Meeting Michael Brennand-Wood

On Saturday morning, over a cup of tea, I was perusing a copy of ‘Embroidery’ magazine, dated September/October 2012. (I wasn’t in a time-warp – just that I had picked the periodical out a week previously, on the sales table at the Quilters’ Guild Regional Day.) ‘Embroidery’ is published by The Embroiderers’ Guild (www.embroiderersguild.com).

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On the cover was a piece by Michael Brennand-Wood which led me straight to an article within about a retrospective of this artist’s work. I’ve been an admirer since the time I was first a student of embroidery. From 1993-95 I did a City & Guilds course in Design and Embroidery at Northumberland College of Art and Design and then went on to study for a degree in Textiles and Surface Pattern at Cleveland College of Art and Design In Hartlepool from 1995-2000. Our course (which I took part-time) involved lots of embroidery, both traditional and modern, and we were encouraged to look at the work of contemporary practitioners. By its very nature, any example of Textile Art is likely to be a ‘slow’ piece: it takes time to build up complex images with thread and fabric. It takes longer to make a mark with a needle and thread than it does with a crayon, but there is a quality to Textile Art which is different to watercolours and oil-paintings. It is as if it speaks in a different language.

Michael Brennand-Wood produces work which can be described as Art Textiles, but which uses many non-traditional materials, including wood and metal. Traditional patterns (that might be found on printed cloth, or in woven carpets, for example) are re-interpreted in mixed-media and sometimes produced on a large scale. I remember seeing a big piece a number of years ago, whose design was based on lace, which was made of wood, painted white, with dark fabric and copper set into channels in the wood and thus creating the pattern (like the gaps and holes created in lace by the threads). I recall seeing exhibitions including Michael Brennand-Wood’s work, such as the Embroiderers’ Guild ‘Art of the Stitch’ and also ‘You are Here’ at the wonderful Bankfield Museum in Halifax, so I was pleased to read in the magazine all about a large-scale  exhibition of the artist’s work that had taken place in 2012.

Later the same morning, I called in briefly at the Creative Crafts Show at Gateshead Stadium, where I found some perfect fabric (on a stand run by Funkyneedlework Studio in Amble) for a ‘swimming pool’ project I have in mind). Thus it was, then, that driving home, we passed through Gateshead and decided to call in at the Shipley Art Gallery (www.shipleyartgallery.org.uk).  There is a  piece by Michael Brennand-Wood in the permanent collection of the gallery, called ‘Cloned Immaculate’ which is a colourful machine-embroidered piece with added three-dimensional objects attached by hand.

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The current exhibition is ‘Craft Now’ which runs until 7 February 2015. There are some beautiful pieces here which have been purchased for the gallery using funding from the Northern Rock Foundation, including a powerful stitched, lettered embroidery ‘Definition’ by Sara Impey in muted colours, a hand-embroidered female nude ‘The Reverie’ by Audrey Walker (including the trade-mark ambiguous glance of the subject) and a large, bold hand-quilted piece by Pauline Burbidge in creams, greys and reds called ‘Lindisfarne revisited’.

There is also a complex three-dimensional piece by Michael Brennand-Wood called ‘Tunes of Glory’. The theme is war and included in the piece are soldiers and weapons, badges made of photographs associated with war, springing up on wires towards the viewer and casting shadows onto the white wall of the gallery. It is composed in black and white; the border is formed with piano keys and dominos.

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I was examining it closely in the quiet space, when someone came up to me and said ‘You’re looking at my work’.  I rather lamely enquired ‘Are you Michael?’ at which the artist apologised that he couldn’t stop as he had a taxi waiting. He also mentioned that the shadows cast by the art-work (‘Tunes of Glory’) were a bit like spirits, he felt.

This is the gift of the artist:  in the midst of  the demands of everyday life (taxis to catch and the like) to create work which  provokes the viewer to re-examine and rethink, which gives pleasure and enjoyment and which is able to touch on an understanding of  ‘the spirit of the times’.

Thank you, Michael Brennand-Wood.

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