I was lucky enough to be selected as a finalist for Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery. This prize has been established since 2000 and is now a global competition with entries from over 40 different countries. They have four categories Textile Art Open, Textile Art Student, Fashion Open and Fashion Student.
It was a thrill to be selected within their Textile Art Open category. I was chosen alongside five other incredible artists who all have different approaches to textiles and embroidery, and viewing their work was intimidating.
When the day of the private view came I spent the day hanging out with Penny Wheeler our Chair and we had a great day checking out some other examples of brilliant contemporary textile-based work.
We saw Hew Locke’s The Procession. It has been one of the most inspiring installations I have ever seen within Tate Britain.
It was political and critical with a wonderful amalgamation of cultural references and ideas. It was a showcase of collective identity and heritage. The procession displayed creative inventive details which were incorporated throughout every element of the work. All these skilful collective elements gave a sense of disruptive celebration. I liked that the work held to account structures of oppression, slavery, and white privilege. It also wove narratives of worship and idealism showcasing a conglomeration of cultural identities through time. It was a visual feast and a sensory overload.
We were swept away by the stylistic beauty of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits at Tate Britain. The poses were emotive and striking; my favourite image was No Such Luxury 2012. A captivating example with a female figure hiding her full expression with one hand, whilst her other hand is lying flat on a table next to an empty teacup.
There were so many ways to read the image, but overall, for me, there was a sense of anxiety and urgency which was amplified by the empty teacup and her hidden expression. For me, the piece felt like an antithesis to Mona Lisa’s curious smile. Instead, No Such Luxury provided an expression of someone who is unsettled and ambivalent. I was taken in by the body language and expression.
We also saw Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Every Tangle of Thread and Rope at the Tate Modern.
This exhibition was spellbinding. The sheer physical scale of the work enveloped you and made you want to curl up inside these strange, suspended forms. The level of intricate detail from each thread hummed and sung with a sense of purpose and wonder. A truly exceptional experience.
The Private View of the Hand & Lock Prize for Embroidery
When we arrived at Gallery Different for the Hand & Lock Embroidery Prize Private View and the Prize Giving, we crammed in with our winter layers and shuffled around the art works until we managed to get to the lower ground section to store away our coats. There was a literal cornucopia of food on two display tables next to all the portfolios of the artists’ supporting ideas boards. It was fascinating to see the range of approaches to displaying information. Each artist was allowed one board to display their ideas behind the creations. Some provided little samples and others focused more on their concepts.
As a bit of self-reflection, when I saw my board hidden amongst all the other finalists’ work, I thought my board was a bit too busy as a brainstorm of ideas. Some of the displays jumped out more because they had less on the boards but had a real clarity of vision and description of the most significant elements of the work. Something to consider for submitting to a future Hand & Lock Prize!
Penny and I went around all the displays and discussed the work, but with everyone busily circulating each other, we were all a bit like a barrel of fish! However, I was really pleased to have a chance to speak with the other British finalists in the Textile Art Open category.
Emma Gatehouse’s Poppy was like looking at an intricate three-dimensional puzzle, full of segmented animal forms which have been arranged around the surface of a toy shaped rabbit. The work was so vibrant, with areas of extremely fine detail. The soft sculpture is full of nostalgia and humour and immaculately constructed.
Nigel Cheney’s exquisite quilt Flying is absurd was the type of piece that demanded to be studied. The craftmanship appears effortlessly precise. Using a combination of digital and hand techniques he had created something visually captivating; with a monochromatic background which had an MC Escher style quality that helped make his wildlife pop out of the quilt. This was particularly effective with the vivid colouring of the hummingbird’s wings breaking out of the borders. The layering of traditional and modern printing techniques was fused beautifully together.
Lucy Newman’s piece MUTATIONS Part 1 was just exceptional.
I loved the tryptic composition she had created; the use of empty space which cropped, cut and framed sections of her work led the viewer’s eye across to vignettes of her embroidery. A section flicked out like paint spattering and, in another area the threads, swirled and merged like paint running down a sinkhole. The painterly element to her flower works was masterful. The artists were all so warm and welcoming when I spoke with them. Having time to listen to them talk about their ideas really inspired me. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy being part of seam Collective so much is because we’re able to chat about our shared interest in textiles and the challenges of our practice.
It was a shame not to be able to meet the other two international finalists, Ana Maria Restrepo and Julia Carol. Ana Maria Restrepo’s work was a bold soft sculpture bursting with life. It had s many techniques hidden within layers of colour every inch of the piece was a celebration of craft.
Julia Carol’s work was like witnessing a blossoming mediation. The type of work that reminded me of a stream of consciousness through thread. You could see how one concept trickled into another like a dance across a dress.
All the work was just as powerful and accomplished in their execution of skill. It made me feel really proud to be amongst such talented contemporary artists who are all individually challenging how textiles and embroidery is perceived.
I particularly felt that amongst the Textile Art and Fashion Students Categories. They really celebrate the use of new and emerging technologies. The combination of processes used in Eliza Gomersall’s Palingenesis was dazzling and a favourite of mine from the overall show. Harvey Williams’ Adaptive Tailoring felt timeless and contemporary. The elegance and power of Jack J Murphy’s Fairytale of Male is everything I could want to be dressed in with its playful approach to gender. The entwining delicate organic shapes that Ellen Anderton had created were fluid and phenomenal.
At some point Sophie Carr found me. She was celebrating her birthday that day, as well as coordinating the Hand and Lock Prizegiving event. She gave me a Finalist badge. This was not just your average sticky label but a hand embroidered badge with the word ‘Finalist’ on it. I really felt like an artist at that point! It was also a very practical device as it meant people could identify all the finalists in the space and approach us with questions.
The whole experience felt high energy because there were so many folks all in one space busily chatting. I managed to spot a couple of the judges; Esme Young’s sparkling outfit flashed past and was it was a thrill for me to be in the same vicinity as Cornelia Parker, whose piece The Story of Cold Dark Matter is still one of my all-time favourite art installations. Eventually the speeches came, and the winners were announced.
I was shocked to be amongst the names called out! The level of skill and craft was so high across all the work. To return home with a 2nd prize commemorative framed hand embroidered plaque was really an honour and cherry on top to the day.
I was made up for Lucy Newman winning 1st prize, (though of course I wanted that cash prize!) I really appreciated what she had achieved within the work. I have a painting background myself and I could see how she had built up and experimented with the layers and structure of the whole piece. I loved how she had edited and removed sections and let other areas expand and mutate. I knew I was in trouble against such a piece. When I spoke with her, she told me how she had spent months on its construction end to end and you could see that within the work.
The main prize that I get to share with all the finalists is that our work will all be on show together at the Embroidered Arts Exhibition at the Oxo Tower Wharf between 16-19 November 2023. Early bird tickets are on sale right now so get them ASAP, as the show is only on for 4 days!
As always with textiles work, pictures do not convey the beauty of the pieces that will be on display. If you want to see technical work which will blow your mind and creative ambitious pieces that will nutritious for your soul; this show is not to be missed!
If you would like to know more about the winning piece I submitted Virahanka’s Bouquet feel free to take a look at my full reflection on my personal blog. You can also follow me on Instagram to see updates on new work @olybliss