The Collective//Pod (The Pod’s arts collective) advocate the importance of creativity to mental health and wellbeing. They explore the way in which creativity challenges and infiltrates what we do and how we feel, on a conscious and subconscious level. The Collective//Pod work with artists who explore issues surrounding mental health, and their latest artist in residence is contemporary textile artist, Anthony Stevens.
His solo show “SAID THE BIRD”, will be on display at the Coventry Centre of Contemporary Art (CCCA), Fargo Village from 13th April 2018. We’ve interviewed Anthony to find out more about his work, and what we can expect from his exhibition.
Here’s what he has to say:
You describe yourself as a self-taught “Textile Artist” – how did you get into exploring textiles as a medium for your work?
Well, gravitating to textiles, sewing and embroidery was really quite a natural process. My mom used to be a very good dressmaker and would make a lot of clothes for my sister. Due to this there were a lot of fabrics around the house. I was quite fascinated by what my mom was doing and even more fascinated by the contents of her sewing box, so to keep me occupied she would make little cloth bags and draw designs on to them, she would then get me to embroider in the design with bits of wool etc. I had forgotten about these memories until in more recent years, I was going through a very difficult time emotionally and I ended up buying a large bag of cheap colourful fabric scraps with the idea of making t-shirt designs to keep me occupied, however, I found that the process of sifting and sorting, looking closely at each scrap for it’s value in the bigger picture was very similar to the process I was going through in my inner life. So from this initial bag of scraps I made a number of collages, most of which I gave away as presents.
So in a nutshell, textiles are embedded in my life.
What process do you go through when creating your artwork?
My creative process is directly connected to all the other areas of my life, particularly my Buddhist practice and my dreams. I find both of these things filter perhaps more subconscious areas of my life and provide a rich source of material. Generally, an idea, image or phrase will pop up during my chanting or through a dream accompanied by bit of a charged feeling that this is something worth working with. Depending on circumstance, I will either make a quick sketch or a little painting and pop it away for a later time, or get right into the textile stage, it depends on how urgent it feels. I will then go through my fabric scraps, selecting the pieces that appeal and start arranging them into a collage that I like the look of. I then back this onto calico with glue and pins and stitch it together. I then draw the design on top and start embroidering the image.
As this is quite a slow process, I often get the deeper personal meanings that the image represents to me and will also add the associations that come up to the image during the work. In some ways, working like this combined with my Buddhist practice becomes a sort of self-analysis, I get to understand myself a bit more. I also find that the texture of the fabric changes with all the handling it gets, it becomes softer but paradoxically stronger due to the layering and stitching. I like to think that this is what happens to people when given care and consideration, maybe also my inner life too?
It’s a good way to record passing moods which become very present during the making process. Anxiety, impatience and anger tend to show up as busyness, puckers and snags and easier emotions show up as relatively smooth surfaces and spaciousness. The background is just as important as the image. I will more often than not use stripes in my work, apart from being something that I find pleasing to look at, they represent to me the ongoing process of life and death, dreaming and waking, consciousness and unconsciousness. I also like small details, as this encourages people to look closer and perhaps for longer. Again, I like the idea that this skill could be transferred to our daily lives.
What themes does your work explore?
I guess personal reactions and feelings regarding social issues, past and present experiences. I am interested in the inner dynamics of life and how these things manifest in the outer world. Why are we the way we are and why do we do what we do? I am also interested in how the processes that happen to us in our lives as human beings are often reflected in the wider processes of the world and even the universe. The constant change, decline, and eventual dispersal and recycling of matter. It’s quite mind blowing and it all happens in our own bodies as well as ‘out there’ in the world.
Who and what do you draw inspiration from?
Ooh, all manner of things. I love punk, it’s DIY mentality, the music, the taking ownership of your life, actually, it’s these things that I also really like about Buddhism. I am also inspired by all manner of people, especially people who are able to develop their ideals and live in a way that is true to themselves and their innate humanity. It gives me courage to come across people like this. I feel that encounters with people like this hit a visceral place in my gut.
From an art perspective, I am really inspired by one of my favourite artists, the painter, Rose Wiley, I love the fact that she has painted for years with little acknowledgment and not given up on what she loves. Her work to me is full of effort, skill and years of devotion and now it is bearing fruit. When I see her work, I feel glad to be alive. That is no small thing!
Tell us a little about what we can expect to see at your solo show at the CCCA
The title of the show is ‘SAID THE BIRD’. The embroideries on show will be a mixture of older pieces, newer pieces that I haven’t shown yet, and a few pieces I am making specifically for the exhibition. The bird motif shows up in my work a lot. It came from a series of three events several years ago. The first was a dream of a bird struggling to escape from a water fountain and fly away (it did). The day after this, one of my cats brought in a bird, which appeared dead, so I popped it outside in a plant pot. However, it was very cold and something in my gut told me to bring the bird back in. I did this and placed it’s, what I thought was lifeless body in a shoebox by the shrine in my studio. The next morning the bird was flying around my studio and I was able to open the window and let it fly away. The third event happened later that same week when a friend of mine who is a ceramicist, came over to have dinner and brought as a gift, a beautiful clay bird she had made. So, after so many cosmic prods, I thought it wise to start including the bird in my work. Since that time, the bird has come to represent objective wisdom, the ability to be able to take in the bigger picture, to get the birds eye view of whatever I am trying to put across in my work.
During the span of the exhibition, I will also be making a rag book from donated fabrics from the residents of Coventry. The book will have the same title as the show. This will take place during my residency at The Pod. There will also be music and dance at the private view on 13th April, so it will be a wonderful, beautiful collaborative event! I feel very excited and appreciative…cheers Coventry!
“SAID THE BIRD” at the CCCA, Fargo Village opening times will run as follows:
Private view: 13th April, 4:30-6:30pm
14th April – 20th May 2018:
Fridays/Saturdays 11am – 4pm
Sundays 11am – 2pm.
Viewing also by appointment: Telephone 024 7678 6680.
We can’t wait to get along to see it!