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Issue No.114
23 November 2017

Revelation in textiles

Click to enlarge

Jacqui Parkinson describes the background to her latest exhibition, Threads through Revelation

 

Between 2004 and 2011, I was commissioned by The Deo Gloria Trust to make a series of eleven exhibitions for cathedral and church display. They received positive feedback, so in 2012 I decided to create a much larger exhibition based on the book of Revelation.

Why Revelation?

Well, I've always been interested in Revelation because the record of John's vision is like a picture book to me - lots of stories and vivid images. Some people know little of it, or find it too dark, but it's a great book with issues of life and death, good and evil, death and judgement, a new heaven and new earth. Great themes to expand in visual imagery and, while remaining a difficult book, it's also a fantastic story full of hope!

The artistic trigger to do the work came from seeing the paintings of Marc Chagall in Vence, France. Here were massive paintings of scenes from the Old Testament which really inspired me - I stood in front of the work for hours - and I wondered if perhaps I could work on something really large to retell the story of Revelation.

But how to do it?

After reading and rereading the text, I made sketches for 20 panels - too many! So I decided to do some single images but also to do some narrative panels carrying several different images - a bit like a strip cartoon with all the punchlines!

There is sometimes a certain magic in materials and processes. I began this work with humble old bedsheets, which hold us in birth and death and hold memories of sorrow and joy. I quilted them, painted them, then covered them with layers of precious silks which I stitched and then cut through to reveal the layers underneath - a little revelation of its own - something beautiful and precious arising out of something as simple as a bedsheet. And the wonderfully frayed edges of the silks give an imperfect picture - of Revelation - of life!

You need to plan, but as the panels developed, changes were made. It was a long process. Threads through Revelation consists of 14 panels, 2.7m high and varying in width from 1.5m to 3.5m. If you put all the panels side by side, there'd be a line of over 25 metres. This might be something of a record - it seems that it is the largest textile work by a single artist, maybe ever!

Big isn't best, of course, but it can help to make the exhibition something of interest to visitors - including the fact that it took over 12 million stitches, thanks to a special sewing machine that counts the stitches.

What's been the impact of Threads through Revelation?

As the exhibition visits different cathedrals, we get a lot of positive feedback - many very touching comments. And some people visit again, bringing friends with them.Most visitors probably know little about Revelation, so the exhibition is an interesting walk through the narrative. It's a difficult book, but people are encouraged to approach the story lightly or in depth, to simply enjoy the art work or to rethink ideas. Maybe the greatest thing about Revelation is the wonderful ending - an ending that's a marvellous beginning, with a picture of heaven on earth that takes the breath away. The last panel gives a tiny glimpse of this - of course, nothing in comparison to the real thing! Visitors regularly reach that final panel and cry in front of it. To move viewers like this is a massive privilege.

By the end of approximately five years of touring, the exhibition will have been seen by probably a million visitors. Some of them will spend an hour or so going over it in detail, with a bible or mobile phone app in their hands, while others will scarcely give it a glance! I sometimes see a tour group from some foreign country walking through the exhibition. Some stop for just a few seconds, take photos and walk on. Three seconds for my three years of work! It does amuse me, but I also love the idea that pictures of my work will fly all over the world, maybe reaching hundreds on social media. Even if they give it scarcely a moment's notice, the images may stay on their phone - and who knows what questions they may raise one day.

Tree of Life

The size of Threads through Revelation has made it especially interesting for display in cathedrals, where it looks really dramatic. But it's too big for some cathedrals, so I'm now working on a triptych - Tree of Life - three large threemetre wide panels.

The theme of the tree has been significant to me for many years, in both theology and imagery. So I am using the techniques I developed in Revelation. The first panel is the tree of life in the Garden of Eden alongside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - there are choices to be made for Eve and Adam; the second panel shows Jesus on the Cross - the cross presented as the tree of life; the third panel is a repeat of the last panel from Threads through Revelation - the tree of life, in the city, coming down to earth.

In three panels, I will have covered the Bible from start to end - or come full circle! Hopefully it will be very moving. The plan is to tour Tree of Life in cathedrals and churches from the autumn of 2017.

 

Jacqui Parkinson is a textile artist. She has been steadily building up a variety of exhibitions for cathedrals and churches, and is currently touring with a huge spectacular display entitled Threads through Revelation which can be seen at the following venues:

Salisbury Cathedral: 11 September - 5 Nov 2017

Ripon Cathedral: 26 February - 13 April 2018

Southwell Minster: 16 April - 15 June 2018

St Edmundsbury Cathedral: 19 June - 17 August 2018

For more information about the Revelation exhibition, visit w: www. revelation-threads.co.uk and w: www.jacquitextile.com for more information about Jacqui's other work.