B.A. Madley at Norton & Sons
On view at Norton & Sons January 23rd to March 11th.
In the age of the disposable, B.A. Madley finds materials and inspiration in our textile waste - discarded clothes, household linens, abandoned handwork. Madley is fascinated by both the intertwined history of textiles and human labor as well as the immediate sensory experience of the colours, patterns, and textures of the textiles that saturate our daily lives.
Playing with the techniques of industrial garment manufacturing and traditional textile craft, Madley explores stitching as a process of mark making that is also integral to the structure of the object. Madley’s works are responses to the materials’ prior lives, the found colours and patterns and the intrinsic properties of the woven and knit materials themselves.
For this exhibition of new works Norton & Sons invited Madley to fill the space with canvases representing her oeuvre over all and particularly where she is focused within her work at the moment. Before the opening of the show we had a chance to sit down and speak briefly about the body of works as a whole and also to investigate in more depth the meaning behind the works hung on our walls.
Norton & Sons: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Barbara Madley: Very early! Ever since I was 5 years old I began making art.
N&S: Where did you study art?
B.M: I didn’t study art. I studied Chemistry through to Master’s level, but knew all along that I wanted to be an artist and make with my hands.
N&S: Have you had other jobs?
N&S: How long have you been working on this body of work?
B.M.: For a couple of years. It started with a visit to some rag houses in LA where all this old fabric and clothing was sorted by category into massive tubs. Denim, cotton, wools. It was enormous, the size of a football field.
N&S: How long does it take to amass the amount of cloth you need to make the pieces?
B.M.:It takes quite a long time as I have to sort and gather. In the beginning I was hunting for the cloth but now it just comes to me. Friends and family know what I am doing and they send me things or give me clothing they would otherwise give away.
N&S: Where does it come from?
B.M.:Mostly now from friends and family wherever I am based or working, LA mainly. The smaller pieces were accumulated from a Japanese Indigo Cloth supplier who supply used or treated cloths which is why there is a uniformity to them.
N&S:What do you consider the canvasses? Painting, sculpture, craft?
B.M:It sits between fine art and craft. There is an obvious craft and handmade nature to them, but they aren’t pure craft or quilting in the way that craft and quilting are their own things.
They have a basis in process art. For me the process is the most exciting part as I get to be surprised by what emerges when I am complete. I don’t start with a plan or a palette and let the fabric and the process guide me to creating the work itself.
N&S: What inspires you most to create this sort of work?
B.M.: The works are based on a feeling and just happen as I sort through and gather cloths. But some of the square works are very much based on Log Cabin Quilting patterns. Someone that makes them or is familiar with them would immediately recognise the designs as being Log Cabin Quilt patterns. I thin also the place that I am in at the time of making really inspires them as well. As I have been working in LA for some time now, the works are really a response to that. The heat, the weather, the style of the people that live there. The fabrics that I am accumulating reflect that. Light cottons, striped cottons more summery fabrics. Also now cloths are have more stretch in them and I do like that as the tension that comes from working with the cloths eventually stretching them means the most exciting moments come as the cloth is worked.
N&S:Do you have a particular position on sustainability and does it drive your work?
B.M:I think it’s very important in relation to the work. I don’t think it’s at the forefront as a reason for working in this way but it is of course an integral element in the process and the finished item.
N&S: In relation to that can you talk about the stitch and the various styles of stitching?
B.M.: The hand stitching is always in red and it’s meant to bring back together pieces of fabric in straight lines. Contrasted with the gold stitching which is done in gold thread. The gold represents mending. Repairing any issues with the cloth itself or tears, frays in the edges of the cloths as they are joined.
N&S: Like Kintsugi in Japanese pottery?
B.M.: Yes, in the same sort of style.
N&S: It seems that the combination of the recycled or up-cycled fabrics and the repair in gold as you work almost give them works a feeling of an artefact. Preserving a moment in time. Not like a time capsule but like a memento maybe?
B.M.: Yes, that’s true!
N&S : Living in Sweden at the moment for a year, does that influence your practice?
B.M.: It hasn’t influenced it in the way I thought it would. I had an impression that there would be interesting colour, pattern and fabrics, but in reality, it’s nothing like I had imagined. The colours are dark mostly and the countries taste for fast fashion is extreme. Meaning that the fabrics I am able to source are mostly man-made, not as interesting and don’t withstand the work I put them through in the ageing process or the sewing. I thought there would be this great treasure to be found in Sweden but I haven’t found it.
N&S: The work looks quite laborious, is it?
B.M.: It is a lot of hand work and therefore laborious. It takes time to sort, time to choose and time to construct. On a work like the largest one I only know when I am finished when I am finished and so there is no way in telling how much work it’s going to be.
Install and detail shots from Norton & Sons.
There is an obvious correlation between B.A. Madley’s work and the approach to sustainability we have at Norton & Sons. Being able to collaborate on a show like this is both timely and important to highlight the potential of up-cyling and that there is life for cloth after clothing. Through sustainability these works take on an almost artefact like feeling. Time capsules of style and industry. Madley says of the works on display that while they do reflect the climate and environs where they were created in LA, they are mostly cotton, they also are mostly cloths with stretch, or lycra. Madley likes the effect that this has on the cloth and her ability to create the works before stretching over canvas, it is interesting to note that even in something so sustainable as creating art from discarded materials, the use of man-made poly-blended fabrics is extremely prevalent. Taking something unsustainable and turning it into something sustainable is an important dialogue between artist and the world around her. At a time when sustainability in fashion is on the tip of the tongue of everyone working in or around the industry finding ways to prolong the life of cloth that would otherwise end up in landfill is exciting and prescient.
January 23rd to March 11th, Norton & Sons, 16 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PL