As participants settled into the sunny London Room for an embroidery workshop with artist-in-residence Gareth Brookes last week, the soft-spoken Londoner set us at ease with stories of how his mother taught him to embroider at the age of 4. He began by embroidering “boy things” like war scenes, but since then his work has developed into gorgeous and often haunting meditations on solitude, connection, and manifestations of home.
Gareth is not just a visual artist, but also a teacher and the author of two graphic novels. Flipping through a copy of his book The Black Project, I was struck by a sense of surreal wonderment; the monochromatic embroidery suggests a world rich with bizarre intricacies, captivating but also a bit menacing. In person, however, Gareth is delightfully self-deprecating and personable. He joked about not knowing how to use all the fancy tools that Bryn Mawr provided for the workshop and fumbled with threading his needle.
As I selected my thread and tried my hand at some basic stitches, I enjoyed the air of camaraderie and relaxation with those around me. Like many fiber arts, embroidery can be quite social. Embroidering, knitting, crocheting or quilting are all great things to do while sitting and talking with friends. Or, as Gareth, said, while watching a movie without subtitles.
Embroidery’s emphasis on strong lines and contrast make it fascinating to me. I love its aesthetic quality, as well as the evocation of tradition and doing-it-from-scratch self-reliance. Gareth talked about how sometimes he likes to display the “wrong side” of the fabric, instead of the more polished side. I like how this aspect of embroidery allows the viewer to see the work and materials that went into constructing it.
Thank you to Gareth for spending time with us, and to everyone at Bryn Mawr who made his residency possible!