“No More Twist”- The Embroidery of James Hunting (It’s the mice that do all the work but don’t get the credit!).

I met James Hunting at Goldsmith College in London, where we trained together. For both of us the metropolis was a new and exciting place – a thriving arts and club scene, it was a creatively rich new turf. The beginning of very new lives and the start of the end of a wonderful set of educational/social values – Mrs Thatcher was beginning her plan to divide society with Clause 28 and already undermining stout educational values. College seemed a strong fortress from which we could exercise the goal of education as a tool for self development (not as a list of job prospects!) which our parents had instilled in us.

James brought an exciting and decidedly sensual approach to his art work that ever since has enriched  my work and our friendship. Born in Blackheath, bred in Hove, James feels fortunate to have been on the Foundation course in Brighton where there was nil resistance to men working in the fashion/textiles field. He could ‘get on with it’ without over analysis – no need to proclaim who he was from the rooftops.

James has a strong thirst for knowledge fostered by his parents who believe  that their children should have the opportunities they did not. Now as an Associate Lecturer at Chichester College he is able to fan  the “education for all” ethos and the delight for re-invention/discovery in his own students.

Early textile work was rich, escapist and finely worked but materials were usually taken from great hoarded stashes – his soul mate the dressmaker Jenny Lessin fed his mercurial collecting/ hunting from the markets/junk shops and fostered his joy of life. And still does.

James’s Grandma Scott taught him the calm side of cooking, an appreciation of things well prepared and served –  from a can of beans to a fifteen course banquet! This he applies to embroidery where  broken ticking lines disappear into a different layer of slate like colour. The mixing and blending of composites are the fuzzy dense boulders or velvet whelks that make up his ingredients. To him artwork is like jam making, the sensuality is something to be savoured , discussed with friends and tasted according to your palette.

James lived in Southern Brittany for seven years, and found brilliant friends, but artistic isolation. This new start after years in the fashion business should have been the perfect opportunity for “carte blanche” creativity but rural hard facts slowed down artistic development. Now back in Brighton another lifetime friend and muse, Danni, does his long haul travels for him – providing fuel for his rich imagination.

James prefers a peaceful life and his new work to be showcased at The Knitting and Stitching Show this Autumn illustrates travels from his imagination. As the current Embroiderer’s Guild Scholar (Over 30’s category) he has been able to extend new ideas, make larger pieces and take time to mull his visions over. Although in rapture to Central Asian cultures (textiles, colours and food) he realises that some journeys are best left to smoulder in the imagination. However he has gleaned techniques from these stay at home adventures – various stitches, mola work and an improvised approach to construction .By squirreling away on treasured cloth, relying on the kindness of friends (and strangers) for threads James doesn’t worry about running out because  these adaptations enhance the resulting mood of a piece. Age old methods of piecing/patching are embellished in his work with men at rest who evoke somnambulant and calm meditations through his fine hand stitching.

Why does he stitch? Because he can and very well. James says that he loves it -“stitching a beautiful line is as good as making a beautiful pastry”. Liking the time hand embroidery takes, although interested in trends fashion James distinguishes it from couture. He has a high regard for the ‘petits mains’ ( the couture makers not the designers) who are upstairs in the workshops hidden but creating beauty like the mice in a Beatrix Potter story. He prefers the couture ethic for it’s hand finish where you can see the stitches (“a hand made buttonhole is like no other”) and the rocket arcs of his rayon stitchings match their precision. Lining, hemming and master-shaping volume with restraint, James believes, are best exemplified in the work of couturier Christobel Balenciaga.

James sees words as mood settings , which can be as evocative as working with colour, turning reading into pattern. He cites Islamic art and Persian miniatures, adores crime noir and Persian cookbooks – all of which conjure up images for him. But his influences are varied. James recommends rigorous cookery writers (Claudia Roden and MFK Fisher), Babylonian artefacts at the British Museum, Hove Seafront, Marseille, his partner the gorgeous Damien ,and all his friends. Bottichelli’s boys with their gentle languor and Ingres’ painted stitching on costumes. Gee’s Bend’s entwined lines and the embossed colour found in the paintings of Keith Vaughan are all influences to be found in James’s pieces.

Professional artists from Cranach to Tilleke Schwarz, Darrel Morris to Paul Cadmus are all viewed seriously, with people taking time to examine both their work and their aims. And this is what James would like for himself. To be taken seriously as a maker who allows others to find meaning in his narrative – to be seen only incidentally as an “embroidery man”.

James makes work generously, stitched pieces for us to dine out on. It is quiet and invites us to consider the simple joy found in looking, making and sharing. Enjoy it!

Originally Published in Embroidery Magazine Dec 2006

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