Fibre and Form, currently on display at St Albans Museum + Gallery is an exhibition of recent works by Hertfordshire-based artist Anna Ray. This exuberant colourful installation invites the viewers to immerse themselves in the works. Happy, energetic colours and tactile quality of soft fabric sculptures, such as Margate Knot (2016), instantly draw attention.
Anna Ray studied Tapestry at Edinburgh College of Art. She is a multi-award winning fibre and textile artist who exhibits nationally and internationally. Many of her works can be described as non-traditional wall-hangings or soft sculptures. She lists pointillism, digital imagery and pixelation among her influences.
According to the artist we can look at her works as three-dimensional paintings. Unlike traditional paintings, Ray’s works offer quite a lot of flexibility. Margate Knot (machine and hand stitch, cotton, polyester, 2016), an impressive artwork made of 2,000 pieces tied together, displayed here as wall hanging, was previously shown arranged in two piles on square plinths, (in the 2021 exhibition On Tenterhooks at 99 Bishopsgate, London) which shows how versatile Ray’s works can be, and how easily they can be changed in response to different spaces. This work, originally commissioned for Turner Contemporary in Margate in 2016, references the colours of Margate seaside. Ray’s colourful fabric works are often inspired by nature, plants and flowers, but also by a range of mundane objects. In Margate Knot the shapes of individual elements were based on colour-coded bra under-wires and children’s game Pick Up Sticks.
Colour repetition and combination of similar elements are a recurring theme in Ray’s works. Saturated candy-pink Ribbon Chain (machine and hand stitch, cotton, polyester, 2019) exhibited here for the first time is an example of a flexible sculpture. Soft, chain-like elements offer countless possibilities for display. The artist is fascinated by ‘strange’ colour relationships, she enjoys breaking the rules and experimenting with new materials.
Offcut-ends (Aquafil yarn, oak, stainless steel, 2019) is one of the Offcut series created during the artist’s residency at Forbo Flooring Systems in Lancashire (commissioned by the National Festival of Making and Super Slow Way). This delicate installation resembles unravelled tapestry. Although the work was made using industrial carpet yarn offcuts, the result is quite beautiful. From a distance, the multicoloured threads reminded me of a meadow on a late summer day.
Ray’s works can be energising, but also soothing and comforting, such as some of the most recent works – the almost monochromatic Mesh (2020) and the subdued Rosette (2021), made by the artist during the pandemic lockdowns.
Rosette (machine and hand stitch, cotton, acrylic, polyester, 2021) is a homage to the artist’s Huguenot ancestors, the Hoinville family, who worked in Spitalfields in 1700-1800s as silk weavers and manufactured fancy trimmings: tassels, rosettes, pompons etc. Interestingly, in contrast to other works on display, Rosette is predominantly white with just a few touches of pink, orange and yellow. The artist often starts with white elements before she decides on colour, but this time she dispensed with colour almost entirely, which makes the structure appear very light. This does not mean that the work disappears against the white wall background. On the contrary, the shadows cast by the flower-like elements add more dimension. Often the use of so-called negative space enhances the pattern, in this case white pieces bring out the colour accents.
The instant appeal of Ray’s joyful artworks makes this exhibition a very enjoyable experience.
Anna Ray: Fibre and Form is a free exhibition at the St Albans Museum + Gallery. On display until 17 April 2022.
Artist’s website: http://www.annaray.co.uk/index.html
St Albans Museum + Gallery website https://www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/anna-ray-fibre-and-form