The Dumfries & Galloway Embroiderers’ Guild invited textile artist, Denise Zygadlo to give a talk today. It was very entertaining and was illustrated with images of her work, and examples of actual artworks, exhibition catalogues and sketchbooks for us to examine.
This was the first time that I had seen her artwork and I was struck by the cohesion of the work she produces: all with an interest in cloth and the body. Her work includes drawing, print, performance, artist books, and installation. She has collaborated with various creative people to explore dance, music, movement, and poetry paired with her art works.
Denise said that she had an early interest in textiles – clothing in particular – and remembers dressing up (from a ‘dressing up box’) as a child, and can still recall the feel of some of the clothing. She completed a foundation course followed by an applied arts degree and worked with printed textiles and fashion. After raising her children, she returned to art and began with a collaborative project. She then joined the Society of Scottish Artists and has exhibited many artworks with that group, as well as holding two solo exhibitions.
When searching for ways to express her artistic ideas, she found Image Maker, a product that can be applied to a photocopy, allowing it to be transferred to a textile. (The image is coated with the liquid, applied face down on the textile, allowed to dry, before the paper is moistened and removed leaving the image intact). Before that, she had worked with images printed directly from her body using paint.
The artist chose to make autobiographical portraits of her body, wrapped in muslin, on a photocopier, then reassemble these partial images as a collage onto silk organza. She liked the intimacy achieved by pressing against the glass, giving details of skin and cloth (better than a photograph could achieve). The finished artworks have the feeling of an ancient fresco in their incomplete rendering of the figure.
Denise now uses digital printing, (carried out by the Glasgow School of Art), as a simpler way of transferring the images to silk chiffon textile. The finished art works can be large banner-sized pieces that are suspended from a gallery ceiling to hang down and move in the breeze. The finished artworks have a translucency, and are reproducible and washable, which are further advantages over the original method.
The artist has collaborated with many other artists: one example including projecting images over her hanging art works, and onto the wall behind them. On other occasions performance and music have been included. These collaborations add another layer to the two-dimensional, printed aspect of the artworks. The scale of the work varies from images just a few inches across presented in the artist’s books, to the larger, banner-sized pieces.
This video illustrates the artist’s Wrap exhibition from 2014.
Drawing is a large part of the artist’s practice. Her highly-detailed pencil drawings of lace fabric on a contorted body were very beautiful. The pattern on the textile wrinkling and twisting with the movement of the body beneath. Denise said that the drawing was built up from layers of pencil marks, worked over many hours, and observed from a photograph of the subject.
Denise Zygadlo, Tara VII, Drawing
Other artworks include the remaking of her Mother’s jacket, which had been worn and passed down through three generations. The translucent, remade version had images of the three women on it.
Another piece showed bundles of linen, or blankets, or finery mounted on plinths, relating to textiles owned by most people, but also having a resonance with the refugee crises and the belongings the displaced people choose to take with them.
More recent artworks combine classical art (such as images of one of Michaelangelo’s statues) collaged with photocopies of the artist’s body, and again, digitally printed onto textile.
Many of the images felt rather poignant, referencing cloth as a ‘second skin’, that ages and wrinkles in the same way as our own skin. I particularly liked the images transferred to old canvases that had been removed from stretchers, and still bear the marks of staples and age discolouration. These appear like abstract images, maybe landscapes, before one can discern a body part and crumpled textile. Denise cited a connection with ‘bog people‘: those whose bodies have ended up being preserved in peat, in extremely good condition, allowing a glimpse into their lives and deaths. Other people have felt a religious resonance when viewing the artworks.
The artworks feel open to interpretation: are they autobiographical? or making some wider point about the importance of cloth in our lives? The wrapping gives a timeless feel to the pieces, since they make no reference to fashion; and the use of a black and white colour palette gives them an ‘antique’ look. There feels to me to be a link to birth, life and death – the swaddling of a child, through a lifetime of wearing clothes and using textiles, to the final shrouding of the dead. The artist herself discusses the feelings of comfort, security and the holding of memories encapsulated in cloth. I feel there is a connection to the work of Louise Bourgeois in the exploration of textiles imbued with autobiographical memories and stories.
What can I learn from this artist?
Thinking of how this might inspire my own studies: re-purposing my clothing in artwork could be linked to an autobiographical narrative, or one related to associations with textiles, clothing, fashion or the body. Using the body to present images that create resonances with many viewers and are open to various interpretations is a powerful idea.
I was struck by the focus and constraints that the artist had used: photocopying; black and white images; cloth and the body. As yet, I don’t feel that I know which art form or topics of interest I wish to pursue, but hopefully, that will emerge as I progress through the course.
Digital printing seems to offer an exciting way of reproducing art work on textiles that could be used in a variety of ways: from art works, to household textiles, to fashion.
Pairing the written word with art is a combination that I may explore in the future.
Denise re-entered the art world by joining an artists’ society that allowed her to network with other artists and exhibit her work. Well, maybe one day I will take on such a challenge!
http://www.denisezygadlo.co.uk/ Accessed 06/04/17
http://www.s-s-a.org/ Accessed 06/04/17
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bog_body Accessed 06/04/17