Has it ever happened to you? Where a sudden, seemingly stray thought starts you on a path that you might not have ever considered previously? A path that irrevocably changes your life? I recall thinking one day, apropos of nothing, that it would be nice to do a screen printing course. A quick internet search brought up Chelsea College of Art and there it was – a hand screen printing course and just at the right time for me too. I enrolled. The appointed day came, as appointed days relentlessly do. I had dutifully bought all the required materials and arrived laden – both physically and metaphorically. After the first pull of the squeegee down the screen, I was hooked.
I have long been interested in the subtle messages that people send in the fabrics and patterns that they choose to surround themselves with. And so in my first foray into textile design, I chose to work with text. And truthfully because I was unsure of my artistic ability or indeed whether I had any at all. I was too frightened to draw and so chose to work with cut outs. I decided to use letters from the Arabic alphabet for their visual beauty and also because their meaning was obscured to me, allowing shape and colour to come to the fore. The translation from text to pattern was alchemical. I was not a little amazed at the outcome. The telling point for me was that I was happy to show people my work, which was a vastly new experience. I even framed one of the pieces.
I was inspired to explore further the transformative capability of text, creating a work for a friend’s office. When I showed it to him, it took him quite a moment to realise that it actually spelt out the name of his company. Sometimes meaning is not always that obvious even when it is…
A serendipitous comment led me to Ogham, an ancient alphabet used originally for inscriptions in an archaic form of Irish and consisting of 20 characters formed by parallel strokes or notches on either side of or across a continuous line. Each character also represents a tree or shrub – g is ivy and t is holly for example – giving the language an additional dimension. Or maybe they were mainly interested in talking about trees and liked to use short-hand. All that carving must have been hard work. In any case I liked the shapes.
I had taken a series of photographs of old walls when out walking. I love their pleasing solidity in the face of the resolution of Nature to overtake them. There is something oddly very satisfying about patting an old wall, especially one that’s been warmed by the sun. So came the genesis of Oghamitti, the first of my designs, in marrying these venerable walls with an ancient script that originally was carved into stone. I also like the idea of eliding a script that was for official use with the transgressive mark making of graffiti. Working out the repeat took quite a few goes – lots of head scratching, stabbing the calculator and several rounds of sampling – but I got there in the end. The first time I saw Oghamitti on a chair was a real catch in the throat moment. Maybe, just maybe, this was something I could do for a living.
Each of the colour ways has a different selection of characters, creating different patterns and therefore different messages. The characters can be enjoyed just as they are – interesting shapes arranged in a pleasing pattern. Or they can be transformed into meaning. That meaning will depend on their arrangement. I have mused on the personhood of chairs in another post and, indeed, no two chairs covered in Oghamitti will send the same message. All rests in interpretation. Chairs like this, even if they are a pair. Or better yet, if they are a set.
If you would like Oghamitti to carry your own secret message, do get in touch to discuss possibilities. I can print from 1 metre to, well, as much as you’d like.
And do consider following those stray thoughts. You never know where they might lead you. A new career perhaps? But it goes without saying, not the thoughts about doing away with troublesome spouses or making off with the neighbour’s Maserati. I think we can all agree that would be bad.