For the last few years, I’ve been doing fabric-based artwork which I’m still not sure how to describe – appliqué or collage would be closest I suppose. Mostly they consist of layers of fabric put together with double-sided sticky paper or glue; along the way I’ve experimented with other materials like feathers, buttons, jewelry etc. They are quite time-consuming, especially as I got more and more technically ambitious with each new artwork – the last one I’ve made took me about a year of working on the weekends. I get my inspirations from different sources but I’m often drawn to mythical and fairytale themes.
This was my first attempt with the new-found technique. I didn’t really set out to do a portrait of PJ Harvey (incidentally one of my biggest musical loves), but I wanted to model it on her because she has such striking features.
I mostly based it on two images – the back cover of Dry album, and the front cover of Rid of Me because I love her crazy unhinged hair in that photo. At the time, I’ve also just read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, which is probably why I put her in a medieval-style red dress. I was very fortunate to find this amazing, rich brocade – both the sleeves and the bodice are made from the same fabric but it looks different because of the direction of the fabric and the play of light.
I’m still very fond of this artwork even though it’s not as complicated or polished as the later ones. I like that, even though she looks like a bold, wild woman, there’s something very reserved in the set of her shoulders and a shyness in her eyes.
Tree of Life
The important part of this artwork was deciding when to stop embellishing. I have a tendency to overthink and overdo at times, so there needed to be a point when I had to just leave it where it was.
I got the inspiration for this one from the inside artwork of Cabin Fever! by Rasputina, a quirky cello-based band with a strong Victorian bend. I’ve always felt there was something haunting about silhouettes, and mixing them with people’s portraits made for an interesting juxtaposition. Also, I liked the idea of a 3D effect and playing with perspective.
At one point early on it went through some remodelling because I was unhappy with the original fabric I’ve chosen for the walls. It taught me to always trust my gut instinct and never try and smooth over things with “oh no it looks pretty ok”, because later on stuff like this will niggle at you like crazy.
I picked the portraits rather randomly and just went by instinct and what seemed to work together. On the wall to the left, there’s a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, then going clockwise there’s an old Flemish painting, a medieval portrait, a photograph of Brian Eno and a couple of images from one of my photography books that I liked. On the right wall, there’s another portrait of Elizabeth as a young girl, then a photo of myself aged about 4, cover of PJ Harvey’s White Chalk album, another medieval artwork, Isabella Rossellini, and the cover of Joanna Newsom’s Ys.
Fever Ray’s self-titled record is one of my favourite albums and I absolutely love its cover art, which, along with the music, was the inspiration for this artwork. I wanted it to have a vibe of a dark fairytale, and for my angel to keep that forbidding, inscrutable look the figure on the album cover has; not cruel or evil but not exactly warm and fuzzy either. From the feedback I got, people can’t make up their mind whether the angel looks male or female, which I’m happy about because it’s the effect I was aiming for. Initially I was going to have the little girl on her own, but then I felt bad about leaving her all alone in the woods, so I gave her a giant cat as a companion. Which hopefully wouldn’t just yawn and walk away like a real cat probably would, haha.
Technically, it was an interesting piece to do as I got to experiment with materials like felt, fur, sequins, glitter and feathers. I got a crash course in goose feathers along the way – they curve! I had to make a special call to the supplier and ask them to pretty please pick the rarer feathers that curve to the left so that I could complete the left wing.
The hardest detail in the whole thing was the cat’s whiskers, of all things. I’ve spent ages trying to balance and glue together three tiny pieces of fishing line while cursing under my breath.
Ivan Bilibin was a Russian illustrator from the first half of the 20th century who, among other things, did wonderful and distinct illustrations which were heavily influenced by the traditional Russian folklore. I based my fifth piece on one of his works, which I followed quite faithfully, except changing the main rider from male to female, just because.
This was by far the most detailed artwork I’ve done so far. I’ve made countless trips to the cheap jewelry stores looking for accessories which were just right, and the most time-consuming part was doing the black trimming with the thin rayon cord which had to go around pretty much everything. Man did that test my patience.
The two patterned squares and the stripe at the bottom actually go over the glass. Also, the spear points are metal and were kindly made for me by a friend.