Frieda Oxenham is an internationally known prizewinning artist. Originally from the Netherlands, she has been a UK citizen since 1984. Her first piece of textile art won the Scottish Quilt Championships in 1998, and one of her pieces also won the European Quilt Championship in 2006. She has been awarded prizes for Hand Workmanship twice in the World Quilt and Textile Shows, as well as a third in the Contemporary Section. Recently she answered some questions from Clairan Ferrono for this blog.
Ferrono: Have you always been an artist and did you study art formally?
Oxenham: The easy answer is no. I didn’t really get started until I was well into my 30’s when I found myself looking for something to do after my husband’s job move to Scotland. A friend of mine was doing a City & Guilds Course in Embroidery. I took one look at the display during their Open Day and signed up then and there. That was the start of it all. But I do think that artists are born, not made.
I have always been interested in art, studying art history as well as librarianship and have enjoyed working with my hands for as long as I can remember. And since that first start I have done my very best to learn as much as possible, studying many courses in art, embroidery, patchwork & quilting, textiles, photography and mixed media. I’m firmly of the opinion that we are never too old to learn more, and I intend to keep on studying as long as I can. So my learning has been both formally and informally. I’m an inveterate researcher both online and in books and am continually finding myself interested in new subjects of all kinds such as graveyards, vintage nude photography, history of the Scottish Borders, shipping disasters, La Belle Epoque, to name but a few recent ones.
Ferrono: How did your style develop and was it a struggle to develop your style and find an identity for your work?
Oxenham: I’m an eclectic artist. It seems to be a word that is used in almost every article even written about my art and it is true. I would hate to restrict myself to making just one sort of art as I love it all too much. I started off making block quilts some even with traditional blocks although from the very beginning I have always wanted to design what I make, myself.
Some of my work is made very traditionally, technique wise, while other pieces incorporate many non-traditional materials. I love making both very large wall hangings as well as much smaller work such as Journal Quilts. I don’t like to put myself in a box and stick to one sort of art. All of it mostly involves fabrics and an element of stitching but for the rest I let it go where it wants to once I get started.
I do get comments a lot during my exhibitions about how it amazes people that it’s all the work of one hand and I see their point although to my own eye there are clear connections and I do work in loose series. The one element that is common to most of my work is elaborate decoration in the form of beading and embellishment.
Ferrono: I can see that! How does the landscape influence you?
Oxenham: I love where I live in the Scottish Borders and subconsciously the more subdued colours of the landscape have started to appear in my work. I do love colour and am not averse to using very bright ones, perhaps influenced by the large skies and bright light of The Netherlands where I was born. I moved to the UK 35 years ago and the fact that I’m an Immigrant has made me who I am today and thus has also had an effect on my art. Moving from one country to another is never an easy option, and I guess it has made me tougher than I might otherwise have become. That is something that has helped in giving me the courage to exhibit my work and expose it to the wider world.
I have made very little realistic landscape art. Mostly it is abstract and imaginary but colour wise there is an ongoing shift to softer colours. Having just said this, however, makes me think some bright art might be in order next!
Ferrono: What else influences you?
Oxenham: Each and everything I encounter on life’s journey! As I mentioned earlier, I continually find new interests while continuing the old ones and for me life is a non-ending learning curve. I am more and more interested in photography, and that has been finding it’s way into my art in various ways.
I have started to paint my own fabric (I can no longer dye as we have a septic tank) using acrylic paint and incorporating new ways of doing so by using the gelli plate, for instance. My interest in mixed media and art journaling is seeping into my textile art ever more. I have no idea at any one time where life and my art is leading me but I’m willing to start new adventures at any time.
Ferrono: Do you use any special techniques?
Oxenham: I have been making my textile art long enough now not to worry much about techniques. I think more about what I want to say and how I want my art to look and it’s only once those decisions have been made that I start to think what techniques would serve my purposes best. I sort of count on the fact that experience will assist me in choosing the most appropriate ones and hope that it will come to my rescue if I find myself in deep water. I don’t want to let technique dictate what I make and how I make it. I’ve probably used all available techniques at least once in my work. One technique I love and use extensively is beading.
Ferrono: What are you working on now?
Oxenham: I still work on series that started years ago and add the occasional piece of work to them when the mood strikes me, such as my ongoing series using circles. I was and still am very taken with the concept of journal quilts. I have been making them monthly since 2004 and recently had an exhibition of the 52 Journals I made weekly in 2012. I love working smaller and experimenting with them. I made 10” square journal quilts every month for the themes set on the Sketchbook Challenge blog for the entire duration of that project (now finished) from 2011 to 2014. Of late I have been thinking a lot about migration, more specially my own journey, and those pieces might well be the start of a new series of work.
In all my art I have one primary aim though, regardless of what they are about, and that is to make something that hopefully adds beauty to the world. There is enough that is very bad going on, on this earth. I use my art to transport me to a better and more beautiful place and it would be wonderful if viewers of my work feel they are taken there too for a brief moment of time. That’s why I make no excuses for the decorative nature of my work.
Ferrono: Where do you see yourself going next?
Oxenham: I don’t know and I don’t want to know! I’m just going along for the ride and I let myself go where I feel my art wants to. I don’t plan and I impulsively go where life leads me, both in my art and in the way I live my life. I follow the ideas that miraculously keep popping up in my head and that very much surprise even me.
I do sometimes wish that I was more of a planner and less impulsive but this is what and who I am and the journey thus far has been great. I can only hope the rest of it will be just as exciting.