“Five years ago there was very little textile work at Frieze London,” says Candida Stevens, founder of the eponymous Chichester gallery. “Then artists who had previously worked in sculpture or painting started making work in textiles. There was clearly a wind change.” Indeed, there’s been a marked increase in the number of exhibitions centred on textile art since then – from Entangled at the Turner Contemporary in 2017 to the Tate Modern’s retrospective of Anni Albers in 2018.
Now the London Art Fair, which runs from January 22 to 26, is shining a spotlight on textile artists by dedicating its “Platform” section to the medium for the Threading Forms show. The showcase, curated by Stevens, will feature a selection of galleries and artists who are pushing the boundaries of how thread can be used in contemporary art. “The traditional weft and weave is now part of a truly experimental field where wool is as acceptable as bronze and stitch is as relevant as paint,” Stevens says.
Highlights include a new series from the pre-eminent textile artist Alice Kettle (from £1,600 to £12,000), whose painterly textile portraits include Us as One (£2,200) and Green Girl (£1,600), which were made with refugees from Iran, Syria, Uganda and groups of women in Pakistan; and tapestries by Jacy Wall (from £800 to £4,000), which are to be shown alongside graphic monochrome ceramics by Bjork Haraldsdottir (from £220 to £1,080) with the London gallery Cavaliero Finn.
Stevens also highlights the work of the artist Anthony Stevens (from £485 to £1,750), who is showing his textiles with Outside In, a charity which helps artists who face significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation. “His use of text and image are almost cartoon-like, yet they’re so intensely felt,” says Stevens.
It’s no coincidence that textile art, alongside other crafts like ceramics and embroidery, has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. “There’s a feeling amongst collectors that the slow nature of stitch acts as a soothing counter to our frenzied lives,” Stevens observes. “In the digital age, the luxury of a handmade object allows us to wonder at the process, and consider time”.