Nerissa Cargill Thompson: Sustainability and old trousers
Artist Nerissa Cargill Thompson is dedicated to sustainability. She spoke to Fibre Arts Take Two about her commitment and her work.
Nerissa Cargill Thompson’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Textile artist and maker Nerissa Cargill Thompson is fascinated by how things change appearance and shape over time, not just eroding or decaying but also how new growth layers emerge.
Initially trained in theatre design, Nerissa’s community arts practice saw her interest in fibre art grow with a desire to develop as an exhibiting artist. Documenting and responding to the changes she sees in the world around her, Nerissa makes work using old clothes and scrap materials.
Through embellished textiles and cement cast in plastic waste, rows of crumpled bottles and discarded packaging, we can see the effect of human action and the optimism of nature emerging, highlighting the issue of plastic pollution and climate change. Fibre Arts Take Two had an enlightening chat with Nerissa about her commitment to sustainability, and her take on sketchbooks.
Nerissa is a big believer in sustainability. For one of her exhibitions, Coastal Dreams, she totally committed to the concept.
“In trying to keep with the whole sustainable sustainability thing,” Nerissa says, “I did it by public transport. I travelled on the tram, then the train and then the bus to decorate with my chair, and my three panels are my two concrete bottles. Then I got the overland back to Euston and the train home. I got a lot of, “Is this what British Rail has come to? You’ve got to bring your own chair,” a lot of that. But actually, I think I had a smoother time than those who were trying to drive in London, parking in London, trying to hit that half-hour slot for drop off and pick up.”
Another part of Nerissa’s commitment to sustainability is her re-use of old fabrics, “I use a base of old suit trousers,” she says, “Because with your old jeans and things like that, you do the gardening or paint the house in them, but trousers… who wants them?
Because of my background in theatre, particularly community theatre, I’ve spent many years trawling cheap charity shops for costumes and props and things. So I was really aware of how much clothing waste, as a society, we were bringing and how cheap it was as a resource, so rather than using vintage fabrics, I am saving the fabrics and clothing that I use from landfill. And suit trousers are often made of beautiful fabrics. I tend to pick something that has at least a two-tone weave going through it, lots of tweeds and things that have a good wool content, the sort of suits that may not have seen the light of day for kind of 30 years, and they’re all dry clean only, so people aren’t going to really want them as clothing.
I deconstruct them and use them as my base, and then I work into them from behind with other scraps of clothing with scarves and blouses and T-shirts and things like that.”
After years of theatre work, Nerissa returned to university to get her Master of Arts, “Even though I was already in the arts,” she says, “it was definitely a very new arena, for me, a new sector of the arts. And I think in making that change and developing that personal voice. That personal practice. It was really important, particularly as a mum and part of a family.
“That whole thing as a freelancer is thinking, ‘I must be finding the next project. Where is the next bill being paid from?’ That side of things. I can’t just go and play in my studio; there’s just too much guilt. Whereas once I was doing an MA, and it was working towards the MA, and that MA was going to develop my career, that took that guilt away. So that permission to play that the MA gave me was very important.”
Nerissa’s experience shapes her advice for those considering studying art, “So it’s whether you’re at a point in your life that you need that kind of time and permission,” she says, “I think if you’re finding you’re at a bit of a stuck point, it can be very freeing. It’s meaningful.”
Nerissa uses an interesting approach for her sketchbooks, “When I was at college,” she says, “I didn’t really use a sketchbook. It was in the days before camera phones and the Internet and being able to save, so all of our research was things out of magazines and stuff like that or photos we’d printed out. So, in our drawings, we were taught to have loose so that we could either lay it out on the table or a wall so that we could make those connections and see those connections. So that looseness of keeping everything free and being able to find those relationships stems back to that and pre-things being digital.”
Nerrisa continued this method as she moved into three-dimensional mediums, “A textile, even if it’s a flat piece of textile, has depth, it has texture. Rather than sticking them into a book, having them loose and being able to put them up so I’ve got small samples and scraps and offcuts from other projects, I can see how they would work with other things.”
About the artist
Nerissa Cargill Thompson is a designer, maker and facilitator with over 20 years of experience in professional and community practice.
She initially trained in Theatre Design, but through her community arts practice, her interest in fibre art grew and a desire to develop personal artwork.
Nerissa is a member of Prism Contemporary Textiles Collective, Society for Embroidered Work, Precious Collective and Society of British Theatre Design.