PAST: THE ROLE OF PRISON IN SOCIETY
53x63cm, linen and wool woven piece
Click on the thumbnails to view full image
ABOUT THE WORK
In Rebecca's own words
This woven piece is inspired by the original prison grounds of Newgate Prison, the location where Elizabeth Fry implemented her ideas of nurturing and fulfilling prisoners’ practical potential through creative tasks such as textile craft.
This piece speaks to its viewer without needing a description due to its medium, reflecting the materials that Fry would have used at the time and celebrating this type of craft as not only a way of building new skillsets for prisoners, but for implementing therapeutic, soothing approaches to rehabilitation.
In order to depict this, I took inspiration from pictures of Newgate Prison architecture and create woven patterns that reflect the shapes, textures and colours I saw.
The weave is in a modernist style in order to keep the piece present however, these are in soft greys and blacks to reflect the gritty nature of the environment at the time of Elizabeth Fry, moulding the two ages together.
It is a ‘double cloth’ weave, woven on an 8 shaft Harris Loom and made from linen and wool (the most commonly used fibres in the 1800-1900's).
I believe that without Fry’s approach to prison reform, the role of prison in society would be extremely different. This piece is a celebration of the change she achieved, prison history and craft techniques, creating a platform for a healthier future of prison rehabilitation/reform.
Rebecca Hiscock is a Textiles artist and designer. She chooses community and place as her biggest inspiration. This she believes, is because of its integral part in human living and because of that, can provoke a reaction in people. Rebecca strongly believes textiles and art can make a positive impact on people. She tries to keep a concept to all of her work, to ingrain a sense of meaning to each fabric, whatever the context.
We had a short chat with Rebecca to get to know her better
What is your creative background? How did you start making art?
I’ve always been creative, it’s in my personality but I didn’t start professionally exploring it until I was at the end of my secondary school. When I was 16 I had an art teacher that allowed me to paint and be quite free, and that led me to doing a part-time painting course for 2 years. A few years later, after I tried to “work a real job” and realised it was not enjoyable, my father advised me to “do what you want to do and see where it takes you”.
I then pursued art school and studied fine art. It was great to have the community, meet creative like-minded people and to explore different things. That’s where I found textiles. Initially I thought I could do textiles in a commercial sense like upholstery, but I really missed the conceptual element. I used weaving in my degree as a tangible physical example of the way I express my ideas and concepts.
What are your influences, what inspires you?
I'm interested in how space can affect community. I love brutalist architecture and modernist architecture in general. I love to explore the community spaces and pay attention to the textures and colours.
You have quite a specific colour palette of warm greys and neutrals. Is that determined by your mediums or by the subject matter?
I started using greys when looking at the architectural inspiration that was definitely a conceptual move - all the buildings had these blank tones of greys. When I started mixing my own dyes I realised there is a whole world of greys, with yellows or blues or pinks. Grey is a good base - it helps frame the other colours. Having learnt how to use colour in painting gave me a massive advantage in textiles when mixing colours and creating dyes. Harmonising colours together can be really difficult but I was lucky enough to learn that in painting.
What’s your creative process?
I begin with research, then I paint and do abstract prints, lino, play around with colour and composition.
Prints help me visualise a structure of how to make a weave. I used to do diagrams but it was too time consuming and I couldn’ play around with it - so now I use Adobe Illustrator. I can see what the weave would look like and it gives me freedom to refine it. From that I get a design and then move onto calculating how to translate it onto the loom, how much material I will need, how I will need to dye it etc.
What was the initial spark that drew you to textiles?
I have a big connection with textiles because I am tactile and I like that I can make it myself. I think this merging together of ancient techniques with modern thinking and technology is really nice. I like the process of it, I like that it's not quick. There are so many techniques and steps you have to get through to get to the end product. I've enjoyed that journey because that's where I feel most creative.
You can pick it up and feel it, you wear it, you sit on it. Textiles and fabric are all around us and I also think this has been going on for centuries - why would I not challenge myself in this way of making? A concept I am exploring at the moment is “Emotional durability” - how we connect memory and emotion to things. If we are more emotionally connected we are less likely to throw things away. This can be a big push towards sustainability.
Is sustainability a part of your thinking and your practice?
Yes, absolutely! When I first started weaving I didn’t know much about it, but I soon started to realise the amount of water I am using, how toxic the dye is, which fibres are more or less problematic. I try to use sustainable fibres, and that’s probably my most important thing I have in the forefront of my mind when I'm designing something.
Wool is sustainable because it is fire retardant, it contributes to the farming industry, and it is derived from a natural source. Fibres like that I tend to use and then I have a good clear conscience. It makes me feel better and it makes people who engage with my work feel better too.
Have you tried bamboo?
I found bamboo fibres last year and just this morning I put a weave on my loom that has some bamboo. It’s a dream! It behaves really well, it's shiny, it doesn't get tangled, it takes on colour really well and comes out super vivid. It’s so fun to use! Bamboo is really so good I cannot find fault with it at all. It is a little expensive at the moment, but I hope that as it gains popularity the manufacturing process will become cheaper and the fibre will be more affordable. It’s one of the most sustainable materials too.
How do you feel about weaving and its place within the fine art world as opposed to arts and crafts?
There's a lot of misunderstanding about weaving, people do get confused with knitting and crochet. It is hard to get away from that portrayal of using craft in fine art. It can be a bit taboo in fine art, but it is the way you explain yourself. Weaving is 3D so you could call it sculpture. The way it's communicated makes the difference. You can call yourself an artist who works with fibre and people take you more seriously.
At the moment I am researching how weaving can be used in a mindful way, and that can be craft based. The process is mindful but the product is conceptual fine art. So really it's about how you market yourself and what you choose to participate in.