Interview with Audrey Walker, embroiderer & textile artist
Did you undertake formal training in college or within the industry, or did you find your ways into embroidery via a different route?
My formal training was in painting - at Edinburgh College of Art (Diploma in Drawing and Painting, 1944-48) and at the Slade School of Fine Art (Diploma in Fine Art, 1948-51).
It was ten years after I left the Slade that I 'discovered' work made with textile materials and stitching. I had stumbled upon an exhibition of fabric collages [by Margaret Kaye] and, at the same time, had recognised that materials such as clay or fabric were often more stimulating than paint for some of the children I was teaching. I then went to some classes at the Embroiderers' Guild to find out more about these 'old' techniques and their new possibilities.
How would you describe your work and your position within the world of embroidery?
My work is two dimensional and wall-hung - coming, I guess, from my long training in drawing and painting. It is figurative. I have never been drawn to the use of formalised decorative stitching. Nor have I been interested to explore materials and processes as the basis for subject matter. These have been strong 'drivers' in much contemporary textiles.
There are equally strong and enduring traditions in textiles (of many, many cultures) for narrative and figurative work and I hope I fit into that history. It is fascinating now to see a return in many arts to figurative and narrative work. What goes around comes around...
What type of material do you prefer to use?
I like materials which are relatively easy to manipulate and alter at any stage (which is probably why I'm averse to loom weaving!). I do not begin with a fully worked out design but prefer the final forms to emerge as the work proceeds. I use a variety of fabrics - eg cottons, silks, organzas - as a base over which I build layers of threads to modulate colour and tone - to draw, in other words.
What would you like to make that you haven't so far?
This is very difficult to answer!
Essentially, I just want each 'next piece' to be better. If I had more years left, I would like to explore more and more of the works from the past which endure and speak to us today. I would like to make some pieces which somehow 'pay tribute' to these earlier artists and crafts people - often in textiles they were anonymous. I would like to connect the images they made with today's world and our experiences now.
If it doesn't sound to grandiose, I would like to allow others to travel in their imagination as they encounter something I have made. Perhaps it will be through a large work telling a complex story... it could just as easily be through something small and simple.
What inspires and influences the designs you create for your work?
Trigger points are really varied and often completely unexpected. I've found myself responding to the words and rhythms of popular songs - they can be quite affecting (as Dennis Potter discovered). Sometimes it is a sentence or two read or heard on the radio (I jot them down in my notebooks). Quite often, it is an encounter with some ancient thing - a fragment of a Greek sculpture, a tiny figure in a medieval embroidery. Then there are the old, old stories - Paradise lost by Adam and Eve... a woman turned to stone... But mostly, it is day to day observations of people, places and objects seen, perhaps momentarily, in a particular relationship or light. Occaisionally, it's the requirements of a particular exhibition. Currently, I am responding to the theme of Still Life for an international embroidery exhibition... and I am thinking about Morandi and his obsession with a few simple things. I am quite bemused by the way ideas come to mind and I'm just grateful that they seem to keep on coming.