Not on display
Diminishing Square Thickness 1965 is a wall-hung work made using cotton fibre on plywood. Three thicknesses of light-coloured cotton yarn have been used to make a grid of woven square sections against a square red ground. Woven not on a loom but using nails on a board, the method allows the artist to isolate each thickness of thread in adjacent sections. With the thickest and coarsest yarn used around the outer edges of the grid, becoming increasingly more delicate towards the central square, the composition acquires a sense of recession and visual weightlessness towards the centre of the grid.
A pioneer in the field of weaving, Ann Sutton has experimented with the possibilities of the medium since the late 1950s. In the 1960s she was one of only three weavers in the United Kingdom (the others being Peter Collingwood [1922–2008] and Tadek Beutlich [1922–2011]) who were working in non-functional, experimental ways that engaged very directly with what fellow artists were exploring in painting and sculpture. The work she made at that time shows the crystallisation of her thinking and emerged out of the intense dialogue she had with artists associated with constructivism and the Systems group, such as Kenneth and Mary Martin, Michael Kidner and Jeffrey Steele. She met them in the mid-1960s at the Barry Summer School in Wales, an influential artist-run course which was based on Bauhaus principles and encouraged much cross-fertilisation between its departments of crafts, painting, music and language. It became an important annual gathering of artists, many of whom were associated with constructivism and Systems art. Sutton taught the weaving course there, having taken over from Beutlich.
Sutton’s dialogue with these artists was critical to the development of her conceptual approach. Taking Kenneth Martin’s construction course allowed her to work out the viability of weave and yarn as constructive mediums with which to express certain abstract concepts and systems. She was impressed with the systems that Martin was using to determine the structure of artworks – mathematical systems such as the Fibonacci sequence and the pendulum permutations, as well as playing with symmetry, such as rotation, mirror reflection and glide symmetry. Sutton adopted these and similar systems to structure her own work, while the materials she used expanded to include such unconventional components as metal rods, plastic tubes, Perspex and stainless-steel washers. According to the Systems art approach, each work was constructed strictly according to a generative scheme. For Sutton, the concept and system carried the logic of the work to its own conclusion, with form being secondary to process: ‘part of my rules were that no form was an aim, but was a result of the process’ (email correspondence with Tate curator Helen Delaney, 15 August 2020).
Sutton’s ‘weave polemics’, as they were described by curator Diane Sheehan in her essay for the artist’s exhibition catalogue for the Crafts Council, London in 2003, have continued in multifarious ways over the last five decades. One example is the use of a nineteenth-century sock-knitting machine, found by Sutton in an antiques shop, with which she could produce endless tubes of knitted material. She regarded, and used, these knitted tubes (stuffed with Dacron to maintain their dimensions) as the equivalent of macrofilaments, creating large-scale structures woven with this oversized ‘yarn’. One such work is Floor Pad 1972, which was exhibited in the exhibition The Craftsman’s Art at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London in 1973. Following a period during the 1970s when she and her then husband, furniture designer John Makepeace, founded an interior design, furniture and textile design company, Sutton wrote and presented a BBC television series on weaving called The Craft of the Weave; she also went on to write nine books on the subject.
Sutton was an early adopter and promoter of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing in weave technology in the 1980s. It gave her the means to weave complex patterns and multiple layers that would have been impossible otherwise. She began to work more in series, which turned the traditional weaving practice of ‘sampling’ into treatises on permutation. It was a technology that Sutton could capitalise on to develop her rule-driven methods, in this case imposed by the computer, to explore and extend her system-based approach.
Ann Sutton: Textiles, exhibition catalogue, Norrköpings Konstmuseum, Norrköping 1985.
Ann Sutton: No Cheating: Serial Woven Studies, exhibition catalogue, The Winchester Gallery, Winchester 1995.
Ann Sutton, exhibition catalogue, Crafts Council, London 2003.
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