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  • Writer's pictureBen Browton

iconFLAGRATION (A slow gestation/a long story)

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

In March 2019, I arranged a studio video and photo shoot with James Cosens of the De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill. I had ripped an image of a burning house by an anonymous photographer from the internet to use as a backdrop for the shoot.

For me, this image encapsulates the fragility of human endeavour, and how within minutes, the possessions and memories of the inhabitants can be destroyed. The house is a mere skin, enclosing a space that is affectionately and nostalgically called 'home'.

I digitally manipulated the found image, and had two copies printed at around 1 x 1.6 metres. I inverted the bottom image to produce a mirror image. Then I hung the prints onto the wall of my studio ready for the forthcoming session with James Cosens.

Some time after the shoot session, I dismantled the 2 large digital prints. I intended to store them in a cardboard tube, but each print was too large for the tube, and so I cut a strip off either side of both prints, and sealed the two prints up in the tube. I decided to hang the x4 2 metre long strips up on my studio wall, as they were too interesting to chuck out.

In September of 2019, I realised that I could use these strips to weave the House On Fire image back into a deconstructed version of the image of destruction. I carried out an experiment in my studio.

I was pleased with the experiment, and decided to carry out a further process, which was to stitch the image together onto a fabric backdrop, using the cheap Crafty sewing machine that I purchased from Aldi in November 2019. For this pilot version, I added a wood frame.

In March 2020, the Covid-19 1st lockdown happened, and I was less able to visit my studio in Bexhill. I was then having to rely on the creative resources within my own home, that serves as a second and back-up studio. I printed copies of the House On Fire image at A3 size & vivid setting on my Brother MFC inkjet printer, and carried on with the weaving experiments, cutting the image into regulation 10 mm strips, and weaving them together in a random manner.

When I was able to return to my studio when the lockdown eased, I became engaged in my Bexhill studio on the production of my new work series, the Inklings in late July. I was pulled back to the House On Fire weave when I worked on Inkling #2 in September. I carried out a fresh weave to insert in the central section.

By this time, I had purchased a more professional sewing machine, the Singer 367, from Jacobs Haberdashery in Bexhill (see previous blog post), and was better able to carry out the stitching, which is somewhat tricky, involving as it does sewing thin paper onto a cotton drill fabric backing. Sharp needle mandatory!

On November 5th (my birthday > BONFIRE🔥NIGHT) a second lockdown was imposed, and I was obliged to work at home for a while. I carried out a series of experiments on a practice collage, having decided I would produce a series of 3 of the House on Fire weave collages. I went on to complete these over the course of November & December.

I also decided I wanted to add a further image onto the weaves, and for this I returned to an image I have had in my armoury for many many years, one I call 'Fire Head'. It's an image I found back in the late 1970's in a Fire Safety leaflet. I printed the image and cut it out to form a stencil, which I then used to transfer the image onto the weave in pencil, and I then painted in the image in Winsor & Newton Galeria black acrylic paint.

Having done this, I realised I wanted the image of the Fire Head to pack a greater punch, and I returned to a medium I have employed in differing situations over many years, applying gold leaf. I decided this would also give the Fire Head image a more iconic appearance, and allow me the freedom to introduce a new element into my output. I ordered a book of loose 23.5 Carat gold sheets, and acrylic gold size. I then set about the process of gilding the flame part of the head.

In the experimental version above, I tried painting the face in white, but eventually decided I preferred the face to be in outline only, replicating the graphic aspect of the original artwork, and allowing the underlying weave to grin through in a more dramatic manner. I then set about completing the near-identical edition of 3 at the dimension of 20 x 20 cms. I have gone through many processes to achieve the depth of materiality in these works, and each one has taken many hours of work. I refined and developed my processes in advance over the course of the last 18 months or so before committing to an edition.

Having completed the edition of 3 above, my intention is to mount each weave to a plywood backing board. They can then be mounted in a box frame. This edition will be on sale in the near future.

I'm also planning to make a much larger version at around 100 x 100 cms in 2021, using the original digital print from the 2019 studio shoot.

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