Artistic License: Aileen Johnston

AILEEN JOHNSTON’s first solo show in twelve years is inspired by her home farm in Wicklow and combines embroidery with hand beading influenced by her love of illuminated manuscripts …

 

Offbeat, singular and engaging, Johnston’s embroidered artworks explore the natural world and the seasons in “The Home Place” which shimmer with detail, jewel colours and intricate borders.

Why “The Home Place”?

The title of the exhibition “The Home Place” is a phrase I really like and was unfamiliar with when I was growing up in Dublin. It’s used all the time by people who live in the country, particularly by the farming community, to describe your place of origin, and it’s very affectionate without being sentimental. All the work in the show is directly inspired by my home here, surrounded by nature and animals, and all the life that goes on around a busy working farm. I’m not from here, it’s my husband’s home place, but I feel very connected to it. We knocked down the old farmhouse and I designed the new one, which is depicted in several of the larger pieces in the show, so I feel a very strong sense of belonging here. 

How long has the exhibition been in preparation? 

All the work for the exhibition is embroidered, I used thread and cloth only. Textile art has not been considered seriously throughout history because it was perceived as just something that women did. However, I find that using a form that has been underrated is actually great fun and can evoke surprisingly good responses from people. I’ve been working on these pieces for just over 18 months: some of the larger pieces can take up to 250 hours to complete – they’re very labour intensive.

How and where do you work?

My workroom is in the farmhouse, it’s my favourite room in the house. It’s north facing and is full of light, even on a dark day. I refer to photos if I need to check how something is put together but my style is not realistic so I don’t rely on them too much.

Have you had any mentors in your artistic journey? 

I had a great tutor in NCAD, Cecil O’Donohoe, who had an amazing depth of knowledge about textile art and embroidery in particular. She taught me lots of old embroidery techniques, and was very meticulous and exact in her approach. Annie Brennan, who owned a gallery in Westport, was a tremendous help to me especially in the early days of my career. She was always promoting my work and that of many other young and unknown artists.

How has your style evolved?

Over the years my embroideries have become more complex and detailed – the scale of the pieces has changed and my use of colour is much bolder than in earlier works. I used to make very detailed pencil drawings of the pieces before I even thought about what colours I was going to use. Now once I’ve worked out my layout I go straight into stitching. I use thread as if it was paint, and a needle as if it were a brush. I have hundreds and hundreds of spools of coloured threads, I love using them – they’re just so beautiful.

Need to Know: “The Home Place” opens on Thursday, October 4 between 6-7.30pm at The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2. It runs until October 25. www.thedoorwaygallery.com.

Penny McCormick

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