Six textile artists have taken the word 'Underpinning' and interpreted it in different ways, for this latest visiting exhibition hosted by West Ox Arts, in their beautiful gallery in Bampton. I love exhibitions like that, that take a starting point and diverge, because you can follow the artists' thought processes, like vapour trails from the starting point. And boy do these six take different journeys from their common origin.
The first set of pictures you meet belong to Liz Harding, who has focussed on the very physical process of stitch, underpinning textile work. She has created large pieces, dyeing or possibly painting cloth, appliqueing and piecing together different bits, and machine stitching over the top. Though I can see it's deliberate, I'm not sure what details like loose threads add, but I do love her series of four small framed pictures, using dense chain stitch to make whorls and patterns, in four different colour palettes. The bright rainbow colours of one remind me of South American weaving. I could happily take one of these home (and this is indeed possible - this is a selling exhibition, and a number of items are already wearing little red stickers).
Stephanie Wooster takes the broad theme of our relationship with things. With delicate old crockery, sandblasted and wrapped or crocheted with thread so it can no longer be functional, she explores man's relationship with the coral reefs. There's something very deliberately off-putting about this crockery rendered impotent, though the result is intriguing. She has also made a fascinating snake of crochet/knitting/threads which loops and twists so you can't see where it begins or ends or how it is put together. It's beautiful and bewitching.
Carla Mines has explored bees and their role underpinning food production, and the man's devastating impact on bee populations. As well as honeycomb cells made of paper, wax and stitching, which look almost luminous, she has made some furry bee pictures. You just want to reach out and stroke them. In one, the bee dances in the centre of an exploded poem.
Text within textiles is a reccurring theme of this exhibition, not least in Corinne Renow Clarke's work with Roman curses. She was bewitched by the idea of the curses, in Roman cursive(!) handwriting, which were thrown into the baths at Bath, and heap ills on the heads of those who steal others' clothes while bathing. She's made a neat compartmentalised box with grey cloth simulating clay tablets, and most impressively a vast semicircular woollen cloak with a hood, in a soft velvety cloth, which is also decorated with beautifully handwritten curses calling upon the goddess Minerva.
Last but not least are two artists exploring places. Carolyn Sibbald grew up in Bath, nicknamed 'City in Bloom', and her work involves maps, stained-glass flowers, and changes to planning law which she embodies in tiny little identikit houses made of flowery paper. She has also made notebooks - some for writing in, stitched, with cartographic covers, and others exploding with flowers.
Linda Babb's work is based on a very different location, and she has created very successful pictures of Moroccan villages, something that isn't always easy in textile. As well as traditional framed landscapes, her piece 'Walk in the Palmeries' takes the form of a soft snaky book, curling across the table. She obviously knows the landscape well, and how patterns and symmetry underpin art and architecture in that culture.
Each of the six were given a 30cm square frame, and have created one piece of artwork, changing that frame in any way they wanted. This mini exhibition works as an introduction or summary of their other work, and really highlights the difference in their practices, and how rebellious they are!
Two interactive sections invite the audience to make art too. Carla Mines offers little luggage labels to write your bee thoughts on, and a wide choice of ribbon to use to hang it up. This joins a forest of thoughts on a gnarly branch, and proved very popular with my small son. He also loved the postcard mobile. This consists of postcards which have been sent back and forth between the six artists, being changed and sent on again. This involves stitching, chopping, colouring, and apparently amused the local postmen! Again the public are invited to join in and start their own postcard circuits.
In addition to the guests, the members of West Ox Arts also have work on display, in the members' cabinets. This is mostly jewellery and pottery, with some painted boxes too. It's a nice reminder of the host group, and provides another note in the exhibition.
This is a small and manageable exhibition, with an enormous variety of works and ideas crammed into a small but airy space. The gallery is gorgeous, being the upstairs of the town hall, and right in the centre of Bampton. (Don't worry - a lift provides access as well as being very useful during exhibition setups, no doubt!) We were greeted by a friendly face, one of the West Ox artists, who was able to answer questions and point us in the direction of more info. And most importantly, the art was not only a successful exploration of complex ideas, but created some really satisfying artwork too, offering both pieces I'd like to live with, and pieces that will continue to haunt me.