Strange Beauty

Cas Holmes captures atmosphere for her fiber art
I work in ‘liminal’ spaces which are neither wholly nature or man-made seeking a connection between the domestic interior and outdoor places and where the urban/industrial and nature meet. The often overlooked or 'hidden edges' of our landscape are what interest me. A strange beauty can be found in the verges of our roadsides, railway cuttings and field edges, the places where our gardens meet the outside spaces. I want to capture the atmosphere of a place or moment or thing before it is gone. 
 
Cas Holmes work is deceptively “domestic”, her hangings move in the slightest current of air like lace curtains at an open, sunny window looking onto a neglected, pretty garden past a hastily arranged vase of flowers. Images of tea for two, with teapot and cups and saucers, hint at women’s eternal rituals of togetherness and companionship, taking precious time out from busy lives to exchange gossip and share troubles.
 
By contrast, Cas’s observation and comment on the natural suburban environment is intense, detailed and multi layered. She quietly observes wild spaces thriving in our concrete jungles, teeming with flowering weeds and herbs, full of insects, birds, and small mammals and draws from them a rich source of visual poetry. The stitched, drawn lines suggest rather than define, communicating the ephemeral, shifting non-permanent natural world. Soft edged and irregular, casting delicate shapes on the wall, these evanescent, sensitively observed textile works remind us to value what we have as there is no permanence in nature.
—Veronica Tonge (artist and curator)
 
Connecting paint, mark and stitch with the found surfaces of cloth and papers gives another dimension to the surface. This exploration of materials is discussed in my book, The Found Object in Textile Art (2010). I prefer to exhibit my work unframed, without borders, revealing the raw edges and feel of the textile. Stitch is what ultimately holds the work together and best suits my mode of expression.
 
My works are often the process of collaboration.A recent project with the Garden Museum,London centred around gardening in World War 1. Reminders of home and of nature were worked with drawings and stitched observations onto a foundation of collected handkerchiefs. By the participants. I was also commissioned to create a piece incorporating old floral tea towels and handkerchiefs reflecting the role of the Women's Land Army, gardening and nursing (including a reference to Edith Cavell - the Norfolk born nurse shot during the war). (This piece also became the front cover of my most recent publication Stitch Stories, 2015.) Through working with others and creating commissions context and their stories become the most important aspect of the work. This commission also enabled me to express the importance of the garden as powerful tool of ‘healing’
 
The great French artist Louise Bourgeois expresses the power and nature of stitch beautifully:
 
I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn't get mad. She weaves and repairs it.
 
I too, like the fact that the needle brings things together, mends, I can work on the move and is the one tool that can transform my 'paintings with cloth' into surfaces with movement. The reclaimention of cloth and other materials serve as a backdrop to my pieces as exemplified in 'All That Remains'. Images of china and other artifacts found in the hull of the Titanic are stitched onto the fragments of cloth and paper.. The tangible remains of past lives lost.
 
If weather allows, or if I am in a bit of a rut, I will take myself off for a walk in our fabulous local park, Mote Park in Maidstone where I live. The evening is the time I settle down and may work on hand sewing as I chat to my partner or catch up on a little television. The drawings and studies I make whilst walking informs the surface textures and marks in my work. These pieces often turn into folding book forms or large scroll like installations as can be seen in Trees on show at the Farnham Potteries.
 
Unfolding Landscapes reflect my interest in the ever changing roadside verges close to where I live. The prints have been created with rubbings and silkscreens from plants gathered on location.
 
Sometimes, the shadows of the plants can be found traced in shadow on moonlit walls as light passes through a window. Lace Shadows uses direct photogram processes with silk dyes to transfer images of weeds outside my windows onto cloth. The lace was a gift from a Dutch friend.
 
None of my pieces are neatly planned, sketch books record the things I see and mark the progress and change of things as I work. The visuals are not textile designs in the formal sense or plans of pieces I later make but an rather an expression of the thought processes I am making which can lead to developing ideas. There is a lot of intuition, a response to materials and the given environment or landscape in the pieces. 
 
I gather cloth, paste, colours, papers and other found materials together and build up layers as I would a painting. I then cut and tear into the layers to see what's underneath. This is then worked with further paint and machine stitching.
 
It is the act of using the needle, of punching the surface, joining disparate pieces together and adding textural mark which excites me most. It is perhaps also the one tool I use that most painters do not use and allows me to take my work in many directions both physically and conceptually.
 
Textile Landscape by Cas Holmes (Batsford) is out in October. For more information visit www.casholmestextiles.co.uk.
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