When Caroline Morris opened her bespoke millinery shop in Kings Road, St Leonards in 2019, she was keen to generate “a creative exchange” by collaborating with other local artists – after meeting so many talented creatives in the area. Since setting up these collaborations, she has curated several very different exhibitions with familiar Hastings artists such as Oska Lappin. Katherine Reekie, Susan Elliott and Mike Leale. 

The title of the current exhibition, Painting with a needle, is a translation of the Latin ‘acu pingere’, the term for embroidery used by the Ancient Romans when they introduced it to the British Isles. Caroline originally envisaged a more wide-ranging exhibition, perhaps even including local tattoo artists. Covid resulted in a scaled-down display, but one that contains a range of beautifully crafted and coloured works of embroidery. These depict the natural world in intricate detail, much of it inspired by local scenery and the ecology of East Sussex, showcasing the embroidery of Agnes Chevalier and Karen Fullalove. 

Agnes Chevalier

The immediate impression is of the immense amount of work each piece involves – the months of dedication needed to stitch plants and trees, birds, rocks, animals and seas in such exquisite detail. Caroline points out that embroidery is an intense process that involves working closely and slowly, with stitching possibly being more thoughtful and final than painting with a brush. 

Both artists have a wealth of knowledge about their art, and this is apparent in their work. Agnes Chevalier studied Fine Art in Rouen and History of Art at the Sorbonne as well as Textiles at Goldsmiths in London. She creates embroidery inspired by the impressionists and pre-Raphaelites, the spirituality of her Buddhist practice and by the beauty of the local countryside. She moved to St Leonards in 2018 and works as a dressmaker as well as an artist and is a member of the Zoom Arts group. 

Agnes draws the designs for her pictures onto cotton or silk fabric, using paint and dye. Then, using a sewing machine, she stitches multiple layers of rich, vibrantly coloured threads to achieve an incredible 3D effect. As you look at her tranquil artworks, you notice their unusual depth, only gradually becoming aware that they are embroidered rather than painted. The contrast of dark and light also draws you in: the clearings in the woods and the meeting of the land and the sea – especially the magical place where the woods meet the sea.

Karen Fullalove also studied textiles and graduated from  the London School of Fashion. She lived in Greece for several years where she worked for Timis Parissis, an haute couture designer in Athens. Since then, she has studied batik and iconography and has been involved in the world of complementary therapies and the healing arts. 

Karen Fullalove

Karen spends up to six months working on each canvas embroidery piece; there is an initial complex design process that involves upwards of 30,000 stitches. Some of the creation is designed beforehand and some decided on the cloth itself. She also prepares her own wool from fleece to fibre, applying natural dyes to create warm and vibrant colours. 

She uses Eastern iconography, combining geometric stylised forms and meaningful symbols in her work. These are based on life in Sussex, however, and include fisherfolk, boats and birds, as well as more universal images, such as stars and moons.

A stand-out piece is her depiction of Rye harbour, a place she loves and where she worked as a conservation volunteer. Everything is depicted in great detail: plants, such as reeds and teasels and particularly birds: spoonbills, egrets, cormorants, curlews and lapwings. They all contribute to the story. As Karen puts it, her pieces try to “capture the essence – the joy and diversity” of the place they depict. 

The exhibition is complimented by hand painted and embellished accessories by Tricia Neve, another local textile artist, and, as always, Millinery by Caroline Morris incorporating hand-made flowers and leaves.

Painting with a Needle runs until 14th November 2020 at Caroline Morris Millinery and Art, 59 Kings Road, St Leonards. Opening times: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11.00am-4.00pm.

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