Your work, Stitch lives of London, upon completion will be installed in the shape of the Thames. It is a project that documents the oral history of London, past and present, but why does the Thames feature so strongly?
I’ve used the Thames as a visual metaphor to symbolise that subtle element that connects us to each other, after all we are all composed of the same elements and come from the same stock.
It’s pointing to that connection between the individual and universal; each story/garment is unique and significant but somehow when you see the whole pattern of the piece it will tell a bigger story of humanity and the ‘river of life’.
There are so many references showing this connection of water, life and textile that are commonly used in our everyday language and in literature. The Thames River is a handy reminder of this and creates its own pattern as it twists and turns until it finds its way to its source.
Indeed, the Thames, is really the source of London. The Romans first settled on the river banks giving rise to Londinium, the ancient city of London. Londinium citizens worked along the river, grew crops and grazed their animals there too. How does living by the river impact your lifestyle and your work?
It’s a constant presence that keeps on flowing and providing inspiration.
Although we don’t overlook it, I’m always away of how the light changes off water. My studio is in a south facing garden so this sense of expansion, openness and light is really important, more so when you live in a city.
There is something health giving and nourishing living by water. I walk and cycle along it and enjoy the wildlife (not to mention the odd drink at the pubs!). Without it my life would definitely be poorer. Although our livelihoods don’t depend upon it as in the past, as a gardener and allotment holder the earth is rich and fertile, I’m sure as a result of the Thames flooding its banks for thousands of year….
You classify yourself as a textile and calligraphy artist, and yet to me you are an oral historian, an archivist of London’s lives. Through your work you are saving, documenting and revealing the history of Londoners. You are a bit like a ‘Hogarth meets Mayhew’, and of course Hogarth was from Chiswick! Why are you so interested about Londoners lives?
Feel like breaking into song here….’maybe its b’cause Im a Londoner….’!!!
But that’s the simple reason. London is my home where I was born and raised so I’ve grown with it, seen it change, wandered its streets, been frustrated by it, shocked by it, awed by it. I just love the energy of the place and that there’s always something new to discover about it.
You’ve worked with Jude Law, Lord Rogers, and Dame Lawrence and many many more people. Which story/ work has moved you the most?
That is like choosing your favourite child, it is impossible to say!They are all so different, but if you insist it is the NEXT story…
With each story you are waiting and listening for that point of emotion which will reveal to you something deep and profound, it’s not necessarily the obvious ones. You get drawn into a story and begin to understand it layer by layer. It is human nature I suppose!
I hadn’t really explored Chiswick until I went on a walk with you. Over lunch at the City Barge the river overflowed flooding the towpath. For about an hour we were stranded at our table. Thankfully it was a sunny day which made the experience rather romantic. Have you ever been affected by the swelling of the banks in Chiswick?
Yes! We used to house sit for friends of ours who lived in Chiswick Mall in a house right opposite the river. We would always get caught out by the tides and wake up to see our car submerged in water!!
Another time we tied up their rowing boat (after a drunken late night row) to find it gone on the tide by the morning. We had to trawl up the river and luckily found it near Hammersmith Bridge and then rowed it back.
Walking in Chiswick I enjoyed the mix and match of architecture, such an idiosyncrasy of London, but not one that I expected to see in the upmarket suburbs. Do you have favourite buildings in Chiswick? If so which ones are these?
I still revisit the streets of Bedford Park, where I grew up in a Norman Shaw house. It wasn’t gentrified then, there was a real mix of people living there. From the Russian dissidents across the road to the lower income families at the end of the street (hard to believe now!). I love the red brick of the Norman Shaw architecture, the layout of the streets and the airy aspects of the semi-terraced houses. We also have some Norman Shaw residential houses here in Grove Park. They are easy to spot when you know the style.
If someone was visiting Chiswick for the first time, what walking route would you recommend to them? Ideally, to see and experience the real hidden gems of this picturesque area.
Start from St Nicholas’s Church on Chiswick Mall (visit Hogarth’s grave) and follow the river along towards Hammersmith. Dip back into Arts and Crafts by visiting William Morris museum and walking in the footsteps of Edward Johnston and Cobden Sanderson (calligrapher and bookbinders and buddies of Morris) – stop at the Dove pub – where the Dove bindery and press used to run….