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Crafts Council Maker of the Week: Anna Ray

Anna Ray was commissioned to create a piece for the 100th issue of WIRED magazine 

Our Maker of the Week, Anna Ray, talks to us about getting into making, what inspires her and her favourite part of the making process.

Who or what got you into making?

As a child I was very shy but I was always happy to find things to make and do on my own. I felt settled when I was making things, taking particular pleasure in focusing in on details. I was an obsessive collector – every week I bought ‘hundreds and thousands’ sweets and put them in a giant jam jar to enjoy the pattern. I filled a teapot with them and poured them out as tea! I was fascinated by different materials and objects around the house - the patterns of my mother’s home-made 60s and 70s clothes, block printed Indian floor cushions and elaborate seventies wallpaper. I loved looking in my mother’s sewing box at the ribbons, buttons and threads, and I particularly remember playing with unused press-studs on their cardboard backing and pushing pins into the skin of the pin-cushion. My mother let me use her materials and tools to make my own things and I spent all my pocket money, when we went on holiday to France, on lovely embroidery kits.

My father let me mess around in the garage with tools, bits of wire and pliers. He studied geography and loves gardening. It was bliss to grow up close to the Yorkshire Dales with weekend trips to Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby, lots of atmosphere, fossilling and scrambling over rocks. I was drawn to the garden, the strangeness of nature - the fur of the pussy willow tree and the the fuchsia flowers that I thought were fairies. I loved playing out in winter, fascinated by the frozen ice on the surface of the water butt behind the garage and the transformation of snow. I have vivid memories of picking blackberries and blackcurrants at the allotment and running along the maze of narrow paths as the sun went down in the summer.

At an early age, a lovely friend of my mother’s, Pat Spink, taught me printmaking. Every year she helped me to hand paint her silk screen with my own design so that I could print Christmas cards. When I was nine we moved from a small 50s semi into a rather dilapidated, but much bigger Edwardian house, which by it's design and ambience had a big influence on me and further established my interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. My parents set about finding original fireplaces and period furniture to restore some of it's former glory - once the dry and wet rot had been dealt with! The house has real character and has a stunning, original stained glass window on the landing. 

Could you please tell us a bit about your work?

For me the drive to make is complex and I do find it maddening at times, but ultimately it is incredibly fulfilling. Some pieces are experiments with pattern and repetition while others are more intimate and personal. I work with materials that I can manipulate with my hands. I often use fibre based media: cotton, silk, paper, digital prints and also thread-like materials such as wire. I enjoy that the materials can be worked in different ways. I don't hide the evidence of the making, I don't want to neaten the processes – but sometimes I do. More important is to catch the expression, in the way that things are made. Beyond the initial experimental stages, I consider the natural direction for each artwork. There are always so many possibilities and variables - colour, scale, shape. The work should appear effortless and often the real challenge is achieving that in a completed piece. I enjoy working in the territory between drawing and making in three dimensions and a result of this process, some of my textile artworks have painted or stained surfaces. The work is a continuum, while I am making one piece I will be diverted by new ideas and other experiments will be initiated. 

What are your inspirations?

My emotions and my imagination are driving forces. I feel compelled to put my energy into materials, to externalise my agitation, excitement, anxiety, pleasure, confusion. Being of a sensitive nature I am often overwhelmed by my feelings. Making work is a way to escape and gives purpose to my thoughts. Many artists have inspired me over the years, notably Pierre Bonnard and Louise Bourgeois. I came across Bonnard while still at school and I was transfixed by his distorted, intimate realities. Bourgeois influenced me later, I found her unabashed honesty and material juxtapositions incredibly moving. I have been fortunate to work with the weaver Maureen Hodge and the artist Giuseppe Coco, who both live and make art with an integrity and enthusiasm that I greatly admire. Surviving as an artist is an art in itself.

What is your favourite part of the making process?

From a young age I began making my own clothes, often through deconstructing existing garments that I bought in jumble sales, never using a pattern. My artwork follows a similar path, I relish the challenge of invention, finding my own methods and techniques, problem solving and making discoveries along the way. I enjoy playing with materials and processes in the studio, often using the sewing machine or a needle and thread to twist and construct forms out of cloth. One of the most exciting moments of making is when suddenly, as if by accident, I can see the potential of a new idea, and just as rewarding can be the placement of the final elements of a work and seeing it completed on the wall for the first time, the first visual 'pop'.

What are you working on right now?

There are a number of pieces in production which include 'Loop' and ‘Chain', developments from my padded 'Knot' series, but this time made up of interconnecting forms. 'Gilt' is a large hanging of pink cloth covered with stitched protrusions topped with gold paint. 'Joan' is a papier maché work in memory of and inspired by my grandmother's necklaces and knitting. The newest piece 'Madame Bovary' - made up of silk satin and organza, dipped in gloss paint - has been selected for the 6th Riga International Textile and Fibre Art Triennial in Latvia. Furthermore, I have a new collection of digitally printed textiles which are ready to be made up, I will be adding these new products to my online shop in the next month or so.

Find Anna Ray on the Crafts Council Directory

Anna Ray was recently commissioned for the Features page of WIRED magazine, in celebration of its 100th issue. See her 'Dot' artwork commission here.

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