Intrigued by the power of words and their graphic expression, artist Rosalind Wyatt combines them with textiles and stitch. The resulting work is both textural and textual, inviting a closer look at the work itself as well as the power of communication it expresses.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
Art found me early. My earliest memory is of observing nature in awe – a lady bug walking across my hand – I can remember the colours vividly.
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We lived in a three bedroom house in London and I was the youngest of three. I spent many hours in the attic surrounded by my toys, creating stories and scenarios!! It felt like my studio space started there and I would group my toys into creative teams with tasks to accomplish.
I learned to write at age four when my Mum gave me a dip pen and board to form letters. She said I loved the ink ,so I guess that’s when I fell in love with letterform and language.
At school it was all about the Art, drama and music – those subjects when I felt most myself and relaxed. Theatre played a huge part of my life back then. I loved the idea of being on a stage and performing and was lucky to learn Shakespeare from great teachers from an early age – so it attuned my ear to the possibilities of the human voice. I always felt at home on stage, like I’d done it before.
Listening is part of my art form – listening extends out and out until your awareness becomes limitless. This sense of ether seems directly linked to a personal creativity journey, and I have discovered it’s a pathway for others as well.
How does your formal art education help your work develop? Does it ever get in the way?
Learning calligraphy the formal way was like learning to write again at age twenty. Utterly frustrating at times, it was totally illuminating when it suddenly “came” naturally.
Yes, it does sometimes get in the way – because I can get caught in the process and lose that essential spontaneity of expression. It very much helps in maintaining a standard of making and getting to the essential heart of a story but sometimes it holds me back in just letting go and letting rip. It’s like managing a tension between those two poles.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Human nature is endlessly fascinating and our skill as humans is to leave our mark in handwriting and gestural abstraction. It’s your story and mine as told through life; it’s as old as the hills, but always offers fresh opportunities to discover and evolve. Story, history, anthropology, philosophy, culture is a very broad remit – so I like to find connections between these subjects in the every day.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I’m a dreamer – I love to dream and let myself dream because it’s essential to story and narrative. I allow myself to become immersed in a story, theme, music and bring out something that hasn’t been seen before. Empathy plays a huge part as well.
When Burberry commissioned me to tell the story of gabardine, I spent months reading and researching the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Endurance Expedition. If I could have gone to Antarctica to retrace that journey, then I would have!! I wanted to feel what he was feeling, what motivated him to continue and how he found the strength and stamina to continue against the odds and bring every man home.
But I learned about how he led his team of men and dogs and 1 cat, and how he managed the dynamic of a changing situation. I studied the original handwritten diaries belonging to him and his team and examined the glass slides that were, thankfully, salvaged from the wreck. I spoke to amateur sailors, expedition leaders and Shackleton devotees as well as some of his existing family and discovered new facts and anecdotes which utterly intrigued and delighted me. It’s like filling a pot to the brim and fleshing out a story, then shaking it out and seeing how the pieces land.
My signature skill is writing with a needle. So I study the handwriting of an individual and stitch it by hand and by eye on a relevant piece of textile. Bringing together diverse elements, I then make it look seamless, elegant and fresh – like a breath of fresh air!
I use garment as a canvas like a page of a book and design a story visually.
How do textiles and calligraphy relate to each other?
In every way. Cloth goes to the ‘heart’ of our language, in metaphor and literature, commerce and trade, human evolution and worship. Writing and calligraphy have evolved alongside the human race and oftentimes alongside the production of cloth. Both appear to have played a vital part in shaping Christianity. You can see it in the designs embroidered as in Opus Anglicanum and recurring on the pages of medieval manuscripts such as the Lindisfarne gospels written by the Medieval monks.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
I have a station for ink and writing and drawing tools as well as a station for stitch and textiles. It needs to be fluid and yet organised.
Order is essential for me because creativity is ‘sacred electricity’ which needs to find a clear passage. So I’ve learned to respect this. Plenty of natural light and a connection to nature are paramount as well.
I need space as in a specific space to create, but also to feel that there is someone close by – I guess that creates a sense of safety. The safer we feel the better we create. That’s always been like that for me. If I don’t feel safe in myself and supported, then I can’t let go.
Before pandemic, I travelled a fair bit and particularly loved to explore new territory for creativity. How does it feel to create in the desert – compared to a seascape; I discovered the marks I made could change according to environment, which is fascinating in itself.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Pencils and paper, needles and thread – its very analogue and classic.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I do this all the time, and it’s the fun part of what I do. I will collect things because I like the look of them, then find for them the perfect purpose which invariably is different to what they were intended for. Often I will find the perfect type of white paint in a hardware store!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I always carry both. Through writing and drawing I process thoughts, images, visions, experiences, words….
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Mainly silence, actually, but sometimes I will find music and literature to support the project. Recently I worked with Sufi poetry and fell in love with Duduk music because it really took me into that space.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
It depends on the commission and the brief. If it has a large scope, then that will take over and I will try and accommodate other projects coming in. There is nothing regular about being a freelance artist – I wish there was!
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I hope to inspire – inspire generally and inspire more commissions! Also to present something that people may not associate with me – like the collage paintings which are personal studies.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the art you produce?
Here is an excerpt about one of my works:
What it is:
An new interactive art installation of textile hangings with hand embroidered texts featuring the handwriting of nine key people ‘muses’ designed and made by London UK artist Rosalind Wyatt.
“Be Thou the Tenth Muse” presents the idea that the viewer becomes the tenth muse to interact closely and intimately with nine chosen muses brought together in one space through their words and sayings. These include Sufi poets (Rabia, Wallada, Ibn Sina), Western poets (William Shakespeare) and contemporary figures (Malala Yousafzai) and figures across the Arab world.
Partners and collaborators:
Rosalind has worked with British Arab speaking pupils from Chiswick School to create a soundscape of their voices speaking the texts in English and Arabic. Following a calligraphy workshop run by the artist, the pupils chose the quotes that inspired them and wrote them in their own handwriting. These have inspired the artwork – for instance the handwriting of Shahad, Year 7, who wrote a quote from Malala Yousafzai, “Let us pick up our books and our pens – they are the most powerful weapons”, which has then been “written with a needle”, a technique of copying in stitch by hand and eye the handwriting of an individual.
We made a little video which you can watch here.
The theme for 2020 and context as provided by SCB:
Since its launch in 2004, and over the years Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial (SCB) has successfully enhanced the artistic presence of Arabic calligraphy art within the global art scene. Whereas throughout the ongoing remarkable visual and technical arrangements and preparations, Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial (SCB) seeks to highlight the genuine aesthetics of this authentic art. The general approach and the vision of this global art event is reflected in its selected theme, which will specifically define the artists and calligraphers’ visual investigation within the biennial.
While the previous editions of Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial (SCB) sought to highlight the various calligraphic achievements, this year’s current edition under the theme Maknoon “Preserved”, seeks to reveal the precious secrets of calligraphy. In the Arabic language the term “Maknoon”, “The well-preserved”, refers to the well-protected, precious item which endured valuable secrets and wisdoms. For once, it might represent the beauty that is concealed for a short period, to be revealed later as a remarkable masterpiece. On the other hand, it is the knowledge that is entrusted in books and transferred through different times and spaces, preserved from change and alteration, and sought by those who strive eagerly to maintain it.
Amongst the main objectives of Sharjah Calligraphy Biennial (SCB) is to display the immortal preserved legacy of Arabic calligraphy through hosting prominent and creative calligraphers and art practitioners from all over the world. In this recent edition of (SCB), artists are invited to explore the theme Maknoon “Preserved”, and reveal the beauty within their magnificent calligraphic artworks.
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavours?
It’s a bridge that connects me in fellowship to other human beings. It allows me to understand myself as well as others and realise the mystery of life which actually is beyond the boundaries of mind. It’s a voice that must be heard and expressed, and that need is the same for others, too.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Creativity comes naturally to all human beings – this is the humanity that flows through us but it shows itself in different ways. However education plays a huge part, and it needs nurturing and stimulating in differing measure.
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Find your own voice. Do this important work which is “inner work”, otherwise your work will always be derivative of what you have seen and copied. Of course everyone is different, but I prefer authenticity and innovation. Otherwise it just feels like you are repeating endlessly and that becomes like eating the same meal over and over. Keep trying and keep going!
Interview posted January 2021
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