Charlotte Edey takes us into a world of tranquility with her unique and dazzling artworks. Edey who focuses on the mediums of tapestry and embroidery creates beautiful pieces that reflect an otherworldly state of being with themes surrounding spirituality and mysticism. Edey’s work combines both the exploration of a transcendent state and intersections of her cultural identity. With the Royal Academy's famous Summer Exhibition currently running on the theme of Reclaiming Magic her work fits with the zeitgeist. Charlotte Edey discusses her use of symbolism for the subconscious and how she began her practice of embroideries and textiles.
Each of your pieces inherit a comforting ethereal aesthetic. What themes do you find yourself addressing in your works?
My work largely deals with identity, exploring facets of selfhood through different cultural signifiers. I’m not sure whether it’s a hangover from various lockdowns, but I have been really drawn to ideas of containment. I have been inspired by The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction by Ursula K Le Guin. In the essay, Le Guin presents a theory of human evolution that the first human tool was not a weapon but a receptacle, something that made it possible to collect more than could be held in the hands. As such, the container is the hero of this story. My recent works foreground this experience of the body as vessel through collected tapestry fragments
You’ve mentioned that drawing has been the base of your practice throughout the years. How do you translate this into your embroideries and textiles?
I begin by creating drawings in soft pastel or pencil which are translated via digital jacquard loom to create the tapestry pieces, which are then hand-embroidered and beaded. Embroidery really forges a direct relationship between line and thread; in terms of mark-making, satin-stitch embroidery is hatching with silk, layering to create tone.
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A lot of your work nods to spirituality and the subconscious. What is your relationship with spirituality and how did it inspire your ideas?
I’m really drawn to ritualistic methods of display from altarpieces to shrines and how these can function as portals. I suppose my interest in symbolism came from trying to define what you recognise when you see yourself in an object or idea. I’d always come home with full pockets; shells, stones, wood, glass, textiles. The talismanic power of objects fascinates me, their ability as archetypal images to illicit this subconscious response. It becomes a personal cosmology that functions a little like a self portrait, drawing from your experience and collected subjects.
The global pandemic took all of us by surprise and has forced us to adapt to a new normality. How have you been dealing with the lockdowns and has this time altered the way that you work?
During the first lockdown, I was sketching constantly but really struggling to complete work or expand beyond my sketchbook. I realised how much I wanted to interrogate my relationship with drawing. I’d never trained and I thought a global reset feels as pertinent a time as any to start again. I’ve now been studying at the Drawing Year at the Royal Drawing School in London since January and it’s been really illuminating. It feels like unlearning as much as it does learning; correcting biases, understanding your instincts, being offered new ways of seeing. I am craving newness internally and externally, and slowly seeing changes present themselves in my visual language is really rewarding.
What other artists or pieces have you turned to for inspiration recently?
I was really moved by Patricia Belli’s work at Tate Modern, Billie Zangewa at NEON Athens, Helen Frankenthaler at Gagosian and Lenore Tawney at Alison Jacques, London over the last couple of months. I’ve been reading Isabel Allende, and revisiting JG Ballard short stories (The Day of Forever has a particular potency after the last year). Ever-present favourites include Ursula K Le Guin as mentioned, Octavia Butler, Maggie Nelson and Toni Morrison.
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You’ve stated that a lot of your work centers around the experiences of women of colour. How often do you shape elements of your identity into your pieces?
I think that a mixed race identity often involves reconciling the different worlds and contexts you are from, and the elements of symmetry in some of my compositions reflect a desire for harmony between these facets. The language of natural hair carries through my work in different mediums; considering the parallels with silk thread in embroidery and in drawn ribbons and flourishes. Curls are everywhere. The cultural associations of weaving and embroidery are also interwoven with ideas of the feminine.
Your pieces take on a clear and commendable complexity, how long does it usually take you to complete a tapestry or print?
I move at a fairly glacial pace, but I would say a few weeks from start to finish for each tapestry piece.
You’ve recently been involved in a range of successful group and solo exhibitions, what should we expect from you in the upcoming months?
I’m working towards some projects for 2022 that I’m really excited about. I am currently exhibiting a new series of embroidered tapestries and soft pastel drawings in Psychic Anemone at Cob Gallery in London [until 18th December] alongside Bea Bonafini and Zoe Williams. The show takes its name from the protagonist of Tai Shani’s text Our Fatal Magic and draws together multidisciplinary artistic approaches to the transcendental image through ritual, magic, gender, mythology, spirituality, eroticism and sensuality.
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