Research Point: Textile Artist Julie Ryder

Throughout Assignment 4 I have been working on an investigation into the work of the textile artist. Previous posts have been around the question “what is a textile artist?” – see discussion on Craft (18-Aug-2012 and 20-Aug-2012), textiles in Art as distinct from Textile Art (27-Aug-2012), a side-excursion on Art / Textile Art / Documentary (22-Oct-2012) and Designers and Designer/Makers (1-Nov-2012). The final requirement is to write about two internationally known textile artists. It was important to me to write about artists based in Australia whose work I have seen in life, not just photos. My first selection is Julie Ryder, seen in the photo at her artist talk during her recent exhibition Second Nature at Barometer Gallery.

All of these photos were taken at the exhibition, with Julie’s permission. I love the sunlight and shadows adding even more to the complexity of the marks on the cloth. Julie trained in science earlier in her life and the knowledge and disciplines gained in that time have remained a thread in her textile works. The fabric in the exhibition is mainly antique Japanese kimono silk dyed using a fruit fermentation process that Julie developed. In simple terms, cut unpeeled fruit in half (lemons work well), arrange pieces cut side down on fabric, leave for 6 months or so to ferment, scrub off the putrid black mess and you have your dyed cloth.
The complexities include measures to minimise risk with the massive volumes of mold spores created. Julie had access to special facilities, had to go through a lengthy process to determine risks and get approval for her work, and she wore appropriate safety gear when working. In fact all of the material in this exhibition was dyed by Julie fifteen or so years ago. A curator was particularly keen to exhibit work in this series, Julie no longer has access to suitable facilities (and I think was reluctant to return to a quite toxic process), so she worked with the pieces of dyed cloth still available to her.
The pieces range from button size to the hangings you can see in the photo, but all are human in scale. In some Julie presents the dyed cloth hanging simply, allowing the beauty of the marks on the woven texture of the silk space to speak. In other works she has combined fragments of cloth with hand stitching. Occasionally there is more stitching on the cloth, responding to the marks that have been made.
There is a gentleness and serenity in the results. Julie has said that her design philosophy fits in the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. She also references the break down of matter, the phases and numerology in alchemy. Seams shown on the outside reflect the inner beauty of people and things. (1)
In the time between her original work with fruit fermentation and the recent exhibition Julie has extended her range of techniques as she continues to investigate her particular interests. The photo on the left is to give just a taste of that. On the left is a cover of Textile Fibre Forum magazine, showing work from the 2005 artandthebryophyte exhibition(2) (I didn’t see this exhibition myself). On the right are leaflets I picked up at generate, an exhibition at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in 2008 inspired by Charles Darwin (3).

The digitally printed silk organza on the magazine cover, colourful and crisp, seems a world away from the natural dyeing of the fruit fermentation. For Julie it was a logical progression. Faced with restrictions on bacteria she could use in dyeing, she used a scanning election microscope to examine the structures of micro-organisms. The photomicrographs became the inspiration for digital printing, although she retained an element of hand work and connection to the cloth in the post-printing finishing. The works also reflect the research Julie undertook on the history of botanical science, systems of naming and more. As well as the printed silks Julie printed on paper and used collage and assemblage, using the drawers of a large cabinet of drawers to create a contemporary cabinet of curiosities.

Generate explored the life and theories of Charles Darwin. As well as lengths of digitally printed silk, Julie went through a painstaking process of hand-cutting circles from leave then arranging the dots on tapa cloth to create images based on Charles, his wife Emma, and grandfather Josiah Wedgwood. These ‘portraits’ use symbols from historical textiles to represent their subjects. From memory, the actual leaves with all their holes were arranged in a drift along the base of the display cabinets. There was also a glass ‘tree of life’ – glass branches and glass medallions incised with fantastic creatures. There are multiple depths of meaning – for example she used both native and exotic species of leaves “to show how cultures like introduced species react” (4).

Overall it seems to me that Julie’s work is heavily ideas and research driven with a disciplined, scientific approach. She is interested in what lies underneath, not obvious – often at the micro level. Frequently her subject matter is botanical or biological in nature. In most cases her work involves creating colour on cloth. Julie uses a mix of traditional and modern techniques and materials. However leaving those generalisations she seems to engage afresh with each new area that interest or opportunity leads her to. Julie brings all her past knowledge and experience and skills to her present work, but she doesn’t force them onto or into it. She researches and responds to what she learns, developing new themes, new symbolic imagery, new techniques and processes each time.

I’ve listed some links to more information on Julie and her work below.

(1) Koumis, M. (ed) (2007) Art Textiles of the World: Australia volume 2, Brighton: Telos Art Publishing
(2) (2005) Julie Ryder. Textile Fibre Forum, 80(4), Front and inside cover and page 10
(3) (2008) Generate: Julie Ryder. Exhibition leaflet. Australian National Botanic Gardens; ACT Government.
(4) Maher, L. (28 January, 2009) Darwin inspires art http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2009/01/28/2476179.htm accessed 26-oct-2012

Further information
http://www.craftact.org.au/portfolios/artist.php?id=310 accessed 26-oct-2012
http://www.craftaustralia.org.au/library/adventure.php?id=hill_end accessed 26-oct-2012
http://www.craftact.org.au/companionplanting accessed 26-oct-2012

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