Friday, July 30, 2010

Ruth Issett

You've already met one of my idols. Now I'd like to introduce you to my other idol- artist, author and educator Ruth Issett.

Ms. Issett, a long-time instructor and innovative textile artist living and working in the UK, generously agreed to answer some questions about her work and her life as an artist. Enjoy!

When someone asks you what you do for a living, what’s your answer?

I’m in textiles – Oh really – what type? – then it gets complicated! I would say I’m a dyer, a printer, a stitcher, a designer, an artist, a communicator, a writer and a tutor/lecturer.

How much of your design process is improvisational? Do you ever plan or sketch major pieces in advance?

It isn’t like that at all – my work in ongoing, one piece leads to another, sometimes they become a series, sometimes they are stitched, sometimes they are complete as design ideas, on paper or as printed fabrics.. Sketch books are invaluable for exploring ideas and thoughts. If I work to commission then there may be a necessity for a working design but I would always negotiate that I have the freedom to adjust the work as necessary and maybe through discussion with the client.

Your work is often heavily layered with color and texture and you seem utterly engaged in the ways those elements interact with one another. What was the genesis of that fascination?

Not all my work is heavily layered but you are right that there is a fascination with the way elements interact with each other whether it is colour, media, cloth or stitch. I am very engaged with the surface and the effect of one element on another.

Have you ever had a piece of fabric or paper that you’ve continued to tinker with for years? Or are you more inclined to finish a piece and move on quickly to the next?

The nature of my working life is that I have endless pieces which are in progress. I am not a singular practitioner, but I might make collections or series where work connects in some way.

I teach a considerable proportion of the year so I am always sampling, creating ideas and new aspects to my teaching. The process of creating new courses is a creative process, it is an art in itself, especially if there are limitations such as facilities or travel arrangements

You’ve recently been collaboratively teaching a series of classes with artist Bobby Britnell during which one of you teaches the first half of the course, and one of you finishes with the second. Do you feel that your collaboration has changed the way you work? In what way?

This has been another way of focusing my teaching and Working Together has been an exciting departure for both of us. You have to have total respect for each others way of teaching; the benefits have been enormous for both of us and it is taking us into new territory and I think the students who have come have found that as well. We have intentionally challenged students to consider fully the processes we ask them to undertake. Inevitably it affects the way we both work and hopefully how our work develops.

How often do your students surprise you?

Surprise? No. Excite? Yes. Connect? Yes, but on the whole nothing is really new but the way some students  work is really rewarding and exciting. This then can cascade through a group which is good.

Do you take classes, yourself?

Of course, but only one or two a year, usually with the Textile Study Group, who invite specialist and very special tutors, so the tutoring is challenging and more like mentorship.

Is there one lesson you wish you could impart to every budding surface designer (even late bloomers, like myself?)  

Don’t run before you can walk, practice your skills/techniques, be patient and always review your work and progress hopefully with others!

Have you ever found yourself taking home demo pieces from shows you’ve gone to, or classes you’ve taught, and turning them into finished art pieces?

I often love the pieces that I do as demos, but then I always think quite hard about how and what I am demo -ing , why I’m doing it and what it is visually communicating to the viewer, be it a member of the public or a student.

What does a completed piece of work look like to you? Which elements are critical for engaging your interest? When you look at your own work, what makes one piece successful to you and another not?

That is too big a subject for a brief reply! I know if it excites me, if it shows my professionalism and that it communicates with the viewing public. It is all about critical awareness, suitability for purpose, and my own criteria for creating the piece

Do you ever translate your painted paper creations into fabric or art quilts, or reinterpret a favorite stitched piece in paper? Do you ever work in a series?

I work in series quite often, as my work develops through a body of work. I have never reinterpreted a piece; there might be similarities but each piece is individual maybe using different materials, or similar techniques, or fabrics but the processes are my ‘handwriting’ , the way I select to express an idea visually.

I am  not really happy with titles such as ‘art quilts’ or such like. It is often associated with ’rules’ such as must have 3 layers etc. I am about the visual and tactile feel of a piece and the engagement of the other person! I don’t feel that my work needs to fit into categories and prefer to be known for my use of colour.

Can you describe your ideal studio space? Do you already work in it?

My current space is fabulous. It is 2 storey, well lit upstairs where I stitch and design, develop ideas. Downstairs is where I tend to do ‘messy’ work which is also large, light and accessible to sinks etc. Both areas have good large working surfaces, so that provided I keep them tidy I can work effectively. (The keeping them tidy is the problem!)

I have not always had these facilities, in fact only had them less than 3 years . For years I managed by having my workroom in the centre of the house where all the family used the area and the sink was in a different area but I managed  and considered myself to be lucky to have that space.

Do you use computer technology either as a tool or as an element in your work? (ex: photo transfers, collage materials)

No, I find it remote and predictable.  I am not saying I may never use them but at present I do not feel the need.
When you look at work you did early in your career, how do you feel about it, today?

Thankfully I’ve moved on, I don’t dislike it but it is the past and I am moving forward, new ideas to explore, new pieces to create etc.

What do you want to learn next?

Not sure what you mean – but I am always striving to create new and better work by my criteria. You are always learning, but my learning has always been by doing, so I am doing!


Gloria Hansen said...

Great interview, Judi!

I love Ruth! Each time I go to Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK I stop by to chat with her at the Art Van Go booth. She's extremely generous with everyone who comes by. She shares her journals, answers countless questions, and demonstrates just about any surface technique asked about - or at least answers in case she doesn't have what's needed handy. I have several of her books, which are all colorful and well done. I look forward to seeing her again at the Knitting & Stitching show in London.

Meg said...

You interviewed one of my idols. I am so jealous you had the opportunity to interview her! Of course, if I had, I would have been gobsmacked and totally unable to talk. I love, love her books and have all of them (except for the one on paintsticks - will have to search for that one). Thanks Judi!!!

Robbie said...

I have two of Ruth's books and love them. So nice to get in depth interview. Thanks so much!!!

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Excellent interview with a wonderful and creative artist. I love her books and her work.

elle said...

Judi, you'done a very excellent interview. Fantastic

laura west kong said...

Wonderful interview ... thanks for sharing!

Judy said...

Great interview! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Marlis said...

thanks judi for this great interview. you may remember that i had invited ruth to teach in switzerland last year and everybody loved her. they made amazing pieces!
i'll be at festival of quilts in birmingham/uk in just two weeks and am looking forward to chatting with her at the art van go booth.

Unknown said...

You asked Ruth all the questions I would have asked myself and the answers were really informative. I am a mature student following an OCA textiles course and I wonder if I could quote this interview in my work. I would acknowledge it in the usual way.

Unknown said...

You asked all the questions I might have asked myself and the answers were very informative.
I am retired and now a textiles student and I wonder if I can quote this interview in my work. I would acknowledge it of course.