Art and craft have long been viewed as separate forms of artistic expression and creativity. But why is this? For instance, in other parts of the world, such as Japan and the Far East, textiles and ceramics have long been seen as high art forms on par with painted works. This is not a new debate and the boundaries between art and craft have long been contested and increasingly blurred. The latest exhibition at the O3 Gallery ‘CRAFT: Counterpoints In Contemporary Making’ plays with and moreover challenges this idea that the two are in opposition through a crossover of contemporary art and traditional craftwork.
Indeed, Erez Solo Rimon’s artistic craft process involves examining the relationship between the idea, the material and technique. His view is that within art, often the artist’s concept leads to the choice in material whereas in craftwork the reverse is true. Rimon’s work demonstrates a mid-point between creating designer knitwear and knitted art. I feel that Rimon has succeeded in revealing the tensions between art and craft in his work ‘Piled.’ While he uses well known hand knitting techniques through layering and piling, his creation of different plays of light, shapes and densities within his work is striking, and the effect is as emotive as any black and white abstract work created by layers of paint, such as the large scale black, white and grey untitled works of Mark Rothko.
Another artist aware of testing the boundaries between art and craft is Roanna Wells who uses thread as a drawing tool, as well as pencil and watercolour in further works, to explore mark making and how individual marks work to create a whole. Her work often explores the similarities and differences between the effects of pen on paper, with that of thread on fabric. As seen in her works in the gallery, regardless of the medium she uses, her work is meticulously intricate and detail orientated. Her skilled hand made, labour intensive process combined with her conceptual representation of ‘mapping’ crowds, results in dynamic interplay between the art and craft elements of her work.
My personal favourite works in the exhibition are those by Amanda Hislop, in particular ‘Moonlight on Water’. Her series of works show her clear passion for colour and texture. I found her technique, in which she uses both thread as a drawing tool and painted mark to create her designs into the tactile textures of the fabric and paper, unique and fascinating. An example I feel of how fine art and craft can cross and intertwine to create visually and tactilely beautiful works of art.
Meanwhile, this month the Pitt Rivers has put on events to complement this exhibition at the O3 Gallery. This included ‘CRAFT: a celebration of traditional craft techniques,’ where the Pitt Rivers hosted free activities relating to craft. This included craft object-handling sessions, a screening of some of their rare archival footage of practitioners from India, Nigeria and Kenya making their works, and a tour of some of the Pitt Rivers’ new display cases by curator Helen Adams. I was particularly interested in how Helen described the new aim of the displays to show the museum as a place of industry, not as a sort of cabinet of curiosities.
In addition, as part of the O3 and Pitt Rivers collaborative Crafty Networking event, leather worker and furniture maker Tortie Hoare gave a talk on her practice. Tortie explained and demonstrated how she combines historical techniques of shaping leather with a contemporary style to create her handmade pieces. She also discussed her background, inspiration she took from the Pitt Rivers collections, the development of her leather business and the importance of using sustainable materials in her work.
As Helen expressed in her tour, these displays of craft in the Pitt Rivers “are a celebration of human ingenuity and creativity”… and so is art! This exhibition and events have proven, in my opinion, that fine art and craft are not in opposition to each other and it is unhelpful and unnecessary to think of them as such. In fact I believe exhibitions like CRAFT show that they have many similar and complementary aspects and this means we can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of art through craft and visa versa.
CRAFT: Counterpoints In Contemporary Making runs until Sunday 31st May 2015 so make sure to visit this week for your last chance to see this exhibition.
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