Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Claire Heminsley: Rooted in the Everyday

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

PROFILE
Claire Heminsley: Rooted in the Everyday

Scottish textile designer and illustrator Claire Heminsley works in a style that is less defined by material or technique than it is by the artist’s own distinct brand of humor. A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Heminsley established her own company shortly after graduation in the mid-1980s. Under the name Incahoots, she takes on print and embroidery textile commissions, creates illustrative graphics, and produces a series of scraperboard prints (a printing process with results similar to engraving) that are sold at outlets across the United Kingdom. The company name, which can be read as an inversion of “ahoots incorporated” but also the idiom “in cahoots” (a partnership or conspiracy), is a good example of the artist’s sense of humor. Playing with common phrases in the English language, Heminsley’s puns highlight how arbitrary many of the phrases we use daily really are.

Beyond her humor, Heminsley’s style is consistent across the range of materials and techniques. The expressive stitched line acts both functionally and decoratively to secure layers of material while adding a mark similar to the drawn line that appears in her illustrations. She explains that her work is “rooted in the everyday. My current fascination is the theme of making do and mending, with inspiration from dressmaking techniques, labels, packaging, and associated graphics. Drawing is integral to my approach.” While Heminsley notes that her textile drawings are “deeply rooted in a narrative tradition,” her approach to narrative stems from her own observations rather than quotations from literature and reveals her unique ability to depict the humorous consequences of literal interpretation.

The compositions of Heminsley’s illustrations and textile art feel carefree rather than calculated, spontaneous rather than edited. Bold black stitches make no secret of the textile’s construction but also suggest an attitude that is un-self-conscious in its acceptance of the decorative role of the textile. Her work welcomes references to the domestic, a legacy that some contemporary textile art ardently avoids. Recently, funding from the Scottish Arts Council has allowed Heminsley to experiment with digital printing techniques. Along with labels and text, Heminsley has printed images of the textile onto cloth that is then stitched and embellished with found objects. The results play with the notion of original versus simulacra through their combination of first-generation elements with images of stitches and cloth filtered through the digital medium.

With upcoming exhibitions in Panik Gallery, Killearn, Glasgow during the months of March and April and at the Itami Gallery in Itami, Japan during June and July, Heminsley’s work is enjoying increasingly international exposure. But she continues to hold firm to a belief that nothing is too self-conscious to lose its accessibility or sense of humor. This outlook is perhaps best illustrated on the artist’s website, www.incahoots.org.uk, where she invites you to download wallpaper for your computer from a selection of her design work. By taking her up on this offer, you will be “in cahoots” with Heminsley and her quirky sense of humor, a generous gesture that gives her company name yet another twist.

Jessica Hemmings is a lecturer in the theory and practice of textiles at the Winchester School of Art in England and a contributing editor for Selvedge magazine.

FiberArts Magazine (April/May 2006: 20-21)