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From her gallery at Batheaston, near Bath, Internationally renowned textile artist Carole Waller paints on fine cloth to produce clothes or large-scale fabric wall pieces. Her work can be found in the costume collection in the V&A and in galle...

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Meet Somerset textile artist Carole Waller, who's talking to Robert Hesketh from her home near Bath





"I grew up with art," explains Carole Waller when we met at her studio at Batheaston, which doubles as her gallery and home. "My mother's a painter and draws beautifully. She worked in textiles professionally for many years and taught weaving in Birmingham Art School, whilst my grandmother used to upholster soft furnishings."


"Many painters have influenced me, but two outstanding early inspirations were Italian church frescoes and the cave paintings at Lascaux in France - I can still remember them as if it were yesterday. The notion of building an image into a pre-existing surface led me to the work I do now and to seek the same qualities of integration. I love putting colour into a three-dimensional surface. I use textiles because I want to create paintings that collaborate with their environment."


Carole's artistic journey took her to Canterbury College of Art, where she graduated with a degree in painting. She went on to take her MA in fine art textiles at Cranbrook Academy, Michigan.


"Although I trained as a painter, I didn't really make progress until I started painting with dyes on unprimed cloth in the mid '80s, when I had an idea about making paintings that were also clothes. I wanted both the garment and the painting to retain their integrity as objects and as concepts that would coalesce. I've been exploring that idea ever since."


Carole showed me her gallery, with its racks of clothes: vividly coloured paintings tailored as jackets, scarves, dresses and coats.


"Several women who are passionately enthusiastic about clothes have taught me a lot about style and dress," says Carole. "Many of my customers are business and professional women who have to wear dull, sober clothes for work, but want to break out in the evenings and be theatrical. My most successful and consistent market has been America, especially New York. I think it's a lot to do with climate and colour.


"My work's very bright and colourful, but it's also about movement and fluidity. The fluidity of dyes and the movement of textiles are ideal for me," Carole continues, as I watch her working on a tightly stretched fabric in her studio, a cloak in the making. She pauses for thought before moving rapidly from one dye pot to the next, applying the colour with bold brushstrokes.


We move back to her gallery where there is a series of textile paintings entitled 'The Beach'. Carole used mixed fibre fabric, silk and viscous rayon, etching the fabric to give it varied levels of transparency before painting it with dyes. These she applies with brushes and via silk-screen printing. The consistency of the dyes also varies: some are as thin as ink, others as thick as oil paint, making some more translucent than others.


"'The Beach' was inspired by images of people walking across wet sand at Watergate Bay in Cornwall," explains Carole. "I draw inspiration from the world around me. In the past, when I travelled widely, that included landscapes in America and Peru, paintings in Italy and France, but lately the regular drive to Trowbridge has been the most inspirational thing; the colour and light are wonderful. My favourite view in Somerset is even closer to home - what I see from my garden."


Carole continues to talk about her move into working with glass. "It was a really exciting moment when I got a major grant from the Arts Council South West in 2005 to develop a body of work with glass. I laminate the paintings between layers of glass, flat or curved, which gives freestanding displays. They can be used indoors or out in any context where you might use glass. For instance, it can be used as a window, door or glass wall.


"I started working with glass when I was asked by the International Art of the Garden exhibition and The Forestry Commission to make an installation that could stand outdoors at the National Arboretum in Westonbirt , Gloucestershire. At that stage I was only working with textiles. It was impossible to put them outdoors on their own. However, safety glass could make textile paintings durable and waterproof, as well as providing a very robust 18mm-thick frame. What's more, the resin that bonds the layers of glass has a UV factor that protects the colours of the dyes.


"I like to give the audience the chance to interact freely with the work, both with the life-sized figures and the clothes, so I produced six three-metre-tall paintings in glass inspired by the trees at Westonbirt. I was very excited about this combination: the fragility and translucency of the cloth, combined with the toughness and transparency of the glass, which looks different throughout the day as the light changes. Particularly, I liked its all-encompassing quality; you see the images I've made but because it's glass you also see the surroundings, a reflection of yourself in the glass and a reflection of what's behind you. It projects a painting into space in a subtle way."


Recently, Carole won a QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) award to study painting on glass and enamelling. A natural development from her Westonbirt commission, it's taken her on to study and work on stained-glass making and enamelling in Germany, Gloucestershire and Scotland. She has also designed stained-glass windows for a school in Nottinghamshire.


"I'd like to create more installations for public spaces. I'm working on a project with staff and patients at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, looking at the way art and healthcare can work successfully together. There are all sorts of applications for glass in architecture, which I've only begun to explore.


"For individual customers, I now concentrate on selling directly from my gallery and studio here in Batheaston, which I share with my partner, Gary Wood, who's a potter. Visitors are always welcome if they phone in advance, and every six months we have a joint exhibition." BY ROBERT HESKETH


Carole's work, along with Gary Wood's ceramics (www.garywoodceramics.co.uk), can be found at their gallery and studios near Bath, which can be visited all year by appointment: One Two Five Box Road, Batheaston, Bath, BA1 7LR. Tel 01225 858888, www.carolewaller.co.uk. Their next scheduled exhibition is planned for 28 June - 13 July.


Carole's work can also be seen as part of a major exhibition on blue-and-white china at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, until 30 March. Carole has designed clothes especially for sale in the shop at the Victoria Art Gallery (tel 01225 477233) to coincide with this exhibition.



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