Textile landscape: painting with cloth in mixed media

Holmes, Cas
 London, Batsford, 2018 ISBN: 978 1 849944359 128 pages 

 I shall be up front now. I have long been an admirer of Cas Holmes work – not that I have been fortunate enough to see it in the flesh, so to speak. Cas has authored another book, which I reviewed when it came out and has co-authored another one with Anne Kelly. She has also contributed to Stitch magazine and The Quilter. 

Many people call themselves textile ‘artists’. Cas Holmes really is a textile artist. Her work evokes an emotional response. The art she makes is her expression of the world she inhabits and deeply cares about. Deceptively simple at first glance, her work is in fact extraordinarily complex with hidden depths when perused carefully. In this book, Cas goes into considerable detail about the processes she uses to create her wonderful work. I particularly like how floaty much of her art is. It has an almost ethereal quality. Cas also includes illustrated vignettes about other textile artists’ works (Michala Gyetvai, Annemieke Mein, Jan Beany to name three of many). 

Cas first explores the connections between cloth, colour and marks as well as how to go about collecting the materials needed. This is followed up by examining ways to achieve a painterly quality to textile art. She was initially trained in fine art, as were many of the contributors to the book and, I feel, this expertise shows in the works selected. Next is a section on exploring landscape and the impact of culture and stories on how we perceive it. Then come suggestions on how we can look at ‘small landscapes’, such as a garden, or a brick wall or a small section of footpath, to be inspired. Connecting and really seeing landscapes influences the materials used. A vital aspect of Cas’ work is to include items collected from the landscape for use in the work she makes. She has a passion for plants. She always carries a sketchbook, pencils and a basic watercolour kit to record what inspires her. 

There are apt, delightful quotes throughout the book. Cas explains too, her philosophy about creating art – why and how she does. How? Well, she uses op shop finds (aprons, tea towels, antimacassars), wiping up cloths, many kinds of papers (potato bags, magazine pages, old envelopes) which she crumples to add texture. Teabags and bamboo nappy liners anyone? She may screen print, dye, paint, paste them before collaging them together. Some of the other artists featured in the book use digital skills, photoshop and cameras to make their art. They all though, use stitch – either machine or hand stitching, frequently both. Cas acknowledges her indebtedness to her Romany grandmother and to her father. There is a great if brief, chapter on how to hang works for display. I don’t recollect ever seeing that advice before. The book finishes with an index, extensive bibliography and a list of websites and suppliers. 

Am I recommending this book? I am! However, with a caution; if you want to produce textile art, it seems as though you will need an awful lot of ‘stuff’ and a studio. An education in fine arts won’t go amiss either. 

Erica  Marsden