Conversation with Louise Byrne

Exhibition: Craft Anonymous, Adelaide Town Hall – 9 April – 5 June 2015

Not only is Louise craft obsessed, she is also tea obsessed – which explains why I immediately fell in love with her brightly coloured hand-stitched cotton and felt works as soon as I laid eyes on them! She combines her two passions in her ‘Tea’ series, which she has been developing since 2010 with each piece, she responds to a particular quote, poem, story or object that then relates back to tea. These eye-candy tapestries are a treat to behold and as Louise tells me have opened up new pathways for greater future exploration…

What inspires you? NATURE, GARDENS, FLOWERS: especially old gardens with unusual or exotic plants. Old textiles, colours, stories. I also like to indulge in ‘Antiques Roadshow’! I watch and wait in anticipation for the old ceramic and jewellery designs. It’s exciting to see the beautiful handmade designs from different eras and I particularly enjoy the personal stories that come with the objects.

What’s your favourite thing about stitching? Just one favourite thing!? That’s too hard! There are many aspects of the stitching process that I enjoy. For instance, choosing the next colour thread and then stitching it into the piece is exiting because the colours bounce off each other, the feel of the thread as I pull it through the felt and the way the thread sits bulging, the silky feel of the stitches as I run my hands over it, the colours intensifying as I add more stitches, the weight of the piece in my hands as I hold it ready for the next stitch and the excitement as you watch the piece take form.

Louise Byrne, And they danced under the starry night, 2014, cotton thread on felt, 59 x 62cm (framed)
Louise Byrne, And they danced under the starry night, 2014, cotton thread on felt, 59 x 62cm (framed)

I love the tactile experience and it can be addictive. If I’m stitching for say an hour or more I get into a rhythm and I watch the piece as it starts to change and new ideas start to emerge.

Working with handmade and hand-stitched objects, how does time play a significate role in your practice? Stitching is easily woven into the everyday demands of a busy life. In fact I started stitching as an alternative to drawing and painting because of time constraints and accessibility. Stitching is portable, I take my stitching to family gatherings, my daughters weekend sport, work meetings, travelling etc. I like the fact that I can’t hurry because each stitch takes time, making its completion all the more rewarding.

Tell more about the work in Craft AnonymousWell, I guess this follows on from the last question about time playing a significant role. The ’Tea’ theme represents slowing down, being in the moment and enjoying what time brings. The same way making a pot of tea involves process/ceremony… warming the pot, swirling the water, scooping the tea leaves, brewing the tea. To me tea symbolises being purposeful and connected with life. It makes me think of when I was young and my Grandma would make pots of tea and homemade biscuits. The pieces in Craft Anonymous are about life’s simple pleasures.

Louise Byrne, 'Tea' series (install view), 2014. Photo: Lara Merrington.
Louise Byrne, ‘Tea’ series (install view), 2014. Photo: Lara Merrington.

What have you gotten out of being part of Craft Anonymous and the Country Arts SA Professional Development road-trip? Participating in Craft Anonymous and the Professional Development program was an enlightening and reassuring experience. It expanded my ideas about practice and approach. I discovered new environments, venues and different approaches to sharing, alternative options. It has motivated me to keep going and persist with new ideas and ways of making ~ growing my practice. I was able to connect with other artists such as Sera Waters, whose work I have admired for some time. It was exciting to meet someone else who was interested in stitching and family too.

Country Art SA road trip participants and coordinators. Photo: Lara Merrington.
Country Art SA road-trip participants and coordinators. Photo: Lara Merrington.

The road-trip experience was fun and eventful, non-stop action, immersed in art, creating many different opportunities for conversations about art, textiles, family, life/work balance, practice etc. It was definitely a highlight.

Where would you like to take your practice next? My next move is to set the stitching free! Take it out from behind the frame and make it more sculptural.