As part of our interview series and as we look forward to the Knit & Stitch show, Feltmakers Ireland is reaching out to participating and exhibiting artists. Tara Kennedy kindly agreed to respond to our interview questions about her journey and work. We have included links to her social media accounts at the bottom. Be sure to check out this inspirational artist.
Tara Kennedy for Feltmakers Ireland
Tell us a little about you as a person? e.g. upbringing/ where you work/ work other than textiles…
Ever since I can remember I have only ever been interested in the creative arts. As a child I always had a pencil in my hand, drawing at every opportunity. Having a mother with an interest in the arts and supervising children’s art clubs she would spend time with me making and creating all kinds of creations. She always had a sewing machine, (and still does), with a little old chest of drawers next to it, full of sewing and crafting bits and bobs including a little lidded basket full of buttons. I now have this chest and the basket is full of much the same. She made endless clothes for both me and my sister and even for our dolls and toys as well as most of the soft furnishings for every room in the house. With all this creativity surrounding me I found it comforting and inspiring.
How and when did you start your textile journey… what is your experience, tell us a little…
I went straight to Art college as soon as I could, happy to leave the constraints of school behind. I studied fashion and textiles for 4 years at the Berkshire College of Art and Design specialising in Knitwear. In my final year I was sponsored by two yarn companies who gave me huge quantities of yarn on cones, many of which I still have and use. I was also given lots of embroidery threads and wools from a great Aunt who was a big cross stitch enthusiast and I have been using many of these in my work ever since. I like the idea of using these old materials, along with recycling many other unwanted textiles to create unusual surface decoration, something I became fascinated by.
After graduating I set up my own knitwear business. A year later I went into partnership with Tim Kennedy, a fellow student and who a few years later I married. We developed our business adding items for interiors, selling at craft fairs and in small gift shops and galleries.
Over the years I developed, added and altered what I made but knew I only ever wanted to create art working for myself. After many years, my sales started to fall as the British handmade craft industry struggled against cheaper handmade imports. I was also starting to feel my work was becoming repetitive and undemanding and felt the need to challenge myself and develop more as an artist, free from commercial restraints. This was a turning point for me and decided it was the right time to move my work in a more meaningful direction.
I came across the OCA, Open College of the Arts, and enrolled in a distance learning BA in Creative Arts, specializing in Fine Art and Textiles. This course was very convenient at the time, enabling me to wind down my craft business at the same time and have a small part time job, which I still have to this day. The course opened new and exciting ways of working, using new materials and helping me to be freer and more experimental. It was a valuable experience requiring both dedication and self motivation. My studies developed around subjects of personal identity with the contrasting cultures and religions of my ancestors having a big influence on me. It led me down an intriguing path of Eurasian studies, embracing politics and history, social and cultural change. These concepts had become an integral part of my work and I felt I had only just touched on the surface of ideas. I needed to develop this theme further, so I applied for an MA in Textile art at the University for Creative Arts in Farnham. This turned out to be the best thing I have ever done! Being able to explore any creative pathway of my choosing and making whatever I desired was an incredible luxury and a significant journey.
Tell us about your process from conception to creation and what is your motivation? e.g. for hobby/ creativity/ art/ fashion/ health/ money…
My main motivation would have to be the reaction I have from creating and making. The feelings of comfort, tranquillity and wellbeing that come with the process is invaluable.
The work I undertook on the Masters course is the basis of my current work which continues to develop and change. My initial inspiration came from a need to express this unity of my mixed cultural heritage which then evolved into being less personal and became an expression of humanitarian unity. I made extensive research examining different cultures and religions in conflict and the effects of their suffering. The despair I feel of this suffering from conflict drives me to express important messages of acceptance, empathy and hope. I feel It’s possible through understanding these messages there could be more harmonious outcomes in the world.
My present work now is about creating expressions of hope emerging from this pain. I aim to leave an impression on the viewer, causing them to contemplate and consider but it’s not essential to me they understand what it’s about. People see different things and I find it intriguing to hear their views and how it makes them feel.
My sketchbook has been invaluable in helping me to progress and develop my ideas. I collect information connected to my theme alongside related images of colour, form and texture and use these to help create ideas. I then make numerous drawings, creating shapes, patterns and forms in various scales, out of which designs for finished pieces transpire.
The materials I use are chosen for their soft tactile quality to create a comforting feeling which include yarns, threads, carded wool and fabrics. I use various techniques including knitting, wrapping, felting, knotting and stitch depending on the expression, for example I often use knotting to convey tension, felted holes to express suffering and shibori felting to suggest buds of hope.
I have also realised how significant process is and how the act of wrapping and binding not only feels therapeutic but adds to the feeling of protection and healing.
The designs of my pieces take the forms of soft sculptures, wall hangings and more recently works on canvas. I use the imagery of cages suggesting protection, bundles and wrapped lengths conveying togetherness and trailing lengths to convey the spreading of hope.
Colour is also central for the expression, using blood red to suggest suffering and ivory to convey hope and often using a graduation of the colours from one to the other.
I also create detailed drawings which provide an alternative viewpoint and compliment my 3D work.
What currently inspires you?
My work will continue to evolve, and I hope to work on many different concepts. In fact, I am presently planning other work on a very different theme after undertaking a month’s art Residency at the Textile Centre in Blonduos, Iceland with the ‘Textile Echoes’, a group of four textile artists. My work as a textile artist is usually inspired by emotional connections so the idea of coming to Iceland and using landscape and nature was to be a new and exciting challenge. After a few weeks of trips out exploring in the north I finally discovered the emotive feeling I had been hoping for. The awareness of immense space from the endless landscape became increasingly overwhelming. Being totally absorbed by these incredible surroundings and the continually changing scenery I started to develop some ideas for a piece expressing these sensations. It was important to me I use solely Icelandic materials applying all the colours of the land from the black sand of the beaches to the imposing white snow topped mountains and everything else in-between.
From all this inspiration I created a 37-metre-long wrapped piece using Icelandic yarn, horsehair, raw sheep’s wool, fish skins and yarn dyed from Icelandic plants. By making such an extensive piece using a repetition of technique it helped me to express this continuous landscape.
I took the final piece to the coast, a short distance from Blonduos, and photographed it stretched out along the shoreline. It felt appropriate and was perfectly positioned amongst all the colours involved.
This piece is just the start of new making, working with landscape, experimenting with natural dye and natural materials. Wool will always feature in my work, as my favourite material whether felting, knitting, stitching or wrapping it.
Thank you so much to Tara Kennedy for taking part, for your inspirational images and work. We look forward to seeing and hearing more.