Patricia Kelly takes her Irish heritage and turns it into art. Fibre Arts Take Two loved learning how Patricia uses history and nature to find her inspiration.
Patricia Kelly’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Textured meadows, boxscapes and physical labours of the past all inform the stitch lines of Irish textile artist Patricia Kelly’s works. Developing work using over-stitch layers and transparencies. Inspired by raked hay fields, stone walls and turf to the rugged landscape in the west of Ireland, where lines created by tangled hedgerows are silhouetted against muted skies. The sense of belonging to a place where family history is interwoven through present lives greatly influences Patricia. Incorporating old recycled textiles, often used by ancestors in quilt making, this multi-layered approach conveys something of lives now linked, stitched together in grip like textiles in the present, a dark evening, a setting sun, a quiet calmness, person in place, layers of ancestral history.
For Patricia, the making process is meditative, and her works produce an emotional response for the viewer. Fibre Arts Take Two was thrilled to chat with this renowned artist from her ancestral home in Ireland.
History meets art
History has always been an enormous part of Patricia’s art, “I’ve always been really interested in the past,” she says, “When I was doing my textiles degree, I was still very fascinated with Irish history and all that connection even though I wasn’t living here at that time.
That’s when I started looking at past craft and history. I grew up on a farm. We made hay every year. I think and always attribute that, maybe somewhat of what I’m doing. I was always in charge of raking the lines and enjoyed doing it.
We also worked on the bog and cut the turf, which was another linear thing. They were all stacked in rows to dry, which was very textural. Those were the kinds of things that fed into my degree.”
While digging into local history, Patricia learned a lot about how people lived, “I saw that they even made little rush rattles for their babies out of the swabs with little stones inside,” says Patricia. “I wanted to make these quickly, but you needed to prepare the willows, and it was all those processes. I always want something immediate; I can’t wait.”
As is so often the case in art, one interest led to another discovery, “When I went to the shop,” Patricia says, “I was given things in a regular brown paper bag, so I started tearing up the brown paper bags initially just to make the rush rattle, and I rolled the brown paper strips into straws, and I had some instructions how to make the rattle. Then it grew and grew.
I started to plait the paper and then lay it down onto varnish and muslin. Then I sewed over the line and then ripped it away. It grew into garments that started being just obviously the samples I’m doing now in my little squares. From there, it developed and evolved into other pieces. I love their feel and handling because it feels like something old.”
The era of trees
Patricia has had eras in her artwork, and one involved trees. “I started with stones,” says Patricia, “looking at ancient monuments. When I left college, and I was teaching, I started just going out doing tonal drawing — making drawings of ancient sites. I seem to have constantly been honing in on the ancient. Then I turned by stitching into embroidery. I’d done a drawing of Newgrange, which is a very ancient site in Ireland. I made a large textile of it. I was looking at ancient sites. I went down to the islands to look at old walls. Then it just moved from there.
I was looking at walls, and then I started looking at landscapes from the drawing first. The drawings then turned into stitching. I guess it always had to be sewing. So then I started drawing my local landscape and the sunsets. I love sunsets, anything with a bit of drama. I wasn’t so much into the green, green field. It was always skies and sunsets. And then that started to grow into the trees.”
From landscapes and trees, Patricia moved on to a more abstract style, “I did landscapes for several years, then I had some family situations.” she says, “My parents weren’t well and needed more help. I didn’t have time to do big projects anymore, so I was dabbling with little squares. I was dabbling with dots, Batik and wax. I knew I always wanted to do abstract work, and I loved the work of Terri Brooks and Dorothy Caldwell, and I was looking at all their work, and I was just saying, ‘That’s the kind of work I want to make.’ I was doing landscaping, the kids were growing up, and I was enjoying the happiness, clothes, and sewing. But I knew I wanted to go back to more like I did at the college, with the lines and links to the past. I didn’t understand why; I knew I wanted to do that. So in my sketchbooks, I moved away from the trees, and a lot more writing began to appear in my book. I was trying to determine why I am interested in these things.”
Then came the significant change that interrupted everyone’s lives, “When lockdown came,” says Patricia, “and when I had time, I was working from home, I was in and out of my studio and on the Google Classroom. So there was a bit of time, and I was making small pieces, and I thought, ‘this is just so satisfying. Why do I love this so much?’ Everybody thinks I’m crazy, asking, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t you doing landscapes?’ some people said, ‘Go back to your trees!’ but I said, ‘No, I just really want to do this’. I finally had time to focus on what I wanted to do and do.”
The Northern Ireland Arts Council Award
Recently, Patricia won the prestigious Northern Ireland Arts Council Award. “I was delighted with that,” she says, “it’s quite a complicated process, there’s a lot of paperwork, so I was delighted. It gave me approval, validating that what I was doing was worthwhile. That I’m going in the right direction. That was brilliant. I was thinking I’d go more into the landscape. I wanted to understand the roots of what it’s all about. But I think it will be more about the textiles and the history of textiles more than the physical landscape, although that’s coming into it, you know, through the materials, but not be a drawing of a hill or a tree. It’s very much about the lines and stitching.”
About the artist
Born and raised in Ireland, Patricia Kelly’s younger days helping on the farm helped to form her into an artist with a deep love of history, pattern and nature.
After studying art at the University of Ulster, Patricia applied her skills to textiles and went on to create a large body of work.
Winner of the ACNI SIAP Support for the individual artist award 2021, Solo show award, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, 2020, Materials Award, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, the Northern Ireland Arts Council Award and many more, Patricia has exhibited her work all across Ireland and the UK.