Jill Ffrench - Fantails and Feet
For many years, my family have lived on a large leafy block in the Dandenong Ranges, outside Melbourne. From our windows we can see trees of many different types, and many birds of vivid colours, including the occasional peacock that wanders through our garden from neighbouring properties. Unarguably the most majestic bird on our planet, the peacock is the traditional symbol of integrity, fertility and beauty. They are perfectly poised and designed with astounding symmetry and for me, their complex natural form is a constant surprise.
Throughout my childhood, I was enthusiastically encouraged to think creatively and to nurture my inbuilt curiosity about the natural world, which later inspired me to travel extensively to remote places. In Africa I fell in love with tiny colourful birds that inhabit the Acacia trees, in India I was drawn to the bright colours of hand dyed sari’s against the hot dry desert plains.
I love the idea that the world is far bigger than we can ever understand, and I love toying with the idea of imagining new birds in a variety of existing habitats.
I once set myself the challenge of making the most exquisite present for a dear friend of mine who had just had a baby. My criteria, was this. It had to be beautiful, it had to be a creature of some sort that she could later use it in imaginary play and it had to be made using 100 percent natural fibres. Long hours were spent developing a pattern that would suit my purpose but also appeal to my own ties to the wilderness and sense of wonder.
Enamoured by the soft texture of the wool, I was drawn to the flexibility and strength of this ancient and popular textile. As an art medium, felt is enormously malleable, and lends itself to endless possibilities in it’s ability to be dyed, quilted, embroidered and stitched together.
I am always captivated by how fine the fibres feel between my finger tips as I work, and connect with the wool in an affectionate way. The decorative embroidery seen in my work is a key feature to the aesthetics of the birds. Each stitch is simple on it’s own, yet in the end forms a colourful and complex pattern arrangement that is dazzling to the eye and highlights the peacocks remarkable natural unique plumage.
Having studied pattern making at RMIT, the shape of the sculpture is intrinsic to my work. I begin by sketching my subject in various poses, but the true appeal for me is in the task of turning these pictures into three dimensional works that echo the natural movement of birds in the wild, a task that is only achieved when the felt, wire and threads work in perfect harmony.
This is my nod to an extraordinary creature.
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