For our first Manc of the Month of 2022, we welcome Rowan Bridgwood. We first met Rowan at our ‘In Manchester’ exhibition back in April. We then had the pleasure of working with her again at our Art All Dayer: Winter Edition. Rowan is a textile artist who has a passion about getting/showcasing more women in art. Find out more below.
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to our Cotton on Manchester readers?
Rowan Brigwood: ‘I’m a textile artist specialising in hand embroidery. My work weaves together personal memory, mythology and literary fragments to visualise the human experience; our bodies, experiences and unseen efforts of everyday making.’
COM: Your work is so varied, where do you find your inspiration?
RB: ‘I’m coming to the end of my first year as a full-time artist, so I’m keen to experiment with styles and materials; I want to be open to all the myriad ways of expressing myself in stitch. That being said, I do believe there’s a continuous thread that runs throughout my work and that is my inspiration of using embroidery to bind together the stories of both fabric and the people who own them. I often use reclaimed and inherited materials in my work as I am drawn to their inherent history. I love imbuing them with new meaning to create narratives that promote creative continuity.’
COM: How do you feel about the lack of women represented in art galleries worldwide?
RB: ‘Misogyny in the art world is one of my biggest frustrations, and it’s an incredibly difficult cycle to break. With men dominating the mainstream that dictates the market, trends and power of the current art scene, women often find themselves on the margins, excluded from the opportunity to impact that scene. So it’s a vicious cycle. Women often adopt these outsider mediums that men ignore, and the men who decide what ‘Art’ is look down on those mediums because they are used by women.’
‘As a female textile artist, I feel this especially keenly because embroidery has historically been viewed as a ’feminine’ practice. Its associations with domesticity and delicacy often seem to devalue it in the larger art world. However it’s these connotations with the struggles that women who came before us faced that drew me to textiles. Yes, embroidery can be domestic, it can be fragile and intricate. But it’s also a powerful tool to create narratives; to mend and subvert it as a creative medium.’
‘I do believe outlooks are changing, and the work of female-fronted galleries, exhibitions and arts organisations, like Cotton On Mcr, play an important role in that.’
COM: Your work is so detailed, there must be thousands of individual stitches in every artwork. How long does it take to create each piece?
RB: ‘Intricate pieces such as ‘Absent Friends’ take between 40 and 50 hours to complete. Hand embroidery is a very slow medium but a very mindful one. I find the slowness of stitch a very calming influence in our busy world.’
COM: What advice would you give to your younger self?
RB: ‘Never give in to outside pressures of what to do with your life! When I was younger I was very keen to please the people around me, and there was great pressure on getting a good job straight out of university and to choose a productive, ‘sensible’ career. For me this was teaching in a secondary school and it was the biggest mistake I’ve made; so much time and money wasted on a career I knew wasn’t for me. So don’t let anyone persuade you to do something you don’t want to. You have time. You have options. Make the most of them.’
COM: What is your favourite piece of work that you’ve made and why?
RB: ‘I think my favourite piece of work is a commission I completed for a client who, since sadly losing his father, had found solace in his local woodland and a beautiful beech tree, where he would sit and talk to his dad about day to day things. This tree became a conduit to process this man’s grief and, when noticing the tree itself begin to sicken and die, caused him a lot of pain. He approached me and we discussed how we could memorialise his Dad’s tree and his feelings into a piece of artwork. I sought to create a piece that would help resolve some of that grief and to heal old wounds by creating something new from the symbiosis of my client’s father and the tree that meant so much to him.’
COM: You also run Mcr Sew Social! Tell us about that.
RB: ‘Mcr Sew Social is my passion project. It’s a monthly stitch social that I co-facilitate with fellow textile artist Louisa Hammond. We welcome all artists and makers who work with textiles in Manchester and I’m proud to have created such a friendly, diverse space for makers ranging from complete beginners to experienced artists from all walks of life. It’s important to me to foster a community that can share ideas, learn from one another and make together.’
COM: What are your hobbies and interests outside of art?
RB: ‘I’m a console gamer 🙂 There’s nothing better than losing yourself in a big open fantasy world armed with a bow and arrow and a bunch of potions!’
COM: What are you looking forward to in 2022?
RB: ‘I’m looking forward to expanding my practice. I did my first fairs this year, the Cotton On Mcr Art All-Dayer and the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. Both were fantastic experiences and I’m looking forward to doing more next year. I’m also looking forward to being more involved in community projects, getting more people interested in textiles as an artistic and mindful medium. I’ve also launched my Etsy shop last month, which is very exciting! You can find it here: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RowanBridgwoodArt‘
COM: Finally, if you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
RB: ‘I would live in one of Grayson Perry’s fantastical tapestries. His work captures the chaos and the everyday magic of modern life so beautifully. I’d love a wander round his mind!’