Crafts, July/August 2009 reviewed by Lesley Millar
Hawksley: humiliation to new hope
Rozanne Hawksley by Mary Schoeser,
published by Ruthin Craft Centre/Lund Humphries, £40
Rozanne Hawksey is a formidable artist who rarely exhibited until her sixties, her work known only to an inner circle. Mary Schoeser's approach presents the reader with a profound understanding of the oeuvre, most particularly creating a symbiosis between the textual structure and Hawksley's way of working. Hawksley works with found objects, storing them against the time they will become fruitfully used. Schoeser acts as an archaeologist, disinterring the life and the work against a carefully detailed background. As with the pieces themselves, the parts make up a whole - but they are like fragments of text placed in a drawer, gradually finding their position in relation to one another, more in the manner of an episodic narrative rather a time-line. This approach also requires that the reader take on a proactive role when using the book as a research tool, particularly as the captions are not hugely helpful.
Schoeser knows about textiles and recognises the importance of Hawksley's background: the grandmother who sewed sailors' collars, aunts and mothers who embroidered, the 3D aspect of cloth, pattern-cutting and working from the toile at the RCA. Throughout this knowledgeable study there is a sense of acquaintance with thetexture of materials. The finding of a length of particular black ribbon, the history of the black ribbon and how this underlines the later use of the ribbon in a piece of work. As Hawksley says: 'I like work that one has to wait for - let it begin to speak.' The period is always evocatively portrayed. Schoeser tells of the pretty young country girl at the RCA, insecure at this acme of sophistication, of camp and fashionably young. Yet it is here that Hawksley also finds an important key to her creative life. She is essentially multi-disciplinary - an actress, an illustrator and a textile artist - above all she is frightened of being confined. Leaving the RCA she briefly undertakes the exhausting round (as the chapter-head terms it) a 'Man About Town': journalism, jazz clubs, teaching, before escaping to
Cogita Mori: think on death, 1999. Photography by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy of Ruthin Craft Centre
In one Mof Schoeser's most sensitive passages, she describes Hawksley's precarious route to another identity via spells as a psychiatric patient. These bleak days are epitomised by Veterans, a group of works depicting figures constructed from wax and clay, bound in gauze and painted. Each piece is contrapuntal, like a fugue; each has as its basis women's destiny, religion and the observation of suffering. But not all was dark. Hawksley also became one of the most influential textile teachers of her time firstly at Battersea College of Education with Bert Isaac, then in the textile department at Goldsmiths, that powerhouse presided over by Audrey Walker. Schoeser defines a line of progression through Hawksley's use of drawing as an ordering of visualisation, from notebooks to more elaborate sketches to working drawings. This evolution of intent results is a layered interpretation, encouraging ambiguity. The author suggests that there is a resolute post modernism in Hawksley's refusal of transparency. The use of veiling as protection against aggression in an unsympathetic world and dignity in bereavement, is, as in all Hawksley's work, essentially the manifestation of an inner dialogue.
The final chapter looks at one of Hawksley's signature forms, gloves - work that references the Vanitas style of painting associated with the Spanish Netherlands in the earlier part of the 17th century. Schoeser takes us through this 'sombre confection': Glove on Barbed Wire, and Pale Armistice, gloves holding each other in wreath form. Schoeser evokes brilliantly this central character of Hawksley's work: the tragedy of the lost glove, the found glove, the appearance of the glove in a piece of sustained anger. Yet hope appears where the artist quotes from Alan Bennett's Forty Years On: 'and then as the light seeped back into the sky; suddenly, just before dawn, we heard the nightingales.'
With an engaging text founded on extensive and intimate knowledge of the subject, accumulated over several years, this is a sumptuous, beautifully illustrated monograph.
Lesley Millar is Professor of Textile Culture at the University for the Creative Arts
an magazine - Interface May 2009
Rozanne Hawksley 'Offerings'
Ruthin Craft Centre 4 April - 31 May 2009 www.ruthincraftcentre.org.uk/
Reviewed by Steffan Jones-Hughes
Rozanne Hawksley 'Offerings' 2009. Installation view at Ruthin Craft Centre.
Ruthin Craft Centre, which will find out this week whether or not it has reached the shortlist for the most valuable prize in the the artworld, the Art Fund Prize, is a regional gallery showing exhibitions of international significance. This exhibition, the first major show of Rozanne Hawksley's work, is the sort of show you might expect to find in the V&A. The recently opened new galleries have been transformed into a completely different space and it feels as though the Gallery has found it's feet in terms of utilising what has become a major exhibition venue, showcasing three different shows in the different galleries, as well as hosting artist residencies, temporary exhibitions, artist/maker studios, and video screenings.
The main exhibition comprises of a series of intimate objects. These objects highlight the hugely creative mind of Rozanne Hawksley. A self effacing artist she quietly gets on with the act of making things, exploring the major things in life, finding herself and where she belongs in the wider world through her highly personal pieces. In the video made to accompany this exhibition, she talks candidly about someone who sent her a squashed frog through the letterbox. She later admits to having used the jaw in something! The work on show draws on the pain and suffering felt by us all at times in our lives, but she is specifically known for her work in response to acts of remembrance, such as the wreath of white gloves in the the Imperial War Museum Collection, the partner piece is displayed here. This was the piece that brought the artist much attention nearly 20 years ago, it references poppy wreathes, but at the same time represents peace, the white gloves feeling like skin, wings of doves. Sometimes the work seems so private, such as memorials to the artist's son and husband. It is painful to look at but at the same time empathic. There is something of the torture of Francis Bacon being enacted but here the work is domestic in scale, if not in power. We enter private memento mori and public shared loss, as in the tied pieces of fabric upon which the public were invited to write comments at a show on HMS Belfast and in Plymouth. In this context that work takes on a beautiful simplicity, personal remembrances shared to form collective memento. There is something of the relic to the artists work, beautiful bird skulls are treated like the precious objects they are, redefining themselves through the use of thread and pins.
I would highly recommend a visit to Ruthin to see this show, and to buy the excellent catalogue written by Mary Schoeser.
Crafts Magazine May 2009
Caiaphus, 2007. Photography by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy of Ruthin Craft Centre.
Rozanne Hawksley combines textiles, found objects and embroideries to create small-scale textile installations. They all pack an emotional punch, many dealing with themes of loss, isolation and the effects of war (Hawksley herself was a war-time evacuee). One of her most famous pieces on this theme is now in London's Imperial War Museum. Called Pale Armistice, it's in the form of a funeral wreath, but tucked among the flowers are bleached bones and white kid gloves, poignantly recalling the many brides who were left husband-less during the war. Gloves are obviously a favourite motif for Hawksley and there's a piece in the Ruthin show in the form of a beautifully detailed Jacobean glove, but among the lace and embroidery of the gauntlets lurks a skull, a type of modern day memento mori. Other pieces here have more overt religious themes; Our Lady of Seven Sorrows shows a naked female torso pierced by seven gilt arrows, the serene face draped in a delicate wimple seemingly blissfully unaware of the bloody mess below. Other pieces are similarly disturbing, some like Veterans are downright painful and seeing them together as a group underlines just how powerful, yet surprisingly delicate, Hawksley's work is.
Selvedge May 2009
Rozanne Hawksley 'Offerings'
Ruthin Craft Centre 4 April - 31 May 2009
by Mary Schoeser
In Rozanne Hawksley's second career - the one she started in 1980 when she completed the Advanced Diploma in Textiles at Goldsmiths at the age of 49 - her artistic practice has often been prompted by her response to a literary work. She made this clear in the statement that accompanied her postgraduate show, prefaced by a quotation from Simone de Beauvoirs work, The Woman Destroyed: "It was me they were burying. I had been buried." She chose this passage because she herself had almost been destroyed by extreme stress, but had survived it by finding a new artistic route, a feat celebrated in her next passage, "Now I am as Lazarus."
After teaching part-time at Goldsmiths for seven years, Rozanne set up her own studio in wales in 1987 and has since produced a remarkable body of work. One such, There is no water…, is inscribed with a passage from T S Eliot's 1922 poem, The Waste Land, a portrayal of universal despair. In it appears the line, "Dry bones can harm no one," and dried bones have become a significant element in her work, displaying her love of anatomy. They speak of inner physical strength, capture a special beauty and demonstrate her tender rescuing of discarded things. This is also the message of Caiaphus, a wreath mourning the death of nature. It refers to one who according to William Blakes The Everlasting Gospel, thought he did right by condemning Jesus, while its broader context flows from "the shoddy splendours of the new civility" that Alan bennett denounced in his 1968 play, Forty Years' On, a text often revisited by Rozanne in part because her second husband Brian Hawksley, briefly replaced John Gielgud in the starring role.
Queen of Spades 2008. Photography by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy of Ruthin Craft Centre
Found gloves have been part of her oeuvre for the past 30 years. Her interest in them predates the 'empty dress phenomenon' and she finds them far more personal, "because each takes on the shape of the person's hand - loving, protecting, signalling 'go away', aggression, friendship, everything. They also become used as symbols, as trophies, so they can tell a complex story." In another glove piece Queen of Spades, 2008, the story is that of the same name by Pushkin. His novella of 1834 has inspired many responses, including a 1949 film directed by Thorold Dickinson and admired by Rozanne and many others for its atmospheric black and white cinematography. A tale of trickery and deceit, it turns on the significance of three cards to the winnings of a wealthy countess, who is killed by her nieces seducer once she had revealed which cards these are; one should be an ac, but, as captured in the hand painted vellum card, it transforms at the critical moment into the Queen of Spades.
Note the restrained use of colour, a feature of all of Rozannes work. Indeed she eschews colour except when absolutely necessary, and this too relates in the most direct way to literary sources. As often happens when in conversation with her, one is treated to simple, insightful obsrvations and in this case it is that "words are usually in black and white".
Apr 3 2009 by Karen Price
Rozanne Hawksley: The Art of Life and Death
Textile artist Rozanne Hawksley is about to open her first solo exhibition at the age of 78.
Aimez-vous le big Mac? 2008. Photography by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy of Ruthin Craft Centre
Rozanne Hawksley's spellbinding textiles deal with aspects of the human condition, particularly death. Karen Price speaks to the pensioner who studied with Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon about her first solo show "I've been discovered in a way," she laughs. "My work isn't acceptable in the textile realms as it's uncategorisable. I use materials that are only right for my responses to different situations. I don't do a series of work all made from silk or beads. Something will come into my mind and then I will choose the material".
Hawksley's art covers the great themes of life, love and loss, war and suffering, isolation and the abuse of power, by focusing in on intimate details of what they mean to a specific individual. The book by Mary Schoeser, issued to accompany the exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre, describes her as an artist of major significance whose story is all the more remarkable for her only coming to national prominence 20 years ago when she was already in her fifties. Her installations combine poignant materials, a faded glove, a lily, a photograph or fragment of chiffon, to make a powerful, reflective point.The ribbon from a sailor's cap and trim from his jacket lie part-finished among a sewing kit. A faded khaki heart is pierced by a tricorn of spent bullet casings. One of her most famous works, Pale Armistice, which is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, is a funeral wreath of white gloves with bleached bones nestled among artificial flowers. It has become totemic of the death toll of the First World War. Born in Portsmouth in 1931, Hawksley was a wartime evacuee and grew up at a time when many were mourning those who never returned from the sea. She has drawn from that and other personal experiences in her work. She has suffered the death of two husbands, her first was the artist Asgeir Scott and her second was the actor Brian Hawksley and two children (her daughter was 10 days old when she died, while her son Mathew was just 37 when he lost his battle with cancer). "A lot of my work is to do with the human condition, including death".Hawksley trained at the Royal College of Art in the 1950s, when she became part of the group that included Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon and John Minton. She was told to study fashion as her main subject but admits she hated it."I said I wasn't going to go, I wanted to do sculpture", admits Hawksley, who now lives in Newport, Pembrokeshire.She went on to teach at art colleges and work as a freelance designer before taking a three-week course in textile art."I thought, 'This is it. This is what I've been looking for all my life. It was a wonderful feeling," she says. She went on to study a postgraduate course at Goldsmiths College in the 1970s and began using textiles and needlework as an art form. She began to attract the attention of critics and collectors alike and her pieces appeared in shows across Britain and Europe. Now visitors to Ruthin Craft Centre can see her work in a show called Offerings."I've not been doing anything special for the exhibition - it's pieces I've been working on for years," she says.
"I still work every day. Drawing is very important to me, although I never draw what I'm going to make. The drawings I've done are mostly private ones of myself over the years. When my husband was ill, I would go into my work room and draw myself and my feelings."
Now she's travelling from her home in Pembrokeshire to Ruthin for the opening of her exhibition."On one hand I'm quite nervous as I don't work in any particular fashion. I really work on what I believe". And she's delighted to be having her first solo show at 78. "Older students write to me a lot and I want to say to them to never give up. Just pursue what you believe in".
Exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre until the end of May
This is an arresting exhibition by an artist whose 'memento mori' work is original producing a contemporary form of 'vanitas' much of which is very personal and deeply moving.
The vanitas and memento mori picture was popular in the seventeenth century when almost everyone believed in an afterlife. Time pieces, skulls, and the dance macabre have all been long associated with this genre which also has musical and literary forms. Modern artists have continued to explore the dark imagery of this genre. Hawksley develops this theme in mixed media and employing materials from individual and intimate personal items such as gloves, a piece of chiffon as well as bones to convey an intense emotional sense of horror concerning bereavement, loss and war.
Rozanne's contribution to the 'The Subversive Stitch' exhibition 1988 demonstrated that textiles can be used to great effect in issue based installations and to communicate a social history. At Ruthin you can see the artist's work which conveys her emotions concerning war, personal loss and bereavement.
'Veterans' is an installation of four small ghostly bloodstained figures in soft tissue like materials but reminiscent of Goya's Disaster's of War, and has an immense effect beyond its small scale.
Veterans 1978. Photograph by Dewi Tannatt Lloyd. Courtesy of Ruthin Craft Centre
It is good to see 'Pale Armistice' 1991 in Ruthin from the Imperial War Museum from 'In Memoriam' an exhibition based on personal stories to mark the ninetieth anniversary of the Armistice. This was created in memory of the artist's grandmother Alice whose husband was killed in the First World War. It is a powerful work in the form of a funeral wreath created from assorted white gloves with plastic lilies and bleached bones attached. The empty gloves symbolise the missing whilst the bones relate to the human condition and what are often the only remaining fragments after death.
Other pieces such as the cased gloves reflect a strong influence of catholic reliquary and bones are used amongst the ornamentation of fabric and jewels. There are also poetic and literary references in some of the works. The 'Wide Sargasso Sea' is a particularly beautiful and evocative piece. Many works are monochromatic but the pale calico and material fragments effectively impart a sense of loss and longing.
The Bishop of London's Mitre is a very different, vibrant and interesting piece, commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Weavers. This is beautifully crafted and elaborately embroidered work in maroon silk and gold threads involving a delicate bone crucifix and painted skull. The display also shows the sketches and the development of the design which is always interesting and how the artist has incorporated aspects of the Bishop's wide interest in world philosophies and beliefs.
Drawing is important to Rozanne's work and the self portraits in the exhibition are powerful and very expressive. Between these drawings is 'In Whose Name-Continuum' 1987 -2009 installation of thirteen gloves each impaled on a crucifix. This is a strong anti-war statement.
One of the most personal works embodying 'terribilita' is the small scale installation 'Bye Bye Experimentum Crucis' 2008. This relates to the tragedy of the artist's baby daughter Joanna born with terrible deformity just 10 months before thalidomide was withdrawn in 1961 as a treatment for morning sickness. This work embodies both rage and fury as the drug was still being prescribed long after the pharmaceutical company had evidence that the drug posed the risk of birth abnormalities. The deformed figure on a crucifix is truly terrible waving its one only big angry fist whilst its huge gaping mouth roars. This figure recalls the disturbing images of Francis Bacon. Below the crucifix is a skeleton of a limb, signifying the missing limb horror of the thalidomide tragedy, with a fragment of a knitting pattern inside the empty phial, some of the tablets are spilled out.
These are thought provoking works where stitch work textiles bones and other materials are used with great narrative and emotional effect concerning the realities of war and loss.