Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

John Hinchcliffe

John Hinchcliffe: recent work

7 March – 1 July, 2006
Crafts Study Centre, Farnham Campus, University College for the Creative Arts

John Hinchcliffe first gained recognition for his craft practice in the mid-seventies with his labour intensive rag rugs and wall hangings, which he produced by hand at a rate of little more than fifteen a year. From this traditional model of craft production, Hinchcliffe then turned to explore other models, receiving considerable recognition for projects such as his ceramic designs for the chain store Next in the early eighties and his ongoing collaboration, again with ceramics, with Wendy Barber.

The gently curved and overlaid segments of ceramics and textiles found in this exhibition feel like an attempt to bring the two materials together by fashioning them into similar forms. In the text published to coincide with the exhibition, Hinchcliffe explains his desire to “consider afresh his fascination for colour and texture, and to create new work.” He goes on, ironically, to confirm the exhibition’s fundamental weakness by noting that, “These constructions posses many of the qualities of richness and spontaneity that I strove to achieve in my early work but without the laborious processes that were involved.”

Cut strips of brightly painted canvas assembled behind framed glass dominate. The uniformity of their display and the decision to frame each work behind glass or Perspex tips the exhibition towards a feeling of redundancy rather than purposeful repetition of a small production run. The proportions of the gallery do not flatter these bright statements either, which feel as though they need more light and air between each work. In contrast, the three works hung in the entrance atrium (which can be glimpsed from a distance inside the gallery) complement each other and are flattered by the natural light and enforced distance of the viewer. Two works in the main body of the exhibition do stand out: “Bassus” and “Theognis.” “Bassus” in particular intrigues rather than confuses the eye and the dark, limited palette allows for the rhythms of the surface pattern to float in front of the background.

While this exhibition celebrates Hinchcliffe’s return to the textiles that established his reputation in the 1970s, one ceramic work tucked in the corner of the exhibition, the Conical Vase strikes an entirely different tone. Rather than encourage the viewer to hurry past, this piece causes the eye to pause and look more closely. In our increasingly harried lives, the possibility that we may slow down to take a second look is unique quality of the crafts. Simon Olding writes of this exhibition that it “asserts that a craft exhibition in a craft museum need not espouse traditional craft techniques, nor its values or even its materials.” While I thoroughly agree that craft need not be defined solely by traditional parameters, the bulk of this exhibition fails to command the power to make one pause.

Embroidery Magazine (July/Aug. 2006: 50)