of natural fibres and emphasis on handcraft techniques means each bag is unique. A sophisticated dyeing process is formulated in house to create exclusive seasonal colours.

Each season we aim to deliver new fabrications and technique that underscore our commitment to quality and craftsmanship with a quintessential natural and eclectic relaxed chic."

Akosua Afriyie-Kumi is a native Ghanaian who graduated from Kingston University London with a BA(Hons) Fashion degree. From designer to co-owner of a fashion brand and now creative director of her own brand AAKS, Akosua, now based in Ghana, finds herself travelling to and through-out Europe and Africa, particularly Cape Town, Marrakesh, London, Bolgatanga, and Accra, working with artisans, experiencing the diverse culture of our planet, and discovering new inspirations for the AAKS brand.

I would like to thank Akosua for agreeing to be featured in this article and for kindly supplying text and photographs, all of which are of course copyrighted to her and AAKS.

The website of AAKS, where products from Akosua's range, as well as photos featuring the steps that go into weaving the collection, can be found here.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Flower - in Nature, in Creativity, in Life

Illustration: Ceramic mosaic work from the Radiash College, Isfahan, Iran.

There are so many aspects of nature that have enthralled and intrigued human artists and designers across the countless generations of our species existence. From animal to plant, from earth to sky, from sweeping vistas to minute speck, all have intrigued and all have been used across the many disciplines that make up the creative arts.

The flower is possibly one of the external expressions of nature that has been used more than many others. It is not hard to see why, the flower comes in so many shapes, sizes, colours, tones, textures, no two species are the same, and no two individual flowers of the same species are the same. There is always variety within and without a single flower and that has probably adding significantly to its intrigue and use as a motif and central focus for the creative arts.

Portrayals of flowers, whether they are painted, hewn, sewn, written about, danced, photographed, or even displayed in their own right, are central to what many see as nature. In fact, to many in our contemporary world, portrayals of flowers are perhaps one of the few extensions of the natural world that are seen, or interpreted as being in any form 'natural'. 

Illustration: Rhododendron in flower, by John Hopper, 2014.

We live in a world now where large swathes of humanity have corralled themselves into near city-states, and although some have the privilege of recreational city parks and gardens, many around the world do not. It is this institutionalised divorce from the natural world that is storing up so many of our present and future problems. Individuals that feel no affinity with the real natural world, have nothing invested in its maintenance. If nature is never seen or recognised within the urban setting except perhaps in a minor role, why would it be given any significance in the lives of those who never feel that they have a meaningful relationship with it? Yet through this painful divorce from nature, this dysfunctional relationship that we are perpetuating with the planet, countless images of the flower persists, why?

Why does the portrayal of the flower in all its multiple expressions still captivate us, if only as the printed pattern on dress fabric, the climbing flower of a wallpaper design, or portrayal of a blossom on a ceramic mug? Even though many will never see the expression of nature in its raw state, are we still aware of our indebtedness to the natural world, or are we aware on some level that we have an intrinsic understanding with nature, one that we have had from the beginning of our species and beyond? 

Does this understanding somehow lie buried just beneath the recent layers of urbanity? After all, we are who we are because of the natural world, we are not who we are because of our buildings and our subways. We have spent four million years communing and understanding the natural world, and a couple of hundred years, in many cases even less, living our urban lifestyles. That is not to say that urban living is evil, it just has to be put in perspective. 

Illustration: 'Chrysanthemum' textile design by William Morris, 1877.

Our urban cities should perhaps not be as all-encompassing to our lives as we have made them. Perhaps we need to shift our perspectives, to understand where our food comes from before it is packaged, to understand what trees grow like as forests, rather than as spaced out and singular in pots in shopping centres. Perhaps we need to understand that flowers can actually grow together, rather than separated into designated colour bands as they so often appear in towns and cities. To this extent, perhaps we should start bringing the natural world into the city as a reality counter to what has been the norm until now. In some cases across the planet this is happening and it makes an extraordinary difference, but in many cases it still isn't happening.

Above all, perhaps we need to understand our relationship with nature before it becomes so far removed from our lives that we only acknowledge the existence of nature in miniature, that we miss entirely the tidal waves of the consequences of our actions. By believing that we have controlled and contained nature, as it often appears to be in our city parks, we spin ourselves a grand illusion.

However, by the creative arts continually emphasising and re-emphasising the role that nature has and still should play in our lives, a tenuous link can be maintained. It may only be an image of a flower to many, but it is much more than that. The image of the flower is one of the great external expressions not only of nature as a physical presence, but as a symbolic and spiritual presence. The flower is part of the expression that is the cycle of life, a cycle that we should always be aware is at the centre of everything, not at its periphery, no matter how much we would wish it to be. Get that wrong and the whole substance of who we are begins to unravel.

Further reading links:

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flow of Water

Illustration: Gentle waves by John Hopper, 2014.

The flow of water has been a means of inspiration probably for as long as we have lived on the planet as humans. It is our lifeblood, it is our saviour, it makes up a large proportion of our material body, and it has been the source of endless creative observations stretching through poetry, to dance, craft, and into the fine arts. 

Water comes in so many forms and so many moods. It can be placid, playful, angry, wistful, joyful, melancholic. Often the character role that we give to water can be more to do with the projection we ourselves give it, than the actual character that the water holds.

We see so many different qualities in water, many of which are played back on to our own human character. We see ripples, stillness, undulating waves, trickles, cascades, all have been used at one time or another to help explain what it is to be human, what it is to have the spirit of a human.

Water inveigles itself into and through our lives. We cannot live without it and so it tends to move through and around our communities, in the form of streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes. We appreciate the reflection that stretches of water give us, and we appreciate the lively sound that running water brings us, as we do the gentle lapping of water in a mild breeze.

Illustration: Cascading water by John Hopper, 2014.

Water, by its very nature is cyclical. The great cycle of water is one of the greatest miracles of our world. Starting as raindrops, water collects itself into a small trickle; it gathers more of itself to itself as it travels downstream, forever gathering more and more water to itself until it becomes an unstoppable flow, water with a mission, water with a goal, the need to reach the ocean. Water is then gathered through convection up into cloud formations, which travel with the aid of weather fronts, until they reach land and raindrops fall to repeat the process again. A seemingly endless cycle, which is a cycle that allows for the repetition of life. 

We should always be aware, but so few of us seem to nowadays, that without these continuing cycles across the planet, there would be no life for us to live. We take so much for granted and believe that whatever we do has little if any consequence, very much a case of not understanding or refusing to understand that all life choices have consequences, that actions deliver effects, and most importantly that a sense of responsibility must come as an integral understanding for all individual and combined actions.

As far as creative inspiration is concerned, there is no real beginning or end to the possibilities that can be gained from the observation of water. It is always changing, often many times in a day, every day of the year. The surface of water in its tranquil reflection can show us the mirror of land, the changing colour of sky and cloud, the sheen and sparkle reflected from the sun. A slight breeze across the surface of water can bring any number of abstractions to those same qualities, giving an endless inspiration across a lifetime.

Flowing water brings with it so many different qualities. It gurgles and gushes with excitement and wonder, it cascades and crashes over rocks and boulders, it can also flow smoothly and quietly, drawing its flow through wide arcs across deep green valleys. Plants along and through streams often trail with the flow of water, endlessly dancing with the moves that are life, and life is made to seem abundant along its banks, telling us that this is the source of all the life force of the planet, and that to appreciate it is to understand it.

Illustration: Undulating water by John Hopper, 2014.

I could write a whole book concerning the flow of water that runs through and around our lives, and there may well be just such a book coming out at some point in the near future. To me there seems no greater ambience for understanding than sitting beside a stretch of water. The tranquil reflection on its surface of  trees, sky, and cloud, the busy yet calm and considered life it engenders around it, seen in plant, insect, bird, and mammal, brings on the part of the individual participator, a deep understanding of themselves as a life, but more importantly an understanding of themselves as part of the integral complexity that is all life, life as it is really lived and not as we so often imagine it to be lived via our urban lifestyles.

I am lucky enough to experience this every day, and I know that I am lucky to have been given this window on the real world, and never take it for granted. I just hope that everyone at some point in their lives get the same opportunity to experience this cycle of life for which the flow of water is such a vital part.

Tangled weed on a sun-dappled shore
Silent breeze moves the water gently
Flowers vibrate, grass glistens, seeds pop
The damselfly explores
The bird's wing flutters
The lake lies still, but moving
Everything is in a moment
Arriving and leaving endlessly
The circle and cycle of being
The wheel may turn
But underneath all lies
The clearness of silence
The settling of peace

John Hopper 

Further reading links: