Textiles 2002 - 2006

I had purchased a large 32" etching press during the 1990's which enabled larger prints over a meter to be made. The ideas I had developed over the years were now ready to be explored in a new way. The concept of wrapping objects was intriguing, so going back to the stones, I began to experiment with simple forms again, this time to provide a vehicle to carry the wrappings themselves. In my constant visits to op shops searching for suitable fabrics and lace, I collected bags of materials including old brocade bedspreads and curtains.

Wrapping ordinary boxes, cushions and any simple shapes, I arranged the fabrics in ways which created interesting folds with both areas of tension and free fall. The wrappings in all their configurations gave me the subjects for the artworks, they became mysterious yet animated. What was hiding there? I often spent hours arranging these coverings until the resulting forms "spoke to me". Look out for anyone who touched the arrangements, they were very tactile, so that became a problem.

My process to make the artworks was to make a large charcoal drawing of the object. This was cut into sections and used as a pattern onto the prepared lace or fabric. These sections were cut, inked with oil-based inks and reassembled as a jigsaw onto the paper which was then printed on the etching press in relief. When the ink was dry, I then added the contours of the original model. This method enabled me to make a tonal drawing over a textured surface which had been collographed. The drawing materials were charcoal, pastels and water colours and I always kept the model for direct observation to complete the work.

The textile works were made over a 5-year period and became very popular. They were exhibited at HiIl-Smith Gallery in 2000, 2002 and 2004 and toured 18 Regional SA Galleries with Country Arts and shown at an exhibition at the Hilton Hotel by Russell Starke of Greenhill Galleries in 2007.

Essay - Pushing the Envelopes, Quentin Chester

The fabrics are supple, vivid and richly textured. They embrace snug envelopes and swathe sumptuous parcels. Some have rumpled features; others are free-floating shrouds or bright bolts from the blue. Out of everyday cloth Rita Hall conjures material objects with a provocative heart. 

Playful and decorative, these new works on paper also stir the eye. They have the power to disarm. One moment you’re enjoying the stylish folded forms, the next they appear all ears, brows or enigmatic glimpses. In a way these are furtive bundles. Their true gift to us is not hidden within, but is made evident in the sheer vitality of their disguise. And so the viewer is caught up in the mystery of the masked, a kind of rapture of the wrapped. 

Rita Hall happens to be a neighbour of mine and over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of watching these images taking shape. While there are links to her earlier work, this latest series marks a new departure. It has its origins in a time when the artist was dealing with a difficult illness – one that put at risk her eyesight, hearing and sense of self. 

It seemed remarkable to me back then that anyone under this strain could contemplate facing their studio each day, let alone turn out work of such finesse. And yet this productive discipline proved to be a salvation. In a period of great vulnerability Rita was fortified by the creative process. As a result these images reflect not just her customary artistic verve but also a deeper emotional search for solace and refuge.

One of the most telling expressions of this desire is in the use of fabrics. An affinity for textiles has long been a defining strength of Rita’s work. Indeed, through more than 30 years of printmaking, she has repeatedly explored the possibilities of fabric textures and patterns. This is partly a legacy of her European background and a childhood surrounded by beautiful household cloths.   

 In this latest series, an instinctive feel for fabrics and printing techniques continue to be active elements. However, the finished work has the kind of intensity and rendered character that is closer to the tradition of drawing than any conventional branch of printmaking. 

The starting point is a single object – typically a wrapped shape - which Rita constructs, a phase that may take a few hours or many days. “I want it to be interesting and powerful,” says Rita, “it has to speak to me.” While her art experience and training come into play in this modeling, there is typically a point at which the object takes over and assumes a life of its own.

The object is then drawn from direct observation and this drawing forms a template for the fabric itself. Once prepared with oil based inks, the fabric shape is put into the press, often more than once to build up a depth of colour. In the final phase of the process, the printed image is decorated with watercolour or gouache. By referring back to the original model the image is also worked up with charcoals and pastel to achieve its full strength of expression. 

As with her earlier series which dealt with objects such as rounded stones and vessel shapes, these fabric envelopes concentrate on the power of singular objects, often poised in mid-space. There is an immediate aesthetic pleasure in such compositions. But whereas the ‘bowl’ images could at times appear remote and hard-edged, this new work engages the viewer with its wit, soft warmth and allusive charm. 

Instead of flat surfaces there are opulent contours and shadowed ridges. This detailing gives many works an almost animistic quality. You start with an anonymous object and then the cloak of formality slips to disclose a wrinkled brow, a mask or impudent glance. Thus, on one level the images operate as elegant still lifes, while on another they have a quirky physiognomy all of their own. 

A telling aspect of these apparitions is their garb. In the adaptation of old-fashioned materials like lace and brocades as the basis for her prints, Rita encourages us to see traditional fabrics afresh, to admire their intrinsic grace and artistry. And by enfolding the fabrics into such eccentric figures she makes the ordinary appear extraordinary. 

Interestingly, these are also the fabrics of a different generation – of our parents and grandparents. They evoke the feel of sitting rooms with patterned curtains and lace cloths, and bulky settees with anti-macassars. Many of us grew up with these fabrics. The designs and soft textures were part of our tactile learning and often provided our deepest sense of comfort. To see them re-visited in these images is a reminder of childhood days when one felt wonderfully cosseted and secure – yet also blissfully free to construct fanciful worlds, incorporating whatever materials came to hand.

Something akin to this kind of delight is manifest throughout this series. Even the more ominous images project an intuitive joy in the act of creation. And for all their quirky drama, perhaps the greatest gift of these bundles is to enfold us in this process of instilling new life into still life. 

Quentin Chester

1. Yellow waist 2005 85x56cm collograph watercolour
Dark Hood 2004 66x102cm collograph gouache & charcoal
Dark Package 2002 63x91cm collograph charcoal
Emerging I 2002 55x80cm collograph charcoal
Emerging II 2002 55x80cm collograph watercolour pastel
Figure II 2004 102x66cm collograph watercolour & pastel
Golden Garments 2004 102x66cm collograph gouache & pastel
Hostage II 2005 collograph gouache & pastel 63 x 98cm
Material Walls 2002 68x98cm collograph gouache & pastel
Nip and Tuck 2002 64x97cm collograph gouache & pastel
Purple Jacket with cole bowl 2000 100x75cm collograph & pastel
Red berber 2004 63x100cm collograph gouache & pastel
Red String 2004 collograph gouache & watercolour 58 x 82cm
Robed figure II 2002 98x58cm collograph gouache & pastel
Swathed Light I 2002 53x130cm collograph gouache & pastel
Table with four bowls 2000 75x100cm collograph pastel
Triology 2002 80x58cm collograph gouache & pastel
Two Triangles II 2004 95x74cm collograph gouache & pastel
Velvet Headdress 2004 72x73cm collograph,pastel
Waist III 2004 65x50cm collograph gouache & pastel
White Bowl 2000 75x120cm collograph pastel
Wrapped in red ribbon 2004 60x95cm collograph gouache & pastel
Wrapped mantle 2002 67x97cm collograph gouache & pastel
Yellow Gaze 2004 64x74cm collograph gouache & pastel


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