Jilli Blackwood: The Joy of Living

The Joy of Living: Jilli Blackwood

Collins Gallery, Glasgow 23 August – 11 October, 2003 (then travelling)

The Joy of Living presented the textile in its many guises: on the body as garment and accessory; in the home as cushion, curtain, bedspread, lampshade, wall hanging and upholstery; and as a meeting point in the guise of a group quilting project held at the Collins Gallery with participants from the local community. The sheer breadth of applications present in this solo show is in keeping with its title, reminding us of the inescapable place textiles inhabit in our daily lives. As Jilli Blackwood explains, “I am attracted by the idea of creating art and then transmuting it into the clothes, furniture, and soft furnishings that we have around us, which, far from being everyday and mundane items, actually constitute much of the stuff and substance of our lives.’

Blackwood specialised in Embroidered and Woven Textiles at the Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 1986. The ‘slash and show’ technique for which she is best known first appeared in her course work at Glasgow and continues to act as the foundation of her work today. Seemingly incompatible materials such as silk and leather or wool are sewn in layers and then partially cut and encouraged to unravel. Depending on the weight and type of material, some edges take full advantage of this new found liberty and fray into wispy lines that, from a distance, soften and blend the vibrant colours typical of Blackwood’s work. While early wall hangings combined limited areas of ‘slash and show’ with free hand embroidered motifs, subsequent works evolved the technique so that cut and frayed layers consume the entire surface of the fabric. An intuitive approach to texture and colour give the works a frenetic energy that belies the skill and technique that underpin the surfaces.

Recent explorations have moved towards technology in a desire to find alternative types of production that do not sacrifice quality, but are nonetheless able to produce quantity. At The Glasgow School of Art Centre for Advanced Textiles, printed fabrics have been made from scans of woven and embroidered works. For the moment, the printed yardage remains an experimental phase. As upholstery fabric, lampshades and cushions, the prints are effective patterns. Unfortunately, the vibrant colours that Blackwood’s laborious hand dyeing can produce are muted by the machine. Nonetheless, the ease of scale changes makes the investigation full of countless possibilities yet to be explored.

As handmade garments and interior furnishings, Blackwood’s colour palette remains eccentric, well outside he subdued colours often considered appropriate for interiors or the seasonal colour changes that fashion demands. Unlike the majority of ‘Art to Wear’ artists, Blackwood’s garments do not avoid the challenges of tailoring, creating instead fashions that are unashamedly sexy in their cut while continuing to focus on the unique qualities of the fabric surface. The energy and consideration that Blackwood exerts upon the textile surface displays an assured commitment to the joy found in the process of creating, a timely reminder for us all.

Embroidery Magazine, November 2003: 48.