NICOLA HENLEY: Free to Fly
In the past decade, I have seen several shows
at Galerie Pousse in Tokyo of Nicola Henley's evocative textiles
of birds - usually gulls, gannets, herons, oystercatchers,
falcons, and crows - that glide, soar, dive, or wade in eddying,
tossing seascapes or mottled landscapes. In her work, Henley
combines dyeing, painting with pigments, and silk-screen printing
on cotton calico. For texture and definition, she machine
stitches the surface with pieces of paper or cloth, then finishes
with hand stitching.
Born in Bristol, England, Henley majored in embroidery
and textiles at Goldsmiths College in London, then returned
to Bristol, where she was awarded a grant from the Crafts
Council of Britain to set up a studio. In 1990, she received
a travel award to lecture in Japan. She moved to Ireland in
1991 and now lives in rural County Clare with her three children,
ages 9 to 18.
In college, Henley was intrigued by space and
movement; she came to birds by chance. Stranded at a bird
center by a storm while on holiday in Ireland, she started
observing a peregrine falcon that came there each day, and
she ended up being captivated by the "small jewel of being
in all that space around it." Henley has both studied and
photographed birds and still watches them, but she is now
more interested in the movement of sea and sky. She wants
to capture the "essence of the bird without making it about
Henley works from sketches, often combining pieces
from different sketches and breaking images into different
elements for a sense of motion. Her final hand stitching,
influenced by a type of African stitching, puckers the surface
of the cloth, thereby enhancing the sense of movement. The
stitching, says Henley, is a guideline to where the bird was
or where it is going and allows her to work with the undefined
area around the bird.
|Oystercatchers Cobalt, 2001; screen printing and
painting on cotton calico, machine and hand embroidery;
29.5 by 45.25 inches.
Once a week Henley teaches art at a local primary
school, where she instituted the first art program ever at
such schools. She set up a database for artist residencies
in schools and, in conjunction with the Irish Museum of Modern
Art in Dublin, organized a local arts festival that features
programs for children. She also plays piano for dance classes
at the Waldorf school her children attend. "The teaching,
the festival, and the music are all important," she says,
noting that artists in Ireland are exempt from income tax.
"Birds are a way of exploring my need for freedom,"
says Henley. "That's why I live in this kind of place: to
be free of the material world and of the body and to have
a free and open mind. Birds are able to move in three dimensions
without borders or boundaries."
- Jacqueline Ruyak
Jacqueline Ruyak divides her birdwatching between
rural Pennsylvania and rural Japan.