Reading about how Diane Reade uses handmade paper embossed with the shapes of familiar objects helped me to view embossing from an Artistic perspective rather than a Design one.
My initial thoughts about embossing were really bound by commercial uses. Embossing is used everywhere in our daily environment, from credit cards to wedding invitations, from wallpaper to kitchen towel. The added detail of a raised surface, appeals to our human need to touch. It makes insignificant objects that we handle everyday a little less ordinary. No wonder manufacturers include embossing, it encourages us to pick up their product, to touch it and use it.
Generally, we are discouraged from touching and handling works of Art. Even at Textiles exhibitions, where the texture of the pieces has been key to their creation, we are still prohibited from touching. It often amuses me at Quilting Fairs, when you are allowed to touch but only through the barrier of a white glove! What purpose then does embossing have in Art? It disrupts a flat surface. It changes the way light reflects. It adds subtle detail and shadows.
I began thinking about the current vogue for Die Cutting/Embossing Machines, e.g. Sissix, Tattered Lace and X-Cut. Embossing is clearly popular in card-making and scrapbooking but how could I use it in my work?
I read about Diane Reade in Jac Scott’s book ‘Textile Perspectives’¹, some images of her work can be seen here: http://readerunner.co.uk/Diane. It is not so much the visual appearance of the works that interest me, although I like the use of plain white paper and rough deckled edges that contrast with the sharp outlines of the embossed objects. I found it was more the thinking behind the work that attracted me.
Reade uses the shape of a bag as a metaphor for the containment of a set of objects that define the owner. Themes of secrecy, concealment and revelation run through her work. The embossed bag fails to disguise sometimes incongruous objects, for example ‘Granny by Day, Spy by Night’ reveals spying devices that allude to “Granny’s” clandestine employment. This piece is Reade’s interpretation of a news story but I discovered her inspiration originally came from researching African Art.
Reade’s embossing is then informed by investigating the way some African tribes wrap, contain and disguise their secrets. She asks: “So when is a secret being partially revealed or partially concealed?”² I found this a pertinent question because it can be applied to the work itself. I often find myself wondering: how much do we really need to know? In the case of Reade’s work, the appearance and peculiar titles revealed enough to get me interested but further research into the ‘concealed’ thoughts behind the work gave me a greater appreciation. I found the same of Karen Margolis, once I understood where the ideas came from I liked the work more. Yet with Agnes Martin, once I learned the inspiration, I felt the work lost some of the mystery that was key to its charm.
I digress. The point is that researching Diane Reade, provided plenty for me to think about as I started work on Exercise 4.1. Would the surface I was embossing be revealing the object beneath it? Would it be concealing it? Why was it necessary to emboss the object rather than incorporate it onto the surface by any other means?
¹SCOTT,J. Textile Perspectives in Mixed Media Sculpture. (2003) CROWOOD PRESS LTD
²P71 of above source