Research Point: Textile Artist Liz Williamson

This post is the last of Assignment 4’s research into Textile Art. There are links to all the previous posts on my last entry, about Julie Ryder (posted 18-Nov-2012).
The photo shows Liz Williamson at Barometer Gallery for Julie Ryder’s talk. I’m rather appalled to find that I don’t have photos of Liz’s work, so I have pushed the photo taken on my mobile phone to its limits to provide the closeup on the right. There are many more images and links to a huge amount of information at http://redobjects.unsw.edu.au/people/liz-williamson/.
The focus of this research point is the artist’s work – a description and the concepts expressed. The piece in the photo is from her ‘Loop’ series. It is an continuation of an ongoing theme of protection. I think it is a wearable variant of Liz’s ‘Sac’ series – doubleweave containers or nests, expressing concepts of enclosing, wrapping, shelter and protecting. The colours are dark and earthy, the materials include leather and silk dyed with black henna.
Another concept Liz has explored in her work has revolved around darning – usually an invisible form of repairing and prolonging the life of a textile, in her work made visible. Darns are records of marks, but worked to be unseen – often by women who themselves are invisible in the Australian history / mythology of nation-building. Liz has presented this very domestic work in gallery settings. The darned cloth has a memory of the body that wore or used it embedded in its surface. Liz has also recreated the texture of darning marks in jacquard weavings, enlarged, embellished and exaggerated, becoming visible works of art.
Darns and worn, deteriorated cloth can also be viewed as a metaphor for the aging that is part of all life. In her ‘Worn’ work Liz explored the processes of life and experience, aging bringing maturity, wisdom, remembered experience and a different kind of beauty to that of youth. This is not nostalgia or yearning for some golden past. To me it appears not a celebration or glorification of the past, more an honouring of it and recognizing that our present will soon be past. The resulting cloth has “a beauty of fragility, of suffering, of survival, and essentially of memory” (Lamb, 1996).

Previously (posts 22-Oct-2012 and 1-Nov-2012) I’ve written about the blended or interleaved roles filled by Textile Artists – designers, artists, craftspeople, teachers, academics, marketers, who work alone, with assistants, or in collaboration. Liz Williamson is the living embodiment of this ideal, a modern renaissance woman doing all this and more with charm and grace. Gushy and awkward, but consider:

Liz is a true master in the craft of weaving and has been recognised as a Living Treasure, a Master of Australian Craft. Since first enrolling in an introductory weaving course in 1977 she has studied and experimented with a wide range of weave structures and materials. She is technically very accomplished and has been published in mainstream weaving books such as her fulled seersucker scarves in The best of Weaver’s: Fabrics that go bump. Liz continues to push the boundaries of contemporary weave and was one of the artists included in the recently published Warp & weft: Woven Textiles in Fashion, Art and Interiors by Jessica Hemmings.

Liz holds academic credentials – MFA (COFA), B Art : Textile Design (RMIT), B Economics (Melb Uni) – and is currently Head, School of Design Studies at COFA (College of Fine Arts, The University of New South Wales). I have heard she will become an Associate Professor in the new year (staff profile here).

Clearly her role at COFA involves teaching, but I prefer to refer to the class I took with her at Sturt early this year (see post 14-Jan-2012). The photo shows work that I and my friend Desdemona did during that class. Des and another class member had no previous experience of weaving, but were able to produce beautiful work using advanced techniques such as doubleweave in neoprene in just a few days with Liz. Liz also inspired us with pieces from her extensive collection of textiles from around the world, plus a pile of books she shared with us during the week (my ongoing interest in Sheila Hicks was one result).

The photo on the left shows a scarf from Liz Williamson: Asian Selection. Liz has been involved in a number of textile development projects in Asia, working with local artisans to develop products for the contemporary marketplace. Both her design skills and cultural sensitivity have been required, for example working with a group in West Bengal who create embroidered scarves combining traditional Indian motifs with Liz’s colour palette and sizing (see more at sangamproject.net). Liz promotes and sells the work of such artisans through her Asian Selection.

Another example of her collaborative approach is Liz’s participation in Research in Experimental Design: Objects RED Objects, “a collaboration of practitioners and researchers exploring the relationships between design, craft, visual art, and their commentaries”. Last year I attended a symposium organised by the group (mentioned in my post on 16-Sept-2012) which examined methods of collaboration. A selection of papers from the Symposium can be found at http://redobjects.unsw.edu.au/research/publications/.

Finally, Liz’s advocacy for textiles and textile art in Australia has included ongoing support of The Australian Textiles Arts and Surface Design Association (ATSADA – the textile group I’m in). Liz has been guest presenter at a meeting, has Opened a number of our exhibitions, and was a major driver and supporter of the Art Textiles conference ATASDA presented in 2008 with Keynote speaker Jane Dunnewold.

I think all of that (which of course is just a small selection of Liz’s contribution to textiles) justifies just a little gush!

Resources
http://redobjects.unsw.edu.au/people/liz-williamson/ Accessed 22-Nov-2012
(2006) Visible Darning: Liz Williamson Leaflet from exhibition held in Object Gallery 15 July – 27 August 2006
Cochrane, C. (2008) Liz Williamson: Textiles in the Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft series, Victoria: Craftsman House.
Hemmings, J. (2012) Warp & weft: Woven textiles in fashion, art and interiors. London: Bloomsbury Publishing
Koumis, M. (ed) (2007) Art Textiles of the World: Australia volume 2, Brighton: Telos Art Publishing
Lamb, J, (1996) “Liz Williamson” in Lamb, J. (ed) Below the surface Goulburn: Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Van der Hoogt, M. (2002) The best of Weaver’s: Fabrics that go bump Sioux Falls: XRX Inc
http://sangamproject.net/jugalbandi-designed-and-made-in-australia-and-india/liz-williamson-woven-in-asia Accessed 24-Nov-2012
http://redobjects.unsw.edu.au/ Accessed 24-Nov-2012
http://redobjects.unsw.edu.au/research/publications/ Accessed 24-Nov-2012.

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