An installation of two stitched wall-hangings in the stairwell of the Queen Anne townhouse by Alice Kettle (b.1961), one of Britain’s leading textile artists. Whilst recalling the tradition of huge figurative tapestries in historic houses, these works use stitch in a contemporary manner as a gesture to create painterly effects with rich surface textures. The two works draw upon Homer’s enduring epic narrative poem The Odyssey, following the journey of Odysseus home to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars.
This display contributes to Pallant House Gallery's contemporary installation programme which focusses on traditional craft techniques; previous artists in the programme have included Susie Macmurray, Nina Saunders, Spencer Finch, Wok Media and most recently, Bouke de Vries.
Kettle initially trained as a painter before going on to study textile art, and these techniques have strongly informed her practice as a textile artist, in which stitch is used in painterly gestures. Her works, often made to very large scale, recalling the tradition of substantial tapestries in historic houses, take months of sewing to produce.
Homer's novel The Odyssey recounts the epic journey made by Odysseus, King of Ithaca, home from the Trojan War. The narrative has a particular pertinence to Kettle's work as Odysseus's faithful wife Penelope famously employs weaving as a means of protecting herself from re-marrying and thus proving her fidelity to Odysseus. The people of Ithaca urge Penelope to remarry, with crowds of suitors invading her house, and in response Penelope promises that she will decide between the suitors once she was finished weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus's father. While Penelope sits all day weaving the shroud, she spends the nights unweaving it, outwitting her suitors and escaping a fate that has been decided for her.
While determinedly contemporary in its process and themes, Kettle's work contributes to a tradition of thread narrative in Britain, beginning with the 11th century Bayeux tapestry, and with the histories of women who have long communicated their lives and experiences through textile work. Kettle's work often draws on the myths and the folk tales that resonate in our collective psyche and enable us to discover invisible truths, untangle the structures of morality and rationalise the experiences of everyday life. In conflating personal experiences with historical narratives Kettle creates unique works that resolve inner conflict with external experiences. The scenes she constructs are imaginary worlds with a sequence of real and surreal scenes from borrowed references and figures.
About Alice Kettle:
Alice Kettle's work explores the deep material connection of the cultural and human condition. Her work is in collections such as the Crafts Council London, the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, the Museo Internationale delle Arti Applicate Oggi, Turin, Italy, Museum of Decorative Art and Design, Riga, Latvia. She has undertaken various major commissions which include National Library of Australia in Canberra, the High Court In Edinburgh and the Winchester Discovery centre, UK for which she won a public art award. She is a writer and lecturer and is currently Senior Research Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University and is Visiting Professor at the University of Winchester.