Ever since I can remember I have been drawn to the colours of the world around me. How can you not be charmed by the bright pop of a green leaf bud in springtime, the shining gold of a buttercup reflecting the summer sun, the deep blue-almost-purple of the sea on a stormy autumn day or the silver-to-slate grey of an English sky in late winter?
I live in the middle of the Hampshire countryside surrounded by farmland, fields and forests. I see the flora and fauna that surrounds me and watch as the seasons change, and I think my creative practice is a way for me to hold on to a bit of that ever-changing natural world.
My textile works are like snapshots of the natural colours I see around me. I hand-dye lengths of silk fabric using concentrated plant extracts that give me the most beautiful range of colours. All the materials I use are 100% natural and the dye process can be wonderfully unpredictable — the batch of colour I’m using, the quality of the water and the imperfections in the weave of the silk can all affect the way a colour develops, but I’ve yet to end up with a colour I didn’t love. It’s the same as the view outside my window — no matter the weather, the season or the time of day, there’s always something beautiful to look at.
After the dyeing process, I then turn to composition. I have a background in fine arts and I’m drawn to the paintings of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, artists who were part of the abstract expressionist movement of the mid-20th century. Their work became known as Colour Field painting and features large, flat expanses of solid colour without any defined focal point. A lot of the Colour Field paintings are huge and as the colour fills your field of vision you can get ‘lost’ inside the endless wash of colour — imagine the feeling you get when you gaze up into a clear blue sky or across a vast field of wheat in the summer sun.
I try to echo that same feeling of meditative stillness in my own compositions, but, unlike the paintings of the Colour Field artists, my pieces are not just designed to be hung on a wall and looked at. They are tactile and are meant to be used and loved for a lifetime. I think there’s something magical about being able to wrap yourself in a quilt and surround yourself in colour. My work has layers of natural cotton, wool and linen, each of which brings its own unique textural quality and adds to the tactile experience of each piece.
Historically, plant dyes were often incredibly rare and expensive, so only the wealthiest and most powerful could afford to surround themselves with plant-dyed cloth. From the rich purple robes of royalty, to the reds of the military and the myriad of colours associated with the worlds religions, colour was often used as a symbol of wealth, status and power.
In this age of the mass-produced and the artificial, I think plant-dyed cloth still feels rare and special and full of power, but it also holds within it all the gentle beauty of the natural world.
Jemma Corbin: Colour Field is on until Saturday 4 April in the Mezzanine Gallery. You are also invited to join Jemma on Saturday 28 March, 2.30pm, for an informal demonstration of the processes used in preparing and dyeing natural fabrics and learn more about her creative practice. This event is free but please book in advance.