28 January 2011

Willow Fuelled with Emotion

Willow artist Lizzie Farey describes a calmness that feeds her work, which comes from her connection with the natural materials, and this sense of restfulness and harmony is tangible in her new exhibition Spirit of Air: Inscriptions.

The solo exhibition, which began in Gracefield Art Centre a year ago, then visited Piece Hall in Halifax, is now at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, and the final venue has given her a chance to create several new large scale pieces.

Lizzie is one of an increasing group of artists, such as Joanna Gilmour, Dale Behennah and Anna S King, who are pioneers in the way they are exploring the creative potential of fibre as a means of expression.

Internationally recognised for her stunning sculptural baskets and forms, she felt there was a conflict between her desire for creativity and the functional view of basketmaking.  While visiting Japan she had experienced the Japanese aesthetic of beauty and simplicity, and a Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) Creative Development Grant gave her the time to develop her new ideas and freely explore the beauty of willow. 

In these new large scale wall pieces she seems to draw with willow, each strand like the line of a pencil.   “Ideas and thoughts, like migratory birds, arrive in my head” she explains.  “I start out thinking I’m going to make birds or figurative work, but my hands come back to shapes that haunt me; the willow must follow its course”.

Her work is fuelled with the intensity of thought during its creation.  Describing the darker emotion behind the piece Sospiri she says “It is about winter and a kind of sorrow that I experience when the light fades.  It is a very sad piece but redeemed by one willow leaf coated in gold leaf which represents the hope that is always there.”

At the exhibition opening Professor Simon Olding, Director, Craft Study Centre, Farnham, said “Her work is touched with respect for organic materials and yet it challenges that material to the limits of endurance.  She does this with a compelling modesty and subtle force.  She finds the telling contrast of stillness and motion; of solidity and airiness.  I think this may have as much to do with the tranquillity of the elegant landscape of Dumfries & Galloway as to an oriental sense of calm.”

He also interestingly referenced Bruce Chatwin’s novella Utz when the author remarked ‘in any museum, an object dies of suffocation and the public gaze – whereas private ownership confers on the owner the right and the need to touch....(this touch) restores the object to life’.   Simon believed this to be untrue, saying “In the museum we are in the public square: and the value of the public square lies in its openness, its civic freedom and its accessibility.  In this public square, the artist and the museum confer the right to view, the right to private reflection and the right to public discourse.  These are the marks of civilisation.”

This reference to public access has a resonance for the new work by Lizzie, who was commissioned to create a temporary installation for the City Art Centre - Aerie, a nest-like sculpture created from hundreds of individual willow stems - and has been commissioned to create wall pieces for other large public buildings. 

This is an exhibition of artistry.  The work is graceful and majestic, while beautifully emotional.  It is willow in the 21st century.

Spirit of Air: Inscriptions by Lizzie Farey, City Art Centre, 2 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DE until 27 February 2011. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12-5pm, Free.  www.lizziefarey.co.uk

by Tina Rose

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