The clocks have gone back and the the nights are drawing in so what better time to give you another Studio Conversation – this time with my friend Morag Gray. I have known Morag for many years and have always loved many aspects of her work so I was keen to learn more about her practice. Morag studied Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art where she designed hats and childrens’ wear with brightly-coloured applique. Working in Interior Design and Theatre Costume resulted in an interest in using recycled furnishing fabrics, vintage domestic textiles and lace for collaged compositions. The rolling hills of the Carse of Gowrie where she lives are a constant source of inspiration and have inspired Morag to create wonderful textural landscape pieces. As well as her own creative projects Morag’s many and diverse teaching commitments motivate her to continually explore textile techniques.
Over a cup of tea in her cosy kitchen I started by saying that when I think of her work I always think of rich colour and texture – how important are these elements to you Morag?
- My spirits are lifted by both those aspects, whether on a striated rock, gnarly tree bark, or unglazed ceramics. When I first re-discovered textiles after a few years in the wilderness of family life I threw everything at my artwork, in the sheer delight of possibility and opportunity! About ten years later, I am now more inclined to one or the other, but seldom both together. Texture is easier to appreciate without the added complexity of colour but every so often I just love to merrily stitch over favourite scraps and sumptuous sari silk ribbons! Finding the most effective form of textile expression for each delightful surface has led me to explore a wide range of techniques and challenges me to experiment.
Do you have favourite themes to which you return for inspiration?
- Enjoying life on the ‘Braes of the Carse’ mid-way between Perth and Dundee means I always return home from walks having seen or gathered some inspiration. The views and landscapes are wonderful but it is often easier to focus on the finer detail. The amazing variety of grass heads has become an on-going source for mark-making and printing.
It is always interesting to hear about the working spaces and practices of artists so can you describe your studio? Do you like to work with music or the radio playing or do you prefer silence?
- Working with textiles is quite a messy process and I am fortunate in having the use of what was my husband’s outhouse/studio. Originally set up for his graphics business with big skylights and brilliant light, I really appreciate having the space to leave work spread out and to store teaching projects in all sorts of boxes! Radio 4 disciplines my day, with invigorating blasts of of Cold Play, George Ezra but often blissful peace to concentrate and calm my mind!
What are your favourite materials and techniques?
- Most of my work involves using materials that are “recycled/upcycled” mainly because the starting point of a project was to use what I had to hand. Now I am fortunate that people give me so much that I seldom need to buy anything other than the paints/dyes, or the stiffening and adhesives required. It will be my life’s work just to use up what I have stored away! Old buttons, lace and ribbons have always been treasured and are more meaningful than something purchased. In most of my classes we use salvaged textiles, such as leftover curtain-lining fabric. The quilting shop in Perth where I teach save their printed cotton scraps for me to stitch into fabric to make my “Clothy Pots” for Perthshire Open Studios.
Having studied Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art, do you think your understanding of the 3D form, working in the round, has influenced some of the work you have produced?
- Creating structure and shaping a flat surface into a 3D object whether a bag, basket or birdhouse adds excitement to the process of making. My degree show was based on brightly coloured children’s wear with appliqued rucksacks and embroidered hats and the combination of simple decoration on bold shapes was a pleasure to make. Knowing pattern cutting and garment construction methods was essential when I worked in theatre costume and is still an element in my work. The potential to shape, mould and structure textiles to be more sculptural is an added advantage over other art forms. Why have a flat surface when you could rise up and ripple with excitement!
You teach a wide range of groups of all ages, does that diversity feed into your own work?
- After graduating I really missed being in a studio making work with others, but when I was offered some teaching work at DofJCAD, I learnt the pleasure in sharing skills with other like-minded people. Stitching is a slow and solitary process so getting out to work with others is important for my sanity and sense of purpose. Often the “students” have far more technical experience than me in traditional skills, and I incite them to experiment with mixed media and paper. Sometimes we try out new ideas and every week they help me learn to teach a little better!
- There is very little opportunity for youngsters to learn textile skills in the current school curriculum but with the help of Verdant Works and The Discovery I have been able to put on a series of Textile Portfolio classes. I have also enjoyed working with the local Sunday school children, printing and decorating jute shopping bags , which were then printed on cards and sold to raise funds for Cambodian latrines. Previous similar projects have included classes at Dundee International Women’s Centre, the most culturally diverse place in Dundee.
Do you find being part of an exhibiting group a good impetus for your work?
- It can be difficult to maintain the creative integrity in our own work when teaching a variety of classes on a regular basis, so being part of Kalamkari and working together for regular exhibitions has been a worthwhile motivator to complete new work. Themes for the exhibitions are usually governed by the location of the venue and this unites our different styles of work giving us a shared purpose. It is certainly much easier to secure gallery space and physically fill the space when combining forces and far more enjoyable to share the experience and not be stressing about a solo event!
As part of the group you have held several very successful exhibitions are there plans for another?
- Kalamkari have had a particularly busy time lately and we are keen to refresh our practice and spend time enjoying making new work without the pressure of a theme or date. So much time and effort goes into staging an exhibition we feel the need to have some fun being creative together!
Thank you for all your on-going support for Kalamkari, Sheila – without you it wouldn’t have come into being or lasted as long as it has! That goes for me too! Many thanks for asking me to take part in this conversation making me think about what I do! Do, make do, just keep on making-do! The pleasure has been all mine Morag. It is continually interesting to learn more about the influences and inspiration behind the work I see on your table or on the walls of a gallery when Kalamkari has an exhibition. The diversity of your teaching and workshops are worthy of a blog post in themselves, I’m sure. Find out more about Kalamkari at their website and if you are in the area next September Morag opens her studio during Perthshire Open Studios. You can find all information about the programme here POS.
You may bump into Morag and I if you are going to K&S in Harrogate but in the meantime enjoy…..