Whilst Bath is most definitely my home and provides much of the inspiration for my silk painted work I also regularly travel east to teach at West Dean College near Chichester.
I have been teaching there for several years and even after all this time and a lengthy commute I still find it a sanctuary for my own spirit every time I arrive off the M27 and drive through its gates. There is very little Wifi or phone reception and no noise. A world away from bustling Bath.
West Dean College specialises in short courses in a wide range of specialist arts subjects. It was originally owned by Edward James, friend to Salvador Dali, and patron of the Surrealists. James’ spirit of the eccentric still exudes from the walls and corridors – and again from its passionate and expert tutors.
My courses are all about making image, mark and message in cloth – using dyes and pigments as media.
Students come from all walks of life and enjoy each other’s company as much as their studies and so we begin any course with a discussion about the student’s backgrounds and their personal aims for the week of their study with me. it’s not all one way; I share images of my practice as a painter and textile artist.
I tell the students of my own background, in painting, that led me to want to transfer my ideas to unprimed cloth – to make paintings which move – and which only come to life when someone owns, and wears them. Therefore I needed to make paintings which could be washed – but when I looked into this I found complex recipes and off-putting technical data in the only text books available to me then. At this time I could not even afford to buy weighing scales for dyes and I had to find simple ways of achieving my aims.
It took a while….
A ‘few’ years later and I now have some sort of reputation for colour – and for working in a very ‘free’ way on cloth .
However, I do not teach how to ‘paint the Carole Waller way’ although this has been an expectation of some students over the years.
Instead I teach how to work in a very uncomplicated way with dyes and pigments. I share my knowledge of how I approach the very specific mark making vocabulary of screen-printing and painting onto silk and cotton, wool and linen.
I get very excited about the differences between a silk crepe and a silk georgette – I look for the thinnest possible membrane on which to paint and I spend hours washing tables, paintbrushes and ironing lengths of damp silk. I try to share this passion with my students too.
My practice evolved out of painting and the making of collaborative work with other artists. I was always interested in the way in which art and ‘life’ collide – and as a young student at Canterbury – questioned the notion of the ‘frame’ as a physical and actual construct in the relationship between artwork and viewer. I wanted to make things which were affected by their environment – and which were not self sufficient – things which had a life span and which would disappear in time.
I eventually worked out what this could be in 1986 – and made a painting onto the back of a medical labcoat. Its now 2017 and I have still not even touched the surface of what could be possible.
So it seems, whilst I feel I have a great deal to offer my wonderful students who sign up in numbers for my courses. I still have an appetite to keep exploring my much loved subject and both my Bath and Chichester residences allow me to keep finding a balance to facilitate this.
So these images show some of the beautiful marks and initiatives made by 9 fantastic women who joined me in May 2017 at West Dean to see what might be possible.
Edward James liked to ‘put things out of place’ – he gave away West Dean in 1964 and created the Edward James Foundation for the preservation of ancient crafts. He had married a dancer , Tilly Losch – and her footprints are found in the carpet here. Ancient crafts are still preserved but so much more is invented and refound at West Dean with its current study options. These run from ‘creative short courses and professional development through to Foundation, Diploma and Masters degrees. Students achieve ground-breaking work in visual arts or deploy their skills in the conservation of our national and international cultural heritage.’
Edward James by Cecil Beaton
‘ The College is set in West Dean House in Sussex, former home of Edward James, poet, artist, designer and patron of the Surrealist Movement. It offers an inspirational setting for focused study, creativity and innovation. The Edward James Foundation is the registered charity behind the College, also our Gardens and West Dean Tapestry Studio.’
My next course there will be 21 -25 February 2018 – not yet on their website but telephone the college or watch this space https://www.westdean.org.uk/study