My practice has involved painting on cloth since 2005. Initially I painted on flags with heat guns, ink and dye. And through experimentation I have developed a painting technique using bleach and dye, which is unique to my practice.
I take a vintage cloth, flag or quilt and dye the entire textile black. I then paint the light areas with bleach, slowly revealing the cloth colour underneath the black dye. Often the textiles original colours are strong enough to resist the bleaching process, removing the black dye reveals the vintage pattern and original fabric colour beneath. Each painting is painted around 10 times, after each bleaching process the fabric is washed, dried and pressed and in the final stages all the chemical bleach is removed from the fabric. Often the fabric needs re-darning, sewing, or colouring, to complete the reworked textile. The aim is to create a portrait, which emerges from the cloth.
Antique quilts and flags have become a favourite medium to work with, as the history of the cloth gives a very precious surface to paint on. The quilts are antique but the graphic patterns seem to my eyes unexpectedly modern.
I am interested in the culture of heritage, a sense of belonging, or estrangement from our countries. Also, a sense of nostalgia for certain countries is a repeated theme in my work. I often use American quilts and flags, as a Brit I find the look of Americana both exciting and comforting. Since a teenager I’ve avidly watched American movies, and have seen presented to our imaginations as a cinematic wonderland.
I often use Horror film still (as seen in the American flag ‘Far Away’). When using Horror films as source material I take a photo from the film in extreme-close-up, which appears both beautiful and scared. The idea of vulnerability being attractive is both disturbing and has roots in the male gaze. I find it compelling how both I, and the film viewer, can often find beauty in unlikely places, the look of women in horror films is timeless and is a repeated motif from Hitchcock and Polanski films through to modern days cinema.
In the ‘Air Land Sea’ series I use myself as a model in some images, playing characters reminiscent of Amelia Earhart in a conquest of adventure. The ‘Aviator’ is a reverence to the desire to travel and the nostalgic view of journeys. . I created the series soon after having a child in a water birth. There is obviously a satirical humour in the ‘Out of the Water’ editions, which explored a relief and disorientation of coming up for air in the water. I made the series around the time of the Olympic games in London. The Open Water swimmers, who showed incredible resilience and strength, is referenced in ‘Out of the Water’.
In all reference material, whether self-portraiture, horror film stills, or contemporary faces I am looking for a sense of strength and wonder in the face and a compelling gaze, which disarms the viewer.
Pam Glew, March 2013
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