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Artists in THEIR Residence – Soozy Roberts

5th April 2021 – 2nd May 2021

Soozy Roberts

Artists in THEIR Residence; A virtual Project

Each year The Wilson invites artists into the museum to take over a gallery, as an artist in residence. This year, we felt it was more important than ever to give 6 local artists a platform to exhibit their work and engage with local audiences. We have revised the traditional format for the residencies so they can take place safely from the artist’s home or studio.

Meet Artist in THEIR Residence Number 4: Soozy Roberts

Soozy Roberts is a socially-engaged artist and curator who collaborates with communities, objects and environments as accumulative sites for work, in an interactive, playful and progressive manner.  Her work uses common motifs from contemporary and pop culture to explore memories, collective histories, nostalgia and relationships.   She questions the political through the domestic, addressing poignant issues around the body, in a world obsessed with beauty and glamour.  Roberts’ work draws on memories, often relating to families, femininity, Welshness and ‘home’.

 

Roberts was born and raised in Pembrokeshire and now lives and works in Gloucestershire.  She is supported by Arts Council England, Create Gloucestershire and Gloucester Culture Trust.  She was winner of the Sir Leslie Joseph Young Artist Award, 2008 and has exhibited widely including Hardwick Gallery, Cheltenham, Arnolfini, Bristol, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and Points d’impact Festival, Geneva.

Introduction to my residency

“WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN RUN?” is an exploration into family, memory, grief and community in a thought-provoking, evocative, and playful production of 30 artworks in 30 days.  Through the month long residency, I will explore my relationship, memories and objects of my Dad who passed away six years ago, when he was 70 and I was 30.  When he died, I kept a number of “souvenirs” to remember him by, including his very large handkerchief collection that lived in his bedside table.  For wiping our tears away, for dabbing our blood-grazed knees or our snotty noses, Dad’s hankies were always there to sooth our woes away.  This project entitled “WHY RUN WHEN YOU CAN WALK?” is a nod to the essence of my Dad, nicknamed “Gaffer”, who hurtled through life with such energy and vivacity, that others would stare in wonder.  He would often quote this phrase to those who moved too slowly!  I too have this pace, and as much as it is a blessing, it is at times the bane of my life, not being able to wander aimlessly through life, to take time, to reflect, to be or simply exist.

Through this residency I will create an artwork a day upon one of his square handkerchiefs, using text, printmaking, embroidery, photography and a range of techniques to capture memories and moments of our relationship and family life, in a humorous and playful manner.  The works will all be created in my studio in my garage, under the roof that my Dad built for me.  The works will form a large grid of artworks, 30 in total with the title, “WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN RUN?” printed onto handkerchiefs along the top of the works.  During the residency online, I will show half of the artworks made during this time, while the full handkerchief collection will only be made available once the exhibition opens at The Wilson, in April 2021.

This residency is the beginning of a larger project entitled “DAD” that I am working on with artist Hannah Thomson, where we are creating a series of artworks and community research projects into this topic, leading to a larger exhibition in 2022/23

My studio

Welcome to my Studio!  This is the space where I create my artwork and store all my art materials and paraphernalia in a friendly part of Stroud.  It is a busy, often messy, but cosy and warm space (when I turn the heater on!).  We converted our garage about four years ago and over the past three – four years I have really got into using the space.  I have realised that studio spaces take time, love, energy, lots of tidying (and even then it’s still messy) and are always a work in progress.  The ebb and flow of tidy and messy is just part of my life and the creative process and I’m learning to accept that and not let it bother me.  So long as I can find what I need, then we’re in business!

For the “Artist in Their Residence” I will be working on my Dad’s old handkerchiefs that I kept when he passed away 6 years ago.  I will be using lots of different fabrics, some sentimental and from the family farm, some bought new and a sewing machine (kindly borrowed as mine needs a service).

I will also be using Fiskar fabric scissors (extremely sharp), a metal ruler, different colour threads and of course the trusty unpicker.  Being an inter-disciplinary artist means that I am often learning new techniques or mediums to best convey the message or meaning that I want to portray and although that is what I love, it can also be very frustrating.  I haven’t properly sewn in a decorative capacity since 1999!  The last sewn piece of artwork I made was a giant “Tree Skirt” made from donated ben linen and curtains for “The Daisy Day” at our local park, which entailed endless hours of sewing long stretches of fabric.  So here goes…

Creating Work 1

So here we are, you’ve had the background to the project, to my practice and me as an artist, so let’s begin……

I started by experimenting with the layout out the different coloured fabrics that I had in my studio, testing out which colours work well next to each other and making decisions on what layers to use together.   This is a really important part of the process for me, I need to see what things will look good together before I begin cutting out, to ensure that there is a good balance of colours across the work, so that I don’t end up with all the blues in one corner for example.

Here I am creating the first two handkerchiefs in the collection for the project “WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN RUN?”.  I have chosen to use bright and colourful fabrics in the project as my Dad would often comment if you wore dark coloured clothing, “You’re not wearing that drab thing are you?”  He was a man who would always speak his mind and would very rarely hold back, but he was a gentle giant, who always had a smile on his face.  He was a fighter and strove for positivity and kindness.

He was a bright character and the colours and fabrics represent that.  The fabrics also have a nostalgic feel or sense to them.  The red pinstripe fabric reminds me of sweet shop bags and my Dad had a massive sweet tooth, Bounty’s were a particular favourite of his, as were liquorice allsorts and Jelly Babies.   The blue gingham reminds me of the tablecloths on the farmhouse table.

We always had a pool table in our back games room, an old one that came from the local pub.  My Dad taught me to play pool and the green baize fabric in the “WHY” piece represents that.  I was a very lucky child to have grown up on a farm with so much space and I am very aware of that and how it has shaped me.  The “WALK” handkerchief piece is simpler in its appearance and nature to the others I am making, to represent the simplicity and calmness you can get from walking.

Creating Work 2

“WHEN” and “YOU” are the next two pieces in my residency series of “WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN RUN?”.  Here I have used spotty materials, and bright colours to create, vibrant and eye-catching work, where the text is bold and easy to read.  The work, relating to my Dad, represents his bold, strong and “no-nonsense” personality.  I have chosen to sew the handkerchiefs and text in this simple way as there is something slightly child-like in their simplicity, representing the father/daughter relationship that this piece of work.

Creating Work 3

Here I am making the final two pieces of the title for the piece “WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN RUN?”  I feel pleased with the title, the text and the colours and feel this a good start to the collection, though I’m always surprised, no matter the project, with how much longer things take than I imagine they will!  The cutting out, the pinning, the getting it straight, getting it wrong, unpicking it, re-sewing to make it right again.  Even though I’ve chosen to create very simple fabric collage pieces, they have taken a fair chunk of time to get right!  The irony being that the faster I “RUN” the more unpicking I have to do – must embody the tortoise and not the hare!!

Back in March last year I wrote a song about my Dad, with the same title as this project, with the help of the band that I joined last year.  I hadn’t written a song before, so I had lots of help from my friend Julian.  Here is a rough practice version of the song, that we worked on last year.  My Dad always had a brilliant singing voice, which he sang out in the local church and he always encouraged me to sing and run (not at the same time however!).

Creating Work 4

These five spoons represent the five spoons of sugar that my Dad used to have in his tea, he moved between 4-5 spoons, but in this piece I have chosen to represent the five spoons of sugar as he also had five children.  I was the youngest of the five and always felt lucky to be part of such a large family, chaotic and wild as it was, there was lots of fun and laughter, as well as all the tears and shouting.  The use of the red velvety material represents the family bloodline and the silver thread, the preciousness of family relationships.

We also lost our sister Alice in 2002, who was 30 years old at the time and this shaped our lives in such a huge way.  Grief is such a massive thing to manage and deal with at any time in life and we all coped in our different ways, supporting our Mum and Dad as best we could.

 

 

Art for me has the ability to help create change, communicate with others and help fill in the gaps where others may find religion, like my sister Alice did.  I feel lucky that art helps me to make sense of the world around me, to deal with and cope with the hard times that life throws our way.

Creating Work 5

“Marmalade Toast” is a hankie that reminds me of my Dad’s breakfast that he would always have after having a full fried welsh breakfast.  Dad would go out to fetch the cows at 4.30am with only a cup of tea inside him, do a mornings work milking all the cows, then he’d come into the house for a lovely big breakfast at about 7.30am, made by my mum and see all us kids before we’d go to school or get on with the day.  He’d always have a piece of toast with homemade marmalade on and would dunk his toast into his tea.

 

Here is also a sketch in my notebook of four of the hankies with the different colours and layouts I intend to use.  I often make small rough sketches, like these to check what will work next to each other and how the composition will look.

Creating Work 6

“4:30” is the time my Dad would get up every morning to go and fetch the cows to milk them on the farm.  It’s always amazed me that he could get up so early and work so hard 365 days of the year, being a farmer is such unbelievably hard work, it’s incredible that he fitted in so much more around all that work.  I suppose when you get up that early, there’s more time in the day.  Dad was affectionately named “Gaffer” as he was the boss of the farm and when there were lots of workers at the farm during silage making in particular, he was the one getting everyone organized and on task.

 

The bright fluorescent yellow fabric is also used to make tennis balls and is made in Stroud. When I was young my Dad used to make all sorts of things for us kids, from the amazing Wendy House he built me, to the treehouse in the garden, to the indoor “pool” made from straw bales, a black silage sheet and a ladder to climb up into it.  And one year he made us a tennis court in the cow shed, in case he wasn’t busy enough – Thanks Dad!

Creating Work 7

“Gold Top” represents my Dad, his brother and sister, Celia and Peter that he grew up with on the family farm, near Neyland, West Wales in Pembrokeshire.  When I was a child my Uncle Peter used to sell milk on a milk round in the local area and I have vivid and fond memories of being down on the farm and trying to drink a whole pint of milk from the bottle.

The gold almost looks like a little halo on top, but Peter and his brother definitely got up to plenty of mischief in their time, they were no angels!  My sister Mags worked for my Uncle Peter on the milk round and we have this extra bond with our cousins as my Dad and is brother Peter married my Mum and her sister Carol.

Final Reflections

“Draughts” was a game that my Dad taught me and regularly beat me at as a young child.   Games were always a big thing in our family, with a huge games cupboard to keep all us kids entertained and occupied – with two of my own, I honestly have no idea how they coped with 5!  As well as games in the house, Gaffer was always a good sport in the local community – he looked after the local playground, was chairman of the village hall, helped to organize many local events such as the gymkhana, sports day, village carnivals, fetes and so much it feels exhausting just thinking about it all.  What you can achieve if you run!

Summary

“Preselis” are a fabric collage of the view as you drive or walk down the lane to the farm where I grew up and where my parents lived until they moved in 2009.  I have such fond memories of driving up and down the lane in the old bangers that we had to meet the school bus when we were in our teens and the time I drove the new quad bike up the hedge with my cousin Tors on the back.  The image was kindly taken by the daughter of the family who live there now.  The cloud and bird fabric in this collage was my old duvet cover from when I was a young child living on the farm.

 

I’m a pretty sentimental and nostalgic individual who finds comfort in objects and materials that hold vivid memories.

This final image is of the 12 pieces of work that I have made during the residency.  I plan to complete another set of handkerchiefs to add to the collection before the exhibition at The Wilson this summer.   I’m looking forward to meeting those of you who have followed the residency in person.

Project Funding

This project was funded by the Arts Council England Emergency Support Fund

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