Litherland explores our relationship to the natural world through an engagement with the materials and processes involved in painting, including the collaborative production of hand-woven linen canvas.
A Collaboration with Nature, Time and Craft
Having been inspired by his residency with Full Grown Litherland’s current work is in collaboration with textile designer Angharad McLaren and explores the relationship between hand-made linen canvas and painting.
In a field in Derbyshire they prepared the ground to sow the flax, nurtured, harvested and retted the crop . The flax fibre was then processed to produce hand-spun linen yarn, which was hand woven into a patterned linen canvas.
This same canvas was later primed and painted on by the artist.
Weaving and painting become investigative tools that explore the value of labour, locality, materials and their relationships to concepts, both historical and contemporary of inter-connectivity between nature and us. Context and meaning are woven and painted within the surface.
Flax / Linen
Linen canvas plays an important role in Litherland’s work, chosen as his preferred support due to its congruous relationship with the materials of oil painting, as linen and linseed oil (the preferred binding agent in oil painting) come from the same plant, flax.
Since the sixteenth century linen canvas has been the preferred fabric support for oil painters, due to its durability and tightness of weave. Prior to this, painters worked on walls (frescos) or on wooden panels, but during the Venetian Renaissance painters struggled with the damp climate of their city and sought a lighter more stable material and support to work on. Properly prepared linen was the solution, revolutionising oil painting by allowing artists to work much larger in scale, and in time even directly outside.
Flax fibres retain their natural oils, which help preserve their natural flexibility. The fibres are also much longer than cotton or hemp, making it a much more flexible and stable fabric. The resulting textile, traditionally woven in a plain weave structure with evenly balanced warp and weft, is tight and strong.
Linen fibre comes from a specific variety of flax plant Linum usitatissimum. Seeds are sown in April and the plants mature in August, near the end of this process the plant displays the fleeting and ubiquitous pale blue flowers before the seed heads emerge. For fabric production the plants are pulled up from the field to obtain the maximum amount of fibre.
Flax was traditionally grown in Ireland, Scotland and N. England, then across to the northern European plain, including N. France, Flanders, Germany, the Baltic countries and Russia. There have been some interesting historic accounts of flax production prior to the industrial revolution in Derbyshire, where this work is located.
The advent of industrialisation and cheap imported cotton by the middle of the 18th century soon made the time consuming process of producing linen for personal use a thing of the past in this country, and hence the skills were lost. These lost skills are being re-contextualised by designers and crafts people for the sustainability value of slow, local production methods.
Patterned Canvas and Painting
Every process involved has influenced the finished outcomes of the paintings. The work explores the relationship between the patterned woven canvas and ground. The ‘ground’ having parallel, interconnected meanings: the historical ground of a painting, which is the mid-tone wash of colour that an image emerges from; the ground that cultivated the flax / canvas; the pigments that come from the ground to make paint; and the visual representation of the ground the artist has trodden.
The woven canvas patterns have been designed using interlocking circular and geometric shapes, derived from honey-comb and other repetitive patterns found in nature. The patterns act as both a metaphor for inter-connectivity and through their very structure, are a material embodiment of it.
Images of the ground painted in earth pigments are inter-meshed with the canvasses pattern. In each individual work various tensions are turned up or down to explore variations between order and chaos, digital and analogue, macro and micro.
The paintings have an unfolding perceptual journey that seek to exaggerate the wavering duality of painting, that of material and illusion. The physical material qualities are amplified by the patterned canvas and deep edges of the paintings, while ambiguous landscape forms drift between abstraction and figuration, flatness and space. Like foraging for wild food, the paintings entice the viewer to find recognizable tropes and order among the chaos.