BEAUTY AND PERFECTION CAN BE BORIGN: DISCOVER THE VISION OF THIS SPECIAL ARTIST.
Who is Sally?
Sally is a stitcher and embroiderer who, when she’s not making things, likes walking, sleeping, badminton, football (watching rather than playing), art, music, theatre, film.
What is art for you?
Oh! I don’t know how to answer that. What I will say is that one of the most tragic and affecting pieces of art I have seen recently is Palimpsest by Doris Salcedo. It was shown at the White Cube in London and has stayed in my mind and probably always will.
Why do you represent human body parts?
Because I have always loved and been fascinated by bodies. Even as a child I was fascinated by particular bodies or particular bodily characteristics such as acne scars, hairy nipples, how the body lays down fat, skin etc. Some artists are inspired by landscape, some by faces, some by flowers or dancers or whatever. For me it’s bodies. I represent body parts rather than the whole body because I’m interested in how we see things and why we see some things as ugly or disgusting and others as beautiful or attractive. So by isolating particular body parts within a frame I want to question those ideas of beauty and ugliness and at the same time perhaps put into question preconceptions about stitch and embroidery. The particular body parts I choose to represent are those which women (and men) are most concerned about in terms of whether they’re happy with the way they look. So bottoms, boobs, abs and pecs come high on the list. You don’t often hear someone fussing about whether or not they have beautiful forearms. My pieces are not about particular people, they are more about ideas and how we see things. So although I do depict particular body parts, and they do start from real people, they are removed from the context of a particular body. I hope that allows the viewer not to see them as a particular person reduced to their body parts but as a depiction of things that many of us have in common which maybe we could see as delightful or touching or funny rather than ugly.
How do you select materials?
I spend quite a lot of time in fabric shops! Most of the materials I use are lycra based, some opaque and some transparent. I often use several layers of fabric in order to get the particular colour or texture I want. When I’m selecting embroidery silk I usually take my partner along so that I can compare the colours of the silks with whatever body part I am buying for. He’s happy to stick out his tongue or have the silk held next to his nipple but there are some things which he refuses to show in a haberdashery shop.
Tell me about the creative process.
I start with an image – either someone I’ve seen in the street, on the beach, on the bus etc., or someone I know, or someone who has sent me an image of their body. Then I might do some online research into particular things, like inverted nipples, mastectomy scars – whatever I’m working on. My technique is loosely based on upholstery methods – so padded and stitched to make the shapes I want and then embroidery detail added.
One difficult piece of art that you created.
One difficult piece I’ve created is When the milk comes in. It was very difficult because the breasts are so big that it was difficult to stretch away the folds and wrinkles. One difficult piece I’ve totally failed to make is sagging breasts. I’ve tried millet, water, foam, polystyrene, bra inserts but none of them have really worked. Still practising.
Beauty and perfection: what do you think?
I completely understand why perfection is seen as beautiful and I agree that perfection is beautiful. But I also find it a little bit uninteresting. You can only look at it for so long before you get bored. If on the other hand you are looking at someone who is not conventionally beautiful and/or who has particular characteristics, such as scars, asymmetry, large nose, prominent ears etc., you can often be totally fascinated by how they look – almost mesmerised. And for me, although perhaps it’s a misuse of the word ‘beautiful’ to call this beauty for me it’s what I truly love about bodies.
Is there a person of your family that you love so much? Why?
Not really. I love all of them for different reasons. And those I don’t love probably don’t love me very much either.
Where do you take inspiration?
From people I see in the flesh, people I know, sometimes celebrities, images online and recently from images people send me on Instagram because they think I might be interested in making a piece based on their particular body – which I usually am. I have to say that I am very grateful to everyone who sends me images – I’ve made some of my best work from these images. I’m also inspired by things I read. Recently I have been reading about how the body repairs itself – how it replaces virtually all its cells over particular periods of time. What I find fascinating is that when the body renews its cells it makes sure to record those things which have happened to it. So for example I have a scar on my knee which I’ve had since I was about 11. My body hasn’t prettied that up by replacing the scars with new, perfect cells, rather it has replicated the scars almost as if it’s saying ‘Don’t forget that time you fell over in 1967’.
Your next project.
I’ve just started on an upholstered nursing chair and I am hoping to make other furniture pieces – maybe a chest of drawers with drawers full of those things which we are all embarrassed about or ashamed of. I’m very early in the process so don’t know how it will work out. And I’m also planning some 3D torso pieces which will include corsetry and underwear.
An happy moment to share with RedMilk.
A beautiful woman who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to start her treatment just by chance saw my piece Ectomy in an exhibition. She came to talk to me and we both cried but she said it was really helpful to her to see this piece – it made it seem not quite so daunting. That was a truly happy moment.
Photos courtesy of the artist