Meet the artist; Anna Hurwitz
Artist Anna Hurwitz - A Feature
In this special article featuring one of the artists who exhibit with the Cam Valley Arts Trail Group we talked to Anna Hurwitz. Here, we hope to give you some insight into Anna's thinking as a designer and artist, and to throw some light onto what makes her produce her pieces. We would like to thank Anna for her frankness in participating in this article.
Question: When did you first discover you had creative ability?
Answer: My goodness, it is a much longer story than you can imagine. I had a dream when I was a teenager that I wanted to be a designer, but I did not have the courage and the self-confidence so I did not do anything about it and, eventually I went into nursing and I came to this country from Italy to do nursing. That was a revelation because I really enjoyed it, but ten years into nursing the desire to become a designer came back again so strongly, and I said I mustn’t just dream, I must do. So I dropped everything and I went into a three year full time art and design training whilst working part time to support myself and that is how I did it. Did I have ability? To begin with I didn’t, but eventually it came out. Eventually, you know, there was so much of the drive in me and I knew I wanted to use my imagination and it came, but it was a very long passage.
Question: When you talk about your dream did it manifest itself as a specific thing?
Answer: Walt Disney’s animation. I thought it was so wonderful to do that. So animation was my first dream really, there was no way to do that in Italy at the time and then I concentrated on fashion, but really I just did not have the right emotional constitution to actually pursue it. I needed self-confidence which I didn’t have, and it wasn’t until I actually became a much more mature adult that I had the confidence.
Question: And it was recognising the feeling that you needed the creative outlet?
Answer: I did and it became really so imperative at that time. I fell into it and I chose graphic and interior design to begin with, and by accident I went to an exhibition about textiles at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I was transfixed and I said that is what I want to do. That was it, that really was the signature. From then on it became textiles, and I am talking about 40 years ago. I still like graphic design and it is something that I could do, but for me it is textiles. It was not weaving cloth it was making structures.
Question: And that is true today isn’t it, in everything you do: there is an essence of structure?
Answer: Isn’t it funny how it happens and I still now think now from one accidental thing to another. I eventually found the path.
Question: It is incremental, as you said earlier on. You had this vision of where you wanted to be, but it was not working yet and so you are developing
Answer: The Dragon’s Eye was three years in the thinking. Because I saw a picture, and I thought “Wow”. I started researching, but how to do it took much, much longer. In fact I lived in the Forest of Dean when I began thinking and it was not until I moved here near Camerton that I began gradually to think of the way to do it. Had I not met the Cam Valley Arts Group I would probably only have made a very small amount of the eye because the push to actually finish it came from the people in the group.
Question: Wow, that is lovely to know. How did you come across them?
Answer: Well it was funny. Because I had only just arrived in this area and I wanted to make connections, there was the Midsomer Norton festival and I picked up the leaflet and booked a stall. But it was a disaster in one way, but a success in another, because Cam Valley Arts was there and I joined and the world changed. It was so wonderful. I kept saying to my daughter, Rebecca, “I can’t believe it has happened”. It has been a resurrection, because I was petering out. You need to make contact. You need to have relationships with other people who do things. By yourself your flame eventually goes out.
Question: Can you remember your first attempts? What medium did you use?
Answer: Well I was doing graphic design and I was actually quite good. I had ideas, but I am not a quick worker - not in the sense that I have ideas that I immediately realise. I am very much a gradual worker; things build up. There is a germ of an idea, and things gradually build up. It is not instant. I am a slow developer of ideas.
Question: What does ‘being creative’ mean to you?
Answer: It means, oh well, it is the life, it is the reason for being. That is what keeps me really alive. I could be busy, but I need creativity.
Question: Has there ever been a period in your life through circumstances you have been without it?
Answer: Yes, a dreadful period. In fact, when I first moved to the Forest of Dean I said to my daughter “I am in a hole. I don’t know how to get out of the hole.” Eventually again something happened. I went to college to try to stimulate myself, and I met this girl with an interest in jewellery. So that was it. All I wanted was an impetus, and I started jewellery.
Question: And you have still been making jewellery haven’t you and been very successful?
Answer: Yes, I did well. They are not the type of pieces everyone wants to buy: they are statement pieces. Generally speaking, there has always been a positive response. I am not an assembler. I could not mass produce items. When I say I am a designer, I truly mean I am a designer. I need to express an idea and the craft is the way by which the idea is expressed. That is why people say to be a designer is very important to my life. It is the primary force to me. You know, it is funny because I was enjoying nursing, and I am glad I did it and I did so many interesting things, but I was right to pursue what I felt, because that was what truly fulfilled me in a different way. I was so wanting to let my imagination free.
When I saw the exhibition at the V&A I stood there transfixed. It was so magnificent, and I still remember the voice inside me saying “That’s what I want to do.” But I didn’t want to do what they did, but that is the type of route. And in the end it was a successful thing for me. I like the medium as well.
Question: Yes, I was going to ask you who or what was your biggest influence?
Answer: A variety of people, but especially a chap called Peter Collingwood who became quite a well-known textile artist. He started during the war. He was in the Medical Corps. He was placed in Turkey, and saw people weaving and he came back and became a weaver. His work is fantastic! His work was at the exhibition at the V&A. It was so tremendous, these 3 dimensional textiles. There is everything in it: texture, shape, colour. Everything was in it, and suddenly I was alive, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. If I had not seen that exhibition I think I would probably still be a graphic artist.
Question: Did you choose to go to that exhibition?
Answer: No it was part of the college course, and the college had a weaving department, but they were making cloth, and I wasn’t interested in weaving cloth.
Question: I know that a lot of your work incorporates the Japanese braiding technique Kumihimo, which means "gathered threads". Can you tell us a bit more?
Answer: I use sprung and Kumihimo braiding. There are five different types of loom for Kumihimo, which is Japanese braid. They use it for all kinds of things. It is a big thing historically.
Question: Is it a very ancient craft?
Answer: Yes it is. It dates back to the Nara Period (645-784 AD). To tell you the truth, strangely enough, a very similar thing was done in the Andes, but instead of using the tools, the men were using their fingers. It is used for making cord and rope. The shepherds in the Andes were using their fingers as a loom, on the other side of the world. The Japanese used these beautiful ropes for their armoury, for the kimonos, and as decoration. They are very strong.
Question: Were they originally woven from a particular type of material?
Answer: Yes, silks. The Japanese silks are beautiful. The Japanese Marudai loom is a stool with a hole in the middle, and the Karakumidai which makes flat diamond structures which is very different because it is twining using little bobbins and the result is very different to look at. I use these two styles because they are very easy to take off the loom and put on again.
Question: How did you discover Kumihimo?
Answer: Accidentally again. I had replied to an advertisement from a lady in London who was an antiquarian who had all these fantastic expensive beads and wanted to turn them into necklaces and she put me in touch with Rodrick Owen. He was one of the first people who had gone to Japan to learn the craft of Kumihimo and was beginning to have workshops to teach people the craft. That was in the 80’s and I was one of the first to learn. I had gone to the Craft Council in London and bought a book by an English lady who had learnt Kumihimo in Japan, written in English, but full of diagrams that I could not interpret. So then I went to Rodrick Owen’s class and he had Japanese books, but I could now understand the diagrams! Most of the books I now have are written in Japanese.
There are things you can teach yourself, but there are things you need at least an introduction to understand. From not knowing anything you cannot learn. You must know some basics in order to be able to teach yourself.
Question: From where do you draw your inspiration? I know this could be a big subject.
Answer: Well it is so accidental. You see that picture there. That actually is my interpretation. My husband was a photographer as well as a journalist. He had all these photographic magazines and on the cover of one of them was a beautiful photograph of a glacier, you know how they are blue. I thought that is so wonderful, I decided to make a picture of it, and then that gave me the idea of water, and then I kept on about water.
So why did I do reptiles? I went to Japan for a conference and I had to make things for an exhibition. I was experimenting with a lot of strange stuff, including copper wire, which gave me the idea of making the snakes. So I started with the snakes and then continued with reptiles. Because I made a tube which was hollow it looks like a snake. I have a passion for reptiles. I am totally fascinated by reptiles. To me they are so beautiful, I can’t take my eyes off them. So really what is a natural attraction to the subject, for me, and the fact that the medium lends itself to the reptile form.
Why leaves and vegetables? Again I went to a workshop with a papermaker who makes paper out of everything and also makes sculptures out of vegetables and fruit. That lodged in my head, and for a long time I wanted to combine that idea with weaving. That idea keeps coming back and I have been experimenting for a few years. You say do I throw things away? – Do I throw things away! Plenty. The more you experiment the more likely you are to fail than to succeed. The processing of it takes ages. At the moment I am doing some vegetables. I have tried freezing them, but they discolour. Freezing is a fairly good method of breaking the fibre down, but it discolours so it is not giving me the right result. Trial and error, you should say error and trial.
Question: Earlier on you showed me a fascinator you have made using gingko leaves and you talked about blanching the leaves. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Answer: If leaves are just dried they become brittle. Blanching helps, I discovered that because this lady Maureen Richardson, who lives in Hay on Wye, used dried vegetables. The blanching creates a lustrousness as well. It breaks down the cellulose I think, a bit. Again the inspiration was her.
I was listening to a radio programme recently where a textile designer was visiting various textile workshops and they were speaking to a lady making lace out of pasta, and I thought – “Pasta!” - and I started making braid with pasta and I really want to do a bit more. It is a bit tricky because you have to part-cook it. There was again another exhibition, because I belong to the Braid Society, and I wanted to send some things for an exhibition, and I made a hairdo out of braided spaghetti. You braid it and then you have to dry it quickly otherwise it goes mouldy. I have a slow cooker and I created a kind of tent and I put everything on top of the slow cover at a very low temperature and it actually dried it quickly. I think I might try again and use noodles! You have to have a lot of time to experiment.
Question: You are actually attaching braid to leaves and vegetables?
Answer: In the end I discovered something. At the back I put silk paper, because the silk stops the thread from cutting. Because every time I reached a certain point the thread cut and I lost the leaf. So I thought maybe, I have silk paper, so I put silk paper at the back, and that is what I have to do all the time because the fibre is much too brittle. Even tissue paper will help. Something that will enable the thread not to cut across. I have to work at the speed of a snail, I can’t jerk. Believe it or not I am not doing it on the Marudai I am doing it on the lace pillow, but I am using the technique of the Marudai. You have to adapt ideas to make them work. I am really somersaulting all the time.
Question: Do you have a favourite piece of art that you’ve ever created?
Answer: That is very difficult to say. The dragon’s eye I think. I haven’t really completed finished it yet, the edging will have to be completed. It is funny what finishing the edging has done to the actual piece: essentially made it much more striking. Strangely enough, that is not what I thought would happen. I knew I needed to finish it properly. It takes me an hour and a half to do 2cms of work, so I do a little bit every evening and I am nearly finished! If you chuck it away you are going to be forever dissatisfied, and so I have to finish it. I have to complete it and be pleased with it, otherwise I won’t be able to live with it myself. I decided it wasn’t going to take any more out of my days, so it is at the edges of the day.
The idea was there, but I did not know how to do it. The development came very, very slowly. Then two years ago I went to an art trail and suddenly saw something in the technique used in a piece which told me what to do. I remember walking back home and thinking “Now I know how to go about it”. But had I not met the Cam Valley Group I would still only have had a small amount done. The push was the fact that now I had an aim.
Question: If you could command a commission for someone for whom and what would you choose it to be?
Answer: Grayson Parry. I think he is wonderful. I love his stuff. I think he is a magnificent man. I have been to see his work three times. I would design something whacky, because it would have to be whacky, perhaps an extraordinary Medusa. Because actually, that Medusa is not the original one that was in my head. Again the technical difficulty stopped me. Now I probably would be able to create the one that I really wanted to design. Because through making that one I learnt how to overcome the technical difficulties.
Anna, Thank you very much it has been absolutely fascinating and really inspiring.