In Practice: Audrey Feltham
In this interview, Mireille Eagan, Curator of Contemporary Art, speaks with artist Audrey Feltham (Deer Lake, NL). Feltham’s exhibition “The Inner Landscape” is currently on display at The Rooms on Level 2.5 as part of the “Present Tense” series, which explores how artists are responding to the pandemic.
Mireille Eagan (ME): What brought about this body of work?
Audrey Feltham (AF): For me, this body of work was enlightening because it moved me out of a place where I was stuck about how I made my artwork. It grew out of works that I had been doing on Salt Spring in a residence I had 2019. I had acquired a number of small pieces of familiar objects from my mom’s house. I put that away after mom died. When the pandemic hit, it was the perfect opportunity for me to focus on a project, so I returned to that series. But the tone of the project changed. It became more of a self-portrait, more about my own personal, daily experience.
ME: Your training is as a printmaker. Why move to textiles as part of your process?
AF: I majored in printmaking because I liked the sculptural quality of working on the plate. It was hands-on, visceral sort of work. Around 2019, I sold my press because it was huge and I didn’t want my girls to have to get it out of the house when I passed on. When I sold the press, I became cognizant of the fact that I could only work in smaller sizes. So that’s where I came back to textiles. It was a different way of getting texture. In this series, the textiles became soothing and tactile. Textiles tend to slow down time, as you’re stitching you’re almost meditative. These works can’t be completed in an afternoon. Some took a week or longer. I could actually see changes in how things looked and how I felt, which happened over time as I worked with different threads and sizes of mark making.
ME: How did the pandemic affect your practice?
AF: During the pandemic there was a number of issues that many artists felt. First, I think that printmaking is one area of the visual arts where people do congregate as a group and work in a communal situation. It was impossible to do that during the pandemic—you had to work in solitary. The second issue was that I had a great fear of even being out. Especially in the first lockdown, I felt uncomfortable walking down the street because I had the feeling that I would meet someone who might not be healthy. So, I tended to stay inside the house and, with that, experienced the anxiety and depression and the fear. It was a logical progression. People for the most part don’t do well if they have to be by themselves.
These images grew out of that. They are a combination of many feelings. The title “Inner Landscape” has to do with how you’re feeling within yourself. It’s getting to know yourself, treating your mind like a geography. It’s a record of lived experiences and emotions. It is a landscape of what you’re experiencing at the time. Landscape images talk about what you saw in the beauty of a space, but many of them can also be quite dark and storm-like and threatening. And I think that that is what I saw outside of my house: that the landscape outside was no longer friendly. Looking back, I see that I was very startled and there is fear and anxiety in those images. I now also see an element of hope in those pieces as well.
ME: Hope? In what way?
AF: The hope reveals itself in the colour choices – but they don’t all have that. Some of them have quite rich colour, and that is an indication that there is a feeling that things are going to grow again. Like seeing flowers in a garden or in the sun.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Based in Deer Lake, Audrey Feltham is a professional printmaker and fibre artist who has lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for more than 50 years. She received her BFA from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook in 1992. She has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions at galleries such as the Craft Council Gallery (St. John’s); Mary E. Black Gallery (Halifax, NS); Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton, NB); Grande Prairie Art Gallery (Grande Prairie, AB); David Blackwood Gallery (Toronto, ON); and Flood Gallery (Dublin, Ireland). Her work is collected in public galleries and museums both nationally and internationally. She is the owner of Atelier West Studios in Deer Lake, NL.
ABOUT PRESENT TENSE
Present Tense is a year-long exhibition series highlighting artists from across the province who have produced work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Its intention is multi-layered and aspirational. On one hand, the present is full of tensions as we discover new ways of completing familiar tasks. On the other hand, a present tense anticipates a collectively defined future tense. The ideas and explorations presented in the series suggest possible paths forward. These paths are full of hope, sustainability and connectivity.
(1) Audrey Feltham. “Covid19: The Inner Landscape #9.” (2021) Mixed media on textile laminated to paper. 54cm. x 48 cm. Courtesy of the artist. Image description: A pair of bloodshot eyes are located in a block of greenish paint that represents a face. Red stiches surround the eyes. A smoke cloud is being emitted from where the mouth would be located on the face. Lines of embroidery are coming from the smoke cloud in colours that are red, blue, yellow and orange. The background of the image is white.
(2) The artist at work in her studio. Image courtesy of the artist. Image description: Woman wearing black apron with St. Michael’s Printshop logo on it and a plaid shirt. She is brushing a textile located on a plate in her artist studio. On the wall in the background are examples of her previous work.