Monday, 15 September 2014

Artist Feature: The Wonderful work of Fiona Harrington Irish Lace

Fiona Harrington's beautiful lacework was recently featured in the local West Cork newspaper. The image of a single sheep drew me to the article and as soon as I had read it I needed to see more of Fiona's work. Lacemaking is such a beautiful tradition and skill and Irish lace is famous throughout the world for its intricacy and beauty. Fiona's work has perfectly captured Ireland's wildlife and landscape. The colour choices add more depth and story to the scenes that she creates and the tones that she uses fit the Irish landscape, like the calm blue that is used to highlight the beautiful West Cork peninsula. Fiona's work has gone from strength to strength and these timeless images have reintroduced the tradition of Irish lacemaking into contemporary Ireland.

1. How did your business come about (and when did you start)?

When I learned how to make lace I began to understand the importance of the practice and also the importance of preserving it. Today there are only a handful of lacemakers left in Ireland. There is a real concern that these skills, like so many other of our indigenous activities will die out. I began to realise that handmade lace would never be able to compete with machine made laces in the area of fashion or interior design so I started to think about how handmade lace could survive? Having worked as an artist, I always saw everything through painters’ eyes so when I started to ‘paint’ with a needle and thread, it seemed to make perfect sense- Make artwork using the techniques of handmade lace! My lace design business officially began this year in 2014. Even though I had been painting and exhibiting my work for many years before that, I never really regarded it as a business. My attitude changed slightly following my degree in Textile Design at NCAD. In a design degree, there is an emphasis on marketing and promoting yourself, which is invaluable for any creative person.

2. Can you give a quick insight into your working method? (ideas, techniques, etc.)

When I’m working I try to be as productive as I can possibly be. On the days I’m not feeling particularly creative, I would spend the day organising the office and paperwork side of things or putting together digital press packs and other computer work. Usually after a few days of that I’m looking forward to sitting down with a pencil to do a few drawings. There are very distinct process stages involved in my working week. When I have finalised a drawing, I begin to design a lace pattern and prepare the grounds for lacemaking. Once these stages are complete, lacemaking begins. Depending on the intricacy of the design, I could spend up to 50 hours a week stitching. After this, the mounting and framing begins- it often feels like I will never finish, but I always do and it is so satisfying when I finally get to photograph a new finished Lace piece.

3. What has been the hardest single obstacle to your life in design (apart from a shortage of time, which seems to be universal amongst creatives!)?

The single biggest obstacle to my life in design is the distinction that exists between creative practices- art; craft; design. I feel that these distinctions in a sense create a form of hierarchy which is not conducive to the encouragement and promotion of innovation and independent thinking.

4. How do you stay motivated?


What inspires you?

Ancient architecture and structures, maps, topographical studies, folk stories, flowers, mountains, sheep, the Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin, West Cork, New Zealand, everywhere I’ve been and everything that I’ve seen.

5. What has been the icing on the cake for you as an artist?

The opening of the newly refurbished City Gallery in Wellington, New Zealand featured the artist Yayoi Kusama: an artist who has convincingly bridged the gap between art and design. This was an amazing experience. For the first time I recognised what it was like to be completely consumed by your work. The repetition of pattern throughout the show had a huge impact so it’s even more significant now that I make Lace for a living- a practice which engages completely in a repetitive process of pattern making. As an artist and designer, having the opportunity to see these large scale spectacles is always a real treat- definitely the icing on the cake!

6. Who do you admire (other artists/designers; other people generally) and what/who are your biggest influences, past or present?

There are so many…. the afore-mentioned Kusama, the leaf and lace work of Hilary Fayle, the design team Demakersvan- they made a very cool Lace Fence!

In Ireland; Dorothy Cross, the graffiti artist Maser- his stuff with the Damien Dempsey lyrics was great!

Ariana Tobin’s jewellery is really beautiful, I could go on, there are so many amazingly creative and talented people in this country.

My biggest past influences were Georgia O Keeffe and Andy Goldsworthy, they kept me company while I was studying painting at Crawford in Cork.

My current biggest influence is the Kenmare Lace Centre in Co. Kerry, here I learned all my lace techniques. It is a constant reminder of the high standard achieved by Irish Lacemakers and something to always aspire to!

7. Describe your creative space

Due to the nature of lacemaking, it’s really important to have a clean and organised workspace. Everything has a place and things are kept pretty neat. It’s really difficult for me to focus if I am surrounded by clutter and chaos. I have had many studios, all a variety of shapes and sizes. I have shared with graffiti artists and shoe makers. I need a window with good natural light. In West Cork I have a beautiful view of the mountains from my studio. When I’m in a city however, my view is urban and industrial. I Love this. Wherever I am working I like to feel I am immersed in that environment.

8. What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Make time to stop, sit and be still.

It is very easy to forget to do this, but even just 5 minutes will improve my day greatly.

You can keep up to date with Fiona's work here...

(all above images are © Fiona Harrington)