Richard Unwin speaks to textiles artist Selby Hurst Inglefield – a 2019 Central Saint Martins graduate and winner of The Other Art Fair’s inaugural Graduate Art Prize.
Richard Unwin: You studied for a Foundation Diploma at Central Saint Martins before continuing there to do your BA in Fine Art. What first attracted you to the college and did the two courses turn out as you expected.
Selby Hurst Inglefield: CSM has always been the place I wanted to study; I knew it would be a really inspiring institute to create in. I initially applied to the foundation course not thinking I would ever get in; it also didn’t help that my portfolio interview/ drop off day was on Friday the 13th. Despite this bad luck, I got in!
The foundation course was good; however, I think it was a little too restrictive for me at times. The BA has way more freedom, I enjoyed being left to create and experiment throughout the three years. Both courses didn’t turn out how I expected at all, it was a whirlwind but I’m so glad it was. The BA was an incredible time to experiment and make mistakes, it was the best way to learn and grow.
RU: Did you have an interest in, or technical experience with textiles and tapestries before studying at UAL?
SHI: My mum’s a textiles artist and teacher, so textiles have been a constant in my life. I’ve always adored the medium and it’s something I decided to come back to in my third year. In my practice I started developing my nostalgia for textiles into a space where I could explore ideas of comfort and safety. I initially made the tapestries to be floor rugs but as they developed they turned into wall hangings. The comfort of the textile material, both literally and contextually, creates a sense of safety and therefore a confidence within me. The materiality of the work connects to the physicality of the process, as well as the context that my Mum is a textiles artist. I think that’s why I feel such comfort with this medium as it reminds me of my Mum; it’s giving me that protection and safety I’m desiring and the freedom to experiment.
RU: Was the work you recently presented as part of The Other Art Fair’s Graduate Art Prize in King’s Cross reflective of the style of work you have been doing throughout your BA and what ideas or themes were you exploring in the individual pieces?
SHI: No not at all. I’ve experimented and changed my medium so much these three years and I think that was really important for my practice. I struggled a lot with confidence in my work, which means it took me a while to figure out the best medium for my practice. I was searching for comfort in my practice and the rugs have been able to create this safety for me. The process of making my pieces has a repetitive and time-consuming action which has turned my practice into a healing one. A time for me to create and resolve issues through making. Thinking and being through process and material, as well as taking a caring role, has allowed me to slow down and appreciate my art again.
My practice develops and progresses from a lot of writing which develops naturally and becomes almost like a form of storytelling. As I write, the initial autobiography disappears and turns into storytelling. I do drawings from these stories and then they develop into tapestries if I think they’re strong enough. Feedback that I have received about my work has been that it is naive and playful. I have not had a conscious intention for it to be so, possibly this is a regression back to my happy childhood to avoid other things in this new safe space I have made out of my practice. This has resulted in my practice becoming more surreal at times, blending the lines between reality, fantasy and autobiography.
RU: What was your reaction to being nominated as a finalist for the prize, and then going on to win it?
SHI: I really wasn’t expecting it; I was in complete shock when I got told I would be showing in the summer fair and I was even more surprised when I found out that I had won!!! I was showing with some amazing graduates so I really didn’t think I had a chance of winning. It was a massive honour to show at the summer fair and it was an incredible experience being able to talk to the public and to other artists. I’m making lots of new work and I can’t wait for the October fair!
RU: As you just mentioned, winning the prize means you now get a complimentary stand at The Other Art Fair’s autumn fair in London. What are you planning to show there, will it mainly be tapestries? Do you ever present (or perceive) your written stories and drawings as artworks for public view?
SHI: So far, most of what I show will be tapestries, along with prints and some selected drawings. I want to focus on creating some smaller scale pieces as I really enjoyed making them for the summer show. I think showing new work will be a great chance to hear feedback and critique on my work and to hear how it’s developed since leaving Central Saint Martins.
For me my writings and stories are just a process to my tapestries so I’m not sure If I would share them with the public at this point. However, I do like showcasing my stories in the titles of my works. All of my titles for the tapestries are either sentences or short summaries of the stories I write. I think this is a nice way of giving the viewer context. For me, it makes my artwork more accessible, but it also makes it open to interpretation. When exhibiting and installing my artwork I like to also reference the stories by leaving small props around the space to give hints to the titles. For example, for my piece – ‘I only cut my hair short and dyed it blue because you made me grow it long and leave it mousy brown’ – I left little toy mice around to reference the title and story.
RU: Are there any individual artists or art movements that you find particularly inspiring or influential? Artists such as Rose Wylie and Grayson Perry have had huge success in recent years with their own versions of naive and playful art. The narrative element and dreamlike quality in your work also makes me think back to Marc Chagall.
SHI: I really like Rose Wylie and especially Chagall’s work. I really enjoyed looking at Chagall ever since I was a child, so I do think his dreamlike quality comes across in my work, especially in my drawings. However, my main source of inspiration is just the other textiles artists I’ve found through Instagram. It’s great seeing loads of different textile work and what others do when using similar techniques. Instagram is a great community for textile-based artists and the contemporary textiles movement has definitely been a great influence on my work.
RU: During your BA, did the teachers encourage you to pay attention to contemporary work that was being exhibited, either around London or further afield? And, given that the art world is so vast and international now, how easy do you think it is to keep abreast of things that are happening around the world?
SHI: Yes, they did, my third and second year tutors were really good at finding exhibitions which provided great inspiration for me and my particular medium. For example, I got recommended the Subversive Stitch at TJ Boulting which was a group of eight contemporary textile-based artists showcasing their craft inspired by the book ‘Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the making of feminine’ by Rozsika Parker. Of course, the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern was incredible too. It was really refreshing seeing textiles shown at the Tate.
I usually keep up with current exhibitions in London and in the UK using the Art Rabbit website and app, it’s great for finding exhibitions and other art related events. The best way I’ve found for keeping up-to-date with international exhibitions and artists is to just use Instagram. A lot of artists upload everyday so it’s great seeing their progress and what they’re up to. I also follow lots of different galleries globally and in London – it’s useful as they show great quality installation shots of their current exhibitions and tag artists they like on their stories.
RU: I wanted to ask you about one specific piece called His silence and lack of reply was always a great comfort to me as I knew that he knew exactly what I was saying. It’s visually very captivating. Could you talk a little bit about the process of making it and the inspiration behind it.
SHI: His silence and lack of reply was always a great comfort to me as I knew that he knew exactly what I was saying is the biggest piece I’ve made so far, and it took me almost ten weeks to make. The piece is mostly about the heartbreak of my cat recently passing away. I projected a lot onto my cat, we spoke a lot, and even though I never got a reply, I knew he understood. The tapestry comes from a story I wrote after he died, followed by a drawing. The story references the comfort he gave me in hard times alongside other things which I show in the landscape. The story is obviously based on the passing of my cat, but it also goes into feelings of nostalgia, the domestic space and the idea of home.
RU: Now that you’ve completed your BA, what’s next for you and how do you plan to develop your artistic practice?
SHI: Next for me is of course The Other Art Fair in October but I’m also showing a piece for the Clyde & Co awards, which will be a great opportunity. Overall though I’m just planning to continue to enjoy what I create.
As well as creating some smaller scale pieces I hope to create some more large-scale works too. I really love how they look despite how long they take. I want to experiment with other techniques such as turning my rugs into sculptures and incorporating different techniques such as wet felting and possibility ceramics. I’d like to also do some collaborations with other textiles artists, showcasing different techniques.
Article by Richard Unwin
All images courtesy of the artist, Selby Hurst Inglefield