LOUISE SAXTON

INTERVIEW WITH LOUISE SAXTON: First Resident from Australia

 

6a0133ed05424c970b01bb086c4965970d-320wiLouise Saxton was our first resident from Australia. Her work with reclaimed embroidery is truly unique and you will enjoy her thought provoking intervew. 

 

You work with reclaimed embroidery. Please tell us what you mean by that.

6a0133ed05424c970b01b8d151eaf6970c-120wiMy main art material over the past nine years is discarded needlework, which is primarily vintage or antique hand-made embroidery and lace.  Doilies, tablecloths, bed linen and clothing, which were painstakingly and lovingly made for functional and aesthetic domestic purposes in previous eras, are now culturally redundant in our ‘throw-away’ contemporary world.  I use the term “reclaimed” as I am claiming the original domestic objects for a new purpose.  I rescue these materials from charity/thrift shops and markets and I am fortunate that friends, family and even strangers also contribute needlework to my collection.

Tell us about the path you took to the reclaimed embroidery work you are doing.

My art school training was in drawing, painting and printmaking, but over the past nineteen years ‘the home’ has been central to my art practice.  While I have no formal training in textiles, I grew up in a family where making things by hand was valued and textiles were at the centre of domestic productivity and creativity.  My mother was an avid knitter and excellent dressmaker and she taught me to sew and knit my own clothes.  Also, my Nana constantly crocheted.  It’s interesting to reflect on my childhood in relation to my current practice in combining my use of reclaimed textiles with my reinterpretation of historical imagery.  As a teenager I reinterpreted a number of my mother’s vintage knitting patterns from the 1930’s and 40’s.  By knitting the garments in high-key colours popular in the 1970’s I was contemporising, while keeping alive, the exquisite patterns of an earlier era.  This is what I am trying to do in my practice today – to reinvigorate and also restore value to the exquisite needlework and pay homage to the artisan needleworkers of the past.

You work with pins more than stitching. Tell us why and how this technique developed.

6a0133ed05424c970b01bb086c4a8d970d-320wiI rarely stitch down any of my textiles, although I have in the past used a vintage sewing machine to stitch the reclaimed needlework to layers of tulle and silk.  Now I primarily use stainless steel or brass lace-pins to hold the textile fragments in place.  This adds a sculptural element to the relief-work, as there are countless pins in each assemblage.  In the case of my bird imagery in particular, the pins add a sense of light shimmering on the feathers. 

The pins also have significance beyond their practical use in their fascinating and gruesome historical origins and also in what they may represent metaphorically and conceptually in terms of pain.  This includes the painstaking labour of needlework traditions and the pain of loss associated with disappearing traditions and species in the natural world.  I am also interested in the fact that during the industrial revolution the ‘pointers’ whose sole job it was to grind the head of the pin, inhaled the tiny shards of metal and acquired a deadly lung disease known as pointer’s rot. 

I have developed calluses on my fingers from all the pinning, unpinning and re-pinning it takes to make each of my pieces and every time I get a pin prick, it is a sharp reminder of the pain associated with these traditions over the centuries.

6a0133ed05424c970b01b8d151ebb7970c-320wiWhat have you learned about embroidery and other needlework traditions that you can share with our readers?

Needlework is an ancient art form, beautiful as well as practical, and whether simple or complex in design it is painstakingly constructed.  Historically, handmade embroidery and lace were as economically valuable as gold and silver. Many cultures have needlework traditions and it has often been the burden of the poor to create exquisite garments for royalty and nobility.  Even in indigenous cultures which don’t embroider or make lace, there is often exquisitely woven baskets and other vessels, or intricately woven or beaded clothing and headdress.  Needlework is cross-cultural, but sadly in most parts of the world today, it is in danger of disappearing. 

As the first Australian to attend 360 Xochi Quetzal, tell us what drew you to a residency in Mexico.

6a0133ed05424c970b01bb086c4b09970d-120wiInitially, I was drawn to the residency by a stunning photo of Lake Chapala under the spell of a magnificent sunset, which was posted on Textile Fibre Forum’s online newsletter, with the heading “Free Artist Residency in Mexico”.  What drew me to the residency in relation to my own practice was the fact that Mexico still has a living tradition of embroidery, albeit a fragile one.  I also found it fascinating that the residency was named for the goddess of artisans, Xochi Quetzal, and in particular she is the protector of embroiderers and weavers! 

On a practical level I was drawn to apply because the program offered a self-contained living/working environment, which looked (and indeed was) very comfortable and aesthetically inspiring.  The location on the largest freshwater lake in Mexico, with an abundance of bird life was also a wonderful draw.  The fact that the residency is sponsored and run by North Americans also made it very accessible, as I don’t speak Spanish.

What were some of the highlights of your residency?

6a0133ed05424c970b01b7c7c80156970b-320wiThe opportunity to live and work in Mexico for a month and experience another language and culture every day; to spend time with other artists connected to the residency and make connections with some local artisans; to seek out and acquire (with much support from the residency patrons and other knowledgeable people in Chapala) some exquisite embroidery for my collection.  I was also able to commission three Mexican flowers embroidered in silk by an artisan in the nearby pueblo of Ajijic.  Along with the exquisite and rare Tehuantapec embroidery I purchased in Tlaquepaque, my collection and my next body of work, have been greatly enriched.

6a0133ed05424c970b01bb086c4cd3970d-320wiWhat can you tell us about the work in your upcoming show at Gould Galleries in Melbourne?

My second solo show at Gould Galleries will be in November 2015. Is the celebration of flora – its glorious variety, colour, form, its strength and fragility. I continue my use of reclaimed needlework (and other materials) including antique textiles purchased in Mexico,  to make a link between the domestic archives of home and the public archives of the museum and, to draw attention to the loss of domestic art traditions and species in the natural world. Read more: http://gouldgalleries.com/Artists/tabid/80/ctl/ArtistDetails/mid/408/aid/1118/Default.aspx

 

What could be improved in the 360 Xochi Quetzal residency program?

I really could not fault the program for anything, as it was so supportive and inspiring.  We were each provided with a beautiful, self-contained casita in a fabulous location, a food allowance, good Internet and an entre into a community of interesting people associated with the residency program.  We were given an opportunity to relax, explore and work as we each desired.  We were given the opportunity to have fun and form new friendships, through art and immersion in the vibrant life that is Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico! My heartfelt gratitude goes to Deborah and Christian for this inspiring, once in a lifetime opportunity. 

6a0133ed05424c970b01b7c7c80350970b-800wi See more of Louise’s art on her website: www.louisesaxton.com

Read more about Louise in Textile Fibre Forum:  Louise was recently interviewed in Textile Fibre Forum, the premier textile magazine in Austrailia. To read her interview, order a back copy of issue No. 117, Spring 2015: http://artwearpublications.com.au/back-issues.html?p=9

 

 

 

 

 

 


Testimonials

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Kristen and I  would like to return each year.

Orion Kugel,Photographer

We have one word to describe the our experience here at 360 Xochi Quetzal, and that is MAGIC! The casita is very spacious, allowing for lots of room to create. It is very comfortable and clean, and has everything you could possibly need for your personal residency. We especially enjoy spending time on the relaxing balcony. Cobra and Chris are available and very helpful. The Residency Handbook in the casita addresses all of our questions in detail and offers suggestions for things to try around the area. You will often hear live music in the early evening from the Malecon. It feels very safe here, and even more secure having the Red Cross right across the street. It has been a wonderful experience, and Orion and I would like to return each year.

Kristen Pobatschnig, Painter
“Applying for the free Winter residency of Xochi Quetzal was the start of many positive transformations. The silence I found for myself during the residency, allowed me not only to write the best last chapter I can write at this stage of my evolution, it also granted me a most sought-after introspection moment during which I read my dreams and studied ancient Eastern writings. The serenity of the lake and presence of other artists inspired me to get mentally ready and organized for my future as a novelist. I am particularly fond of spending the holidays abroad with ‘strangers’. It always infuses me with these wild insights and whims. Our group was just lovely, the artists one by one very interesting. Cobra and Christian are warm and graceful hosts who made life easy. All in all, Xochi Quetzal was a weighty meditation, a poetic experience that carried me through the rest of Mexico in newness and will resonate long after.”
Heidi Souffriau, Writer
“I was partly inspired to apply for the Xochi Quetzal residency by The Retro Cocktail Hour — a popular Saturday night radio show on Kansas Public Radio 91.5 that features exotica music (a form of tropical jazz).  My hope was for the palm trees,  lakeside sunrises, and culture of Chapala & Mexico at large to inform my creative process.  These elements did precisely that, and the generous hospitality of Cobra & her partner Christian provided me with a cozy composing environment.”
Note from Staff: Listen to the music created during Andrew’s residency -Winter 2016
Andrew Morgan, Composer, Musician

Chapala is a safe, spiritually charged, beautiful place. Wild horses run through town.  It’s a place where you greet strangers on the street.

I walked along the lake in meditation a great deal. I hiked the looming cerro overlooking town. I biked all over the countryside. I wrote, documented, created composed soundscapes utilizing field recordings, and built small maquette light sculptures based on my experiences. I attended traditional temazcals, and sat alone in cathedrals.

It was pivotal for me in a spiritual sense more than a career advancing experience. I’m very grateful for it, and Deborah Kruger is a wonderful advocate to keep in contact with. I truly recommend the residency.

Justin R. Lytle, Sound Artist & Sculptor

My residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal in summer 2015 was both restorative and productive.  I was inspired by the beautiful studio and the surrounding Chapala  / Jalisco region.  The setting worked well for me in terms of inspiring and completing new work, and learning the history and customs of the area.  The flexible residency requirements allowed an easy engagement with other residents, and encouraged me to participate in Chapala and Guadalajara communities.  There are many contemporary art venues in Guadalajara, which are an easy bus ride from Chapala.

Michael Pribich, Sculptor

“Not only was this residency situated in one of the most beautifully mystical, culturally resonant, and stimulating settings imaginable, it also managed to be both peaceful and galvanizing: the perfect combination for immersing oneself in a creative project without hesitation or distraction. Deborah and Christian’s home was an oasis. One of my fellow residents remarked to me that “this place has amazing energy for getting work done,” and I wholeheartedly agree: the atmosphere seemed to hum with a low-key, generative productivity, one that helped me get closer than I’d been in many months to actually fully realizing and finishing a long story. I wish I was still there among the bougainvillea, the jade vines, the dogs and the pelicans.”

Suzanne K. Rivecca, Author

Chapala has become my home away from home. The Xochi Quetztal residency is run efficiently. Cobra and her team are friendly, accessible, and professional. My stay in Chapala is enhanced by the personal relationships I have developed with several of the team members. The casita I stay in is very well maintained and fully equipped. The studio area is large and ready for me to engage in art as soon as I arrive.  The weather is always fantastic. The lake, the town(s), the life, the restaurants, the view, the very friendly local people all call me back again and again. I love it!

Zahava Sherez, Sculptor

“This was the most work I’ve ever done in a single month in my life. I will never forget what an incredible experience this was and I thank you for honoring me with a residency at 360 Xochi Quetzal. The reference material I gathered throughout the trip to Chapala, Mexico is going to fuel my work for years to come. Thank you for everything! You run an incredible residency program!!!”

Santiago Galeas, Painter