AN INNOVATIVE and inspiring textile artist exhibits his fascinating work at the Burton this month. As a child Michael Brennand-Wood spent a lot of time playing with textiles.
His grandmother was an industrial weaver who worked in a mill in the north of England and as a small boy he used to play with fabrics she bought home. Today he makes elaborate, eye-catching wall-hung pieces that are part sculpture, part textile. Using an intriguing variety of materials ranging from conventional textiles to flags, CDs and badges, the pieces explore traditions of visual patterning as a means of expressing ideas and challenging perceptions.
Brennand-Wood opted to study textiles, rather than sculpture or fine art at university, which was a somewhat unconventional choice in the Sixties and Seventies.
"Before I started I had no idea that textiles were considered a female craft, they were just something that was always around that you could use to make things. But when I did my degree in textiles I was the only man among 30 women for the three years of the course. Textiles in the Sixties was all about decorative stitching on fabric and I wanted to question that. My work was always about ideas and not just technique."
One of the strongest characteristics of Brennand-Wood's work is the illusion of space. Touch is equally important and an intrinsic quality of his textiles. They provide a sensory experience, with the materials conveying a message through touch. The work can be read on different levels.
"From a distance it looks purely decorative, but as you get closer you can see the details," he said. "I like the idea of going into the work, there's almost a hallucinogenic quality to some of my recent pieces – you enter a different world."
The floral pieces are particularly full of meaning.
"The biggest mistake you could make is to think they are just quite pretty as they have a darker underbelly, a bit like the Venus flytrap flower or flowers at a funeral. I'm interested in the way historical textiles have lots of resonance and were used to mark important stages in life like birth and death."
In an age where many artists do not make their own work, Brennand-Wood absolutely insists on it. For him, making is part of the thinking process.
Over 40 years he has found inspiration in embroidery, pattern, lace and floral textiles, but his philosophy remains the same: "I've always been interested in working in contested areas. Pattern in the Eighties was very unfashionable and people couldn't understand why I was working in it, and the same went for my more recent work with floral and historical textiles. I think it's really exciting for artists to put themselves in unfamiliar territory, push things ahead and ask questions."
Forever Changes, on tour from Ruthin Craft Centre, is at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum, Bideford from Saturday, March 9 to Friday, April 19. A range of events for all ages will accompany the exhibition. Details: 01237 471455 or visit www.burtonartgallery.co.uk