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Alice Kettle: Odyssey

[ Exhibition )

A detail from Alice Kettle's tapestry called Odyssey, of a face with hands raised, in peach and blue threads.

Alice Kettle, Odyssey (detail), 2003, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

A modern interpretation of traditional tapestries by Alice Kettle.

An installation from one of Britain’s leading textile artists, Alice Kettle (b. 1961) based on Homer’s heroic epic, The Odyssey.

Kettle initially trained as a painter before studying textile art. These early techniques have strongly informed her practice as a textile artist, in which stitch is used to create painterly effects and rich surface textures. Her works, often on a very large scale, build on the tradition of huge figurative tapestries in historic houses and take months of sewing to produce.

Homer’s Odyssey has a particular pertinence to Kettle’s work because Odysseus’s faithful wife Penelope famously employs weaving as a means of protecting herself from re-marrying and thus proving her fidelity to Odysseus. With crowds of suitors on her doorstep, Penelope promises that she will decide between them once she has 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, women have long communicated their lives and experiences through textile work. Kettle’s work often draws on the myths and folk tales that resonate in our collective psyche and enables us to discover invisible truths, untangle the structures of morality, and rationalise the experiences of everyday life. By conflating the personal and universal, 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 borrowed from familiar figures.

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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