Julie Arkell

Julie Arkell cannot resist the rejected debris of everyday life: broken, used, cracked and worn objects in every conceivable material litter her studio. She especially favours discarded toys for inspiration and printed textiles, old newspapers and paperback books as her source of working materials. From these Arkell makes papier mâché dolls, always referred to as ‘people’, even though some look like teddy bears or rather knowing, dressed animals. The distinction becomes blurred and irrelevant as you enter her miniature world and are gradually drawn into its sub-culture which is reminiscent of Mary Norton’s ‘The Borrowers’ books.

The current exhibition, containing several new collections of work, is the results of the artist’s long experience of the medium. IN the gallery – as in the studio environment – modelled figures (properly clothed and hatted) stand, sit on their matching chairs, hang from pegs, slump on shelves or ride in prams. They display, through their methods of manufacture, a vision of British life in the 1950s where the useful arts were practised at home and, in Arkell’s experience, hand stitching, knitting, embroidery, painting and cooking were synonymous with familial closeness.

All Julie Arkell’s work is made by hand, employing domestic craft techniques in a personal and sophisticated way. For her ‘people’ she first manipulates and paints the papier mâché, makes stuffed bodies from patterned fabric, knits jumpers and hats (with her mother’s help), sews skirts, tunics and belts, then fixes various reclaimed buttons, badges, labels, ribbons and trimmings to the curiously contrived outfits. In the studio she uses neither sewing machine nor computer, professing a dislike of all machinery and gadgets except a glue-gun. At home, or when travelling, she always has a little sewing box, pencil and sketchpad to hand, preferring the directness of these media for putting down ideas as they emerge and never wishing  to be idle.

© 2002 Margot Coatts




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