Polly Binns, a member of England's prestigious 62 group, is considered a 'maverick' in the embroidery community. She grew up in a house of artists; her father used grids to size up his modernist design work and her mother painted the surrounding landscape. Untitled 1982 black cotton with coloured thread, smocking technique. 50 x 45 x 5 cm
She started her art career in clay, but soon studied weaving as a way to understand the material essence of cloth. When she eventually began exploring artist's canvas she was influenced by minimalists like Donald Judd and Carl Andre who worked with ordinary materials for their own sake. How did canvas behave when it wasn't stretched, when it wasn't covered with oil paint? She folded, pleated, stitched the cloth to raise the surface. She worked the cloth from both sides. Sand Surface and
Shadows, Winter 1996 1996 artist canvas, acrylic paint, threads, surface treatments. 7 panels 280 x 210 cm
The vertical elongated rectangles in the above piece relate directly to the body and seem to represent humans within the landscape. Polly Binns says about this piece that it is "a memory of the surface from where my feet stood to the far horizon. "
Her work from the mid 90's can be termed "post minimalist", as along with the grid geometry and attention to materials, there is also a kind of poetry.
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard is an influence. He wrote about "two kinds of space, intimacy and world space. When human solitude deepens, these two immensities touch and become identical. "
Although her work has become more poetic, it is never autobiographical. Her work is about observation and about memory of place. Before Polly Binns does any work in her studio, she walks. She repeats the same walk each time, at low tide, in the Blakeney Channel on the north Norfolk coast of England. No walk - no work.
This is a phenomenological approach. Walking immerses her in a direct experience. Mud, sand, water, bird marks, light are observed and felt with all her senses. There is a tension between order and intuition, between rational knowledge and the not quite known. Inshore Curve 1996 185 x 125 cm
Polly Binns had a daughter in 1986. During the first five years of Katy's life, the artist mounted a solo exhibition, joined the craft council and started full time teaching. However, about those years between 1986 and 1991, the artist says that she "closed down" and that her "balance had gone".
She took time off from making art and looked at more art by others, including that of Agnes Martin. Even more important, she took her little girl on long walks in the landscape, and together they observed things closely. All of a sudden, she realized that the land had seeped into her material knowledge and she knew what to do next in her career. Study 1 1996 27 x 28 cm collection Pamela Johnson
"My intention is to pare down the image: to reduce the pictorial elements of my memory landscape:
to focus on my interior vision
to recall and reference the glimpse, the half caught image,
the layered textures of memory." Polly Binns
In 1998, she received a PhD from England's University of Teesside for her new body of work entitled Vision and Process in Textile Art: a Personal Response to a Particular Landscape.
In 2001 she represented Britain at the 10th International Triennial in Lodz Poland.
The images in this post are from Surfacing, a monograph of Polly Binns that accompanied her 2003 exhibition at Bury St Edmunds art gallery. The information is gleaned from Pamela Johnson's excellent essay and the timeline of Polly Binn's career and life that is included in that book. The quotations are from Polly Binns's artist statement from the catalogue for Texture and Memory, an exhibition curated by Pamela Johnson and Peninna Barnett in 1999.