James Gladwell

Artist of the Month April 2017

Our Artist of the Month for April 2017 is textile artist James Gladwell. James won the Outside In Award in 2016 for his work 'Foreign Birds' which is currently on show as part of Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making, a national touring exhibition from Outside In and Craftspace.

As recipient of the award, James won the opportunity to mount a solo exhibition at Pallant House Gallery. James Gladwell: The Dreams will be on show from 8 April to 4 June 2017.

James creates his work at home and at Barrington Farm, an independent centre in Norfolk for adults with learning disabilities. He worked with Sarah Ballard from Barrington Farm to answer these questions for us.

When and how did your interest in art develop?

Well my grandma used to do a load of needlework herself and she taught me. She made drawings of gypsy caravans with no book and do all the signs and patterns. Then I did sewing at the training centre in Essex when I was 13. I’m now 63. At night they had a sewing class. They asked me ‘can you sew?’ and I said ‘no’. They showed me. I hadn’t been learnt how to use a sewing machine but I can, all the hemming and that.

I used to get mats from the sideboard and draw on them then needlework them. I’d decorate them with all sorts of flowers, hot pokers, pansies and dalias, all close together in cross stitch. My granddad used to grow them, and shove rusty nails in the roots to change their colours.

I enjoy needlework best. I enjoy when it’s finished I get more out of it. I like working with different cotton it feels much better. When you draw it and sew it and it comes out really nice. That’s why I like it. I’d be lost without doing the sewing.

What influences your art?

I used to use a book to draw pictures, now I do it the way my mind tells me. Like at night time, you have a dream and you can put it straight on cloth. If I get things in my head I start drawing. If I dream something I got to put it down on the cloth right next morning that’s still in my head. That’s where most of my drawings come from, the dreams. My passion is all my needlework. I get my inspiration from my dreams, like an island with the birds, and the mermaid. If I can’t sleep I like doing sewing or something like that. Keeps me going. I’ll be 64 this year! I won’t give up sewing. I’ll just keep going till I can.

[James was inspired to create the mushroom series after picking mushrooms on his bike ride home from Barrington Farm]

Well I saw them on the roadway near the gas site they got a load of them there. People go there at night time and get a basketful. When the sun on them they got the shadow and you think there’s two of them but there’s not, there’s only one. One of them’s dying off and the next one is coming up the side of it, the size of your thumb. That’s when I thought I’d do some in needlework. These are drawings of ones in my mind and real ones. Then I drawed it on the silk screen and colour them in with felt pens then printed onto cloth and paper. Then I stitched into the cloth. Didn’t know if I’d use cotton, which is thinner, or silk which you use two threads and will last longer. I always find my own materials and cloths. I go the Scrapbox, or order threads from the Art Barn.

Which is your preferred embroidery stitch and why?

I only do one stitch and that's cross stitch. I can work quicker doing a cross stitch than anything else. I'm trying to learn to do different ones. I have got pictures what Annie gave me of all the different stitches but I haven't used them yet. I tried blanket stitch but it never comes out what it's supposed to. The Snake Lady Medusa that was the first needlework I did here. I can't remember them all.

The Mushroom Field 1 seems to be bolder and more colourful than your other pieces – it looks like you have used paints or coloured pens as well as your usual stitches. What made you change your approach for this piece?

It was a print. I draw it on paper then onto the print [screen]. Then I needlework it. When I print it I left the gaps between the stitches. I was in the barn and I had nothing else to do so I did that and there were so many prints.

I used ordinary cotton and a gold thread. There are 18 of them metallic threads. There's one with all different colours it looks really nice. I change the colours. I do one colour then another colour to bring it out. Like one way I do green and then go back with a yellow.

Do you have a favourite piece? If so, which one and why?

I don't. I enjoy each one I do. If I had to choose it would be 'The Farm'. It's a nice picture and it brings the houses out.

Has being a part of Outside In been beneficial for you? If so, how?

I'm glad I got the choice to do it and I can't wait to go and have a look at it. When they see me if people don’t know me they don’t know what I can do. I’ll show my work in Open Studios and people will know my work and see what I do.

As an Outside In Award winner you will have a solo exhibition at Pallant House Gallery. How did it feel to win the award?

It feels great. Because they picked me out of all the Barrington Farm artists. People will see my work. I’ve never had my own gallery before.

James Gladwell: The Dreams is at Pallant House Gallery 8 April – 4 June 2017.

Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making continues to tour the UK until 12 November 2017.

Visit James Gladwell's online gallery