Alice Kettle’s thirty-year career has been about telling stories. Alice told Fibre Arts Take Two about how stories influence her art.
Alice Kettle’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
With a career spanning over 30 years, Alice Kettle has left an indelible mark on the textile art world through her breathtaking creations and unwavering dedication to her craft.
Born with an innate passion for all things fabric, Alice discovered her love for the medium at a young age and embarked on a lifelong quest to redefine the possibilities of textile art. With a background in painting and drawing, Alice seamlessly merged her artistic expertise with her fascination for textiles, giving birth to a unique and unmistakable style. Her often gigantic artworks are a mesmerising blend of colour, texture and intricate detail, capturing the essence of her subjects and telling stories that transcend time and space. However, her work transcends mere representation.
Alice Kettle’s artistry has garnered international acclaim, and her pieces can be found in an impressive 23 public collections worldwide. Fibre Arts Take Two recently spoke with Alice to learn about her art and life.
Alice sees her art as a form of storytelling, “I think I do tell stories,” she says, “but I think they’re stories that are on many different levels.
(American artist) Anni Albers talks about the language of thread and how its properties and characteristics carry their own stories within the sort of substance of the material. That kind of deep association we have with material and process underpins how we interpret it and use it to tell our own stories. I suppose all my work, because it’s mainly figurative and narrative, then has these kinds of stories depicted.
“I think it’s always a process of self-discovery,” Alice says when Fibre Arts Take Two asks her about what she has learned from her long career, “It continues. And that’s what’s wonderful about being creative. That’s a testament to constantly being your own worst critic because what you hold in your head becomes completely different when you advocate it. I think what I have learned is because my art has taken many months to make very often, and I can’t see what I’m doing; a lot of the process is invisible up to a point because it’s squashed into the machine or it’s upside down or what I’m seeing in front of myself is very tiny or in reverse.
So I’ve learned to be patient and allow that time to be constructive, but I also think that because I can’t see what I’m doing, I’ve learned to really look deeply and look and see because sometimes we look, but we don’t see.”
Alice’s love of stories has featured heavily in her art and never more perhaps than in her piece, Odyssey, “I’ve always loved the classic kind of traditional tales of wisdom and truths,” she says, “they are ways of encountering our own contemporary stories because life repeats. There are adversities and adventures and stories of love and loss.”
For Odyssey, Alice drew on one of the earliest stories in the Western tradition, “I have family in Greece,” she says, “and I’ve spent many long periods in Greece. So I feel that Greece is sort of part of my personal history. And this is based on the story, the story of Odysseus, Homer’s Odyssey, which, of course, is about the epic tale of Odysseus, who goes to help rescue Helen of Troy with the other kings of Greece, his story to return home to Ithaca to his faithful wife, Penelope.
So the Odyssey is about those years of return and his adventures on the way, so it’s about self-discovery. It’s about Penelope’s faithfulness and it’s about beliefs. Within it, it has the sort of universal themes about life and belonging and self to self-renewal.
I’ve used references to some of the stories within stories in the epic poem. But I’ve also put my own story within it. So, for example, there are two goddesses in the novel, Calypso and Circe, and as goddesses, they long for human love. We all long to be loved, and we all long to be appreciated, so I put that figure as the central figure in the piece because I was divorcing at the time. So placing myself at the centre of this idea meant I’m on my journey.”
Preparing her art can take different forms for Alice, “If I’m doing a commission,” she says, “then I have to prepare drawings and designs, those are presented, and then I work the piece from those drawings. If it’s more speculative work, I tend to do lots of drawings, and they may inform that piece of work. Now increasingly, I’m printing backgrounds and then stitching onto them. So they may not be identical, but they will be used as the starting points because I think what happens when you’re working with textiles is you’re trying to contain them. They go their own way. I can’t always predict where they’re going to take me. I can try to follow the sketch, drawing, or idea, but then I have to let that take its own course in the making.”
Brookfield Properties Craft Award
Alice was the proud winner this year of the Brookfield Properties Craft Award. “It’s such an honour. I never expected to win an award. I imagined it might go to some new, young person, so to get something at my great age was wonderful. It’s such hard work. As I said, you’re your own worst critic, and you think, ‘Oh, my goodness, what am I doing? This is hard.’ I just really felt proud, and it’s quite hard to feel proud of yourself often, so that was really wonderful.”
About the artist
Alice Kettle is a contemporary textile/fibre artist based in the UK. She has established a unique area of practice through her use of a craft medium consistently and on an unparalleled scale. The scale of her work belies their component parts: individual tiny stitches, which combine to form great swathes of colour, painterly backgrounds incorporating rich hues and a metallic sheen.
She trained as a painter and has work represented in many international collections.