Embroidery is often thought of as a traditional, domestic craft, but artist Sophia Narrett has subverted that expectation by using it to create vivid, expressive, and deeply personal works of art. In her hands, embroidery becomes a medium for exploring complex narratives, emotions, and societal boundaries. Her work is both rooted in tradition and boldly contemporary, with a process that is slow and deliberate, allowing for a deep connection to the stories she tells.
The artist discusses her artistic background, her creative process, and the themes she explores in her exhibition Carried by Wonder at Perrotin. She reflects on the influence of digital media on her work and the role of borders, both physical and emotional, in her art. Through it all, a passion for storytelling shines through, as she seeks to connect with viewers on a deep, emotional level and inspire them to reflect on their own experiences of love and connection.
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Can you tell us about your artistic background and how you became interested in embroidery as a medium?
I was originally a painter, but was always more motivated by the narratives than the process of painting. While experimenting with a variety of mediums, I first embroidered some four-leaf clovers for a sculpture in 2009. Since I was also doing a lot of line drawings at the time it was a natural next step to try embroidering a drawing on fabric. From there I was obsessed. Embroidery solved a lot of the formal problems I had in painting, freed me up to make more uninhibited decisions as I constructed the images, and somehow clicked as the most accurate way to tell my stories. I later realised its history and material associations were a big part of why it felt like the perfect voice to tell these stories in.
Does the slow nature of embroidery inform your work?
Absolutely. The pace forces me to only make images I really care about, as well as to make each mark count as I build an image.
Can you walk us through your creative process, from selecting source material to completing an artwork?
Each piece begins with a narrative. This can be something I write out, or a more visual idea. I then build reference collages using hundreds of images I gather online. This process can take weeks, as each character and element of the setting is formed from multiple images spliced together. I then begin to embroider from the reference images. The translation into thread creates further shifts and hopefully imbues the physical object with some of the emotion in the narrative.
You have mentioned that you often select images from the internet as source material, can you discuss the influence of digital media on your work?
Digital search algorithms have a huge impact on the images I create. While each piece begins with a story, the nature of these stories evolves as I search for the building blocks. And while I begin by searching for specific elements, such as an arm in a certain position, or a certain object, the images I come across and find compelling, disturbing, or captivating in some way shift the meaning into new territory. I think of this process in the same way that rhyming can shape meaning in songs or poetry. If you are searching for a word with a certain meaning, but also want to select one whose form will work structurally, the form will impact the meaning of the overall poem. It’s fascinating to think of these search algorithms as our collective consciousness or even collective unconscious in a way.
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The artworks in Carried by Wonder explore modern romance and the experience of womanhood. Why did you decide to delve into the theme of romance in this exhibition? Do you think about the portrayal in mass media?
My work has always been a reflection on love and desire. In each of the works of the show two central characters are completely enthralled with each other. This can be physical, like in the central embrace of As One, or the precarious, gliding kiss on a roller rink in Truth, or more spiritual, such as the pair of figures in gift boxes in Carried by Wonder or the bride circling her groom in Seven Circles. Mass media portrayals of love and romance are often disappointingly superficial and bound by social expectation. I try to use the language of pop culture and digital images to tell more free, nonlinear and specific stories. While I aim to create more idiosyncratic narratives, there is a beauty to cliche symbols of romance like roses, tulips, and frothy 1980s wedding dresses. Even as they become ridiculous they retain a genuine magic and optimism.
Can you talk about the role of borders and boundaries in your work, both in terms of the physical borders of your embroidered pieces and the emotional and societal boundaries you explore in your narratives?
The edges of my pieces evolve as the last step of the work. I shape them in relation to the images. I try to let the thread take on a bit of a life of its own, and for these material moments and elements of abstraction to embody some of the feelings that escape images and words. In terms of the emotional and societal boundaries depicted, many of the characters are finding freedom and purpose within tradition, as they engage with rituals in their own ways.
What do you hope viewers take away from your exhibition at Perrotin?
I hope people are able to project their own narratives onto my images, to think of moments of hope and romance and love in their own lives, and the way that romantic love, even as it ties two people together, also connects them to past and future generations, and to the beauty of a shared human experience and spirit.
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#1 Sophia Narrett, Carried by Wonder, 2022. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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#7 Sophia Narrett, As One (detail), 2023. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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#8 Sophia Narrett, Truth, 2021 – 2022. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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#4 Sophia Narrett, Real Moment, 2023. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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#3 Sophia Narrett, Carried by Wonder (detail), 2022 - 2023. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.
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#2 Sophia Narrett, Carried by Wonder (detail), 2022 - 2023. Photograph : Stan Narten. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.