Artists Interview – Gwen Hedley

Artists can be inspired by many things, nature , surroundings , memories and emotions .  Sometimes a place that you experience a close connection to can be the source of continued exploration. In this weeks conversation  Gwen talks about walking along the coast shoreline  and  how it is a multi-sensory experience, with constantly changing sounds, sights and smells.

Gwen Hedley
I was born and raised by the sea, so the coast is where I feel I most at home. Once again, I live very close to the sea, and can regularly amble along the beach.

Walking on the shoreline is a multi-sensory experience, with constantly changing sounds, sights and smells.  I am an inveterate collector of bits of ‘stuff’ that have been endlessly battered by tidal movements, some becoming my working materials, as I observe transformations brought about by natural forces. Drawings of marked and scarred surfaces, along with jotted working notes, form the basis for abstract designs

My work for Insights is a continuation and development of my on-going ideas and working processes. I tend not to have fixed ideas regarding resolved pieces of work, preferring to follow a path that allows for spontaneous diversions and side-tracks that can lead to unanticipated destinations.

I initially intended to concentrate solely upon the change and transformation of metal surfaces.  My first work, ‘Material Change: Sculpture’ was concerned with the effects of repetitive immersion of cast iron in the sea, and I had planned to further develop emerging ideas and designs.  However……..finding a child’s disintegrated leather shoe had a profound effect upon me, and I felt compelled to take my work in a new direction, that gave rise to ‘Material Change: Shoe’. This side-track led me to do a broad definition search on ‘flotsam and jetsam’ that gave disturbing results and deeper meaning to my work.   The shoe, along with scraps of distressed fabric became an analogy for distressed people; this notion is expanded upon in Insights.

Hitherto, I have transferred colour and design onto cloth and paper by painting, dyeing or block printing. I had just started learning to use a press for collagraph intaglio printing, so this project was a good opportunity to try new ways of working, by developing observational drawings in an alternative way, and further drawing into them with stitch.  Theory is one thing, and practice is another – it was, and continues to be a steep learning curve.  I was not aiming for perfect traditional prints, which was just as well !

For the work based on cast iron, materials were stained and marked by steeping them with rusting metals, in bowls of sea water for a few days. I then began printing on the different weights of cloth and paper and exploring chine collé  techniques.  Prints were moved about until a satisfactory composition emerged, providing the basis for further drawing with simple stitch.  ‘Material Change; Shoe’ was created in a similar way, but without staining.

I have since embarked upon experimental Cyanotype prints, incorporating scraps of found cloth, and stitch. Trials are at an early stage – success is not guaranteed.

During lockdown, we have had glorious sunshine, and having used the salty sea to a to produce colour from rusting metals, I like the idea of harnessing the sun’s rays to activate applied chemicals to produce colour – a sort of sea and sun colouring fest…but we’ll see!

It’s good to try new approaches, and I enjoy exploring these printing processes, but am not sure where they will lead.   However, I do know that needle and thread will continue to be important elements – I still need the comforting rhythms and the tactility of hand-stitching to feel at one with the work.

Gwen Hedley

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