Interview with Rosalind Davis by Jo Conde.
Part of the East Wing X, Material Matters Exhibition at The Courtauld Institute of Art
Your artwork is so heavily textured, using both textiles and embroidery alongside paint. How did such a mixed media style develop in your work?
My BA at Chelsea and MA at Royal College of art were in mixed media textiles and I was very interested in transforming surface and my work continues to explore that. The use of textiles, embroidery, print and paint in my work is for me, a natural fusion and an ever-growing development. Every time I begin work I go back into the cycle of questioning, exploring, breaking and experimenting with my techniques apart and then re-fusing them with fresh observations. The one informs the other and allow them to both grow and develop.
What affect do these surfaces have on your audience?
The processes and materials use in my work are very subtly beguiling the audience into really looking and engaging not only with the process but the subject matter which is not about perfection or conventional beauty. The stitches and brushstrokes seek to transform and repair the failing of modernity, it is a reparative gesture. The use of it challenges perceptions about what is valuable in society.
The landscapes you depict in your work are often barren or abandoned. What is it about these environments that attract you so much?
Through my research and photography I always find myself drawn to and exploring the power and presence of seemingly barren urban landscapes. When these places were built they were often very hopeful and positive, through a range of obstacles, events and politics they become dystopian.
There is for me, a sense of pathos with all the people who had lived there, were still living there or worked there. There is also a fascination with buildings and their meaning to others and how Communities and support systems are created and shared in the face of division. Often, when I take photos of buildings that have been abandoned you can see things like hooks on walls where paintings were hung. Or when they’re tearing down houses you see layers upon layers of wallpaper; layers of history and different generations. By peeling back the layers you are discovering someone else’s existence. I paint the echo of lives that have been lived; Human endeavour is commemorated despite the decay.
Buildings are thought of as stable and reliable which is not actually true as they are fragile and impermanent. Nature which seems more temporal is in fact a strong force. I am also interested in examining climatic disasters that have occurred recently such as hurricane Katrina and its devastating effect upon the whole of a society.
Your work is often described as showing a tension and an awkwardness through both subject matter and material. How do you achieve this?
The painter (and my former tutor) Graham Crowley said the following about my work:
Rosalind creates a tension between embellishment (embroidery) and depiction (painting), sensuality and awkwardness. Shifting the decorative aspects and the tradition of embroidery. The nature of embroidery dictates that the surface of her paintings becomes heightened by the physicality of the stitching
The meshing of paint, print and embroidery means there is a disruption of the real and the visionary, the remembered and the actuality, man and nature, the interior collides with the exterior, the humanity is expressed in the embroidery and the warmth of the oils yet the objects which I depict are generally interpreted as brutalist architecture and there is a clashing of hard and soft line. All of these elements I consciously use as tools to express my concepts.
How important is it to you as an artist that the buildings shown in your work do exist?
It is important that they exist and that they are real places and urban environments. The significance of the buildings, relevance, its socio-political culture and history all inform my work. There is always a story and it is always complex. The piece’s that are going to be exhibited at the Courtauld, one of which ‘Ardwick’ is an area in Manchester that used to have a thriving textile industry in the 1900’s, now that industry is almost entirely gone. The Toile de Jouy works explores issues such as the current economic crisis, exportation, manufacturing and the trade industry in the UK, emphasised through the symbolic use of the fabric and embroidery.
The “hierarchy of materials” is a subject you address through your work and your use of textiles and paint. Why is this something that interests you so much?
Ultimately I choose that which is the best way to express my concepts whilst at the same time enjoying the dialogue, debate and history of both mediums.
Painting has traditionally been valued highly whilst textiles is often dismissed as simply decorative and functional. Paint is often thought of as something that will last forever whilst textiles are impermanent. I feel that a lot of the traditional hierarchies have been broken down in fine art with the evolution of mediums and the way artists use them. The notion that textiles have no artistic value is completely untrue. Textiles are not just functional decorative objects but also historical artefacts; they can inform identity and can be used to express one. It is a highly loaded medium which tell us so much about society, culture and history.