In advance of her upcoming CCBC gallery show, we asked artist Trish Graham to share with us a bit about herself, her inspiration, her audience and her other projects. In this interview, Trish gives us an idea of how many years of creating and working in creative industries led to her recognizing herself as an artist. She recounts the exact moment that she found her passion in tapestry weaving.
I have always been a maker and textiles have always been a part of that journey. I remember, before I was in grade school, my mother giving me scraps of fabric to keep me busy. My grandmother taught me basic embroidery stitches when I was about 8, and by 14 I was teaching my self fancy crewel embroidery stitches and creating different medieval costumes for my teenage doll.
In the 70s, I created macramé hangings, embroidered and appliquéd works. Mostly, I worked from patterns, but I remember seeing my first MRI image of a brain and turning it into a needlepoint. I just looked at it, started in one corner, and about a year later, created a finished piece. It inspired me to realize I could create without a pattern. Life of course intervened, and for many years my creativity was consumed by work. However, working as a printer, and later as a graphic designer helped keep my creativity alive.
“I had found my passion. It combined my love of colour, texture, image and weaving – the rest is history.“
I spent 20 years in West Africa starting in the 90s, working in Nigeria in a training capacity for a Micro-finance organization, and later, in Ghana. In Ghana, I worked with one of the first African ecommerce websites dealing in handcrafts. This led to a period of working with the Ghanaian crafts people, and I created a business working with the bead makers. Ghana has a long history of beads and bead making and having such a wealth of materials to work with I built up a business creating high end jewelry. My assistant took over the business and 10 years later it is still going strong and supporting her and her family.
I travelled around West Africa with friends from the UK, studying a variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. A friendship with an American artist Jackie Christians, led to two shows of her abstract paintings and my small embroidered pieces. Jackie was the one who finally got me to look at myself as an artist.
In 2012, I decided it was time to come back to Canada, and by luck managed to enroll in the last class in Textile Arts at Capilano University. I had forgotten that I had always said I would learn to weave when I got older, and at Cap, I finally made that come true. Regular weaving was interesting but after my first tapestry class with Anthea Mallinson, tapestry was it. I had found my passion. It combined my love of colour, texture, image and weaving – the rest is history. Tapestry is different from other weaving in that although it is simple tabby (over and under), you do not take the warp thread all the way across the piece, but weave shape instead, changing colours as necessary. I find this much more engaging and it fits with my background in embroidery.
Today, I am struggling to figure out why I am weaving faces. I have looked at how images of faces in art can be a catalyst for understanding history. At how some faces are the same across time and space. The feeling of déjà vu when you see someone that you don’t know, but feel like you do. I am also, looking at our fascination with selfies, our desire to document our fast-paced life, perhaps to pin down moments by putting ourselves in the frame, so to speak.
I am struggling with the importance of how we no longer tend to look directly at people, but through our devices, especially now with Covid and the use of apps like zoom.
People are often amazed to see the detail and emotion I am able to capture in my work, as this is true weaving, and not some better-known form of art like painting or sculpture. Tapestry intrigues and draws in the observer by it very tactility.
When not weaving I love to embroider and since coming back to Canada I have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a group that studies the middle-ages by doing. Being involved has connected me back to the time I was making costumes for my doll. Now I make them for myself and get to wear them, and for others which is much more fun. It also got me to study medieval tapestries and led to a deep dive into medieval tapestry techniques and styles.
Weaving itself is very meditative, the repetitiveness of working combined with the constant puzzling of which colours to use and shape to weave next balances both sides of my brain. I am not sure how well I would have survived through this time of isolation if I had not had the show to focus my work.
Nature has always been the other focus of my work, and over the last couple of years I have been spending more time walking in my neighbourhood here in New Westminster. I have become intrigued by the variety of exotic trees planted by the city and spent many happy walks collecting leaves and seed pods and returning home to try to identify them. Almost every time I walk, I find something new to check out. Perhaps in time this will lead to a whole new show based on trees, shapes, colours and seeds. Who know where I will go next, but I suspect faces will always be part of my practise?
Trish Graham’s exhibition Eye C U will be on view in our gallery from August 26 – October 7, 2021. Trish will be weaving in the gallery on Saturdays from 2pm onwards.