Now on show at the Fashion and Textile Museum
, Annie Phillips: Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art presents more than 30 modern examples of a historic form of wax-resist dyeing: the art of Batik. This display explores Phillips practice across a 30-year career, highlighting how her craft skills work in perfect balance with her distinctive vision, creating textiles that celebrate colour, movement and form.
It was early evening in 1988, when artist Annie Phillips first made her way down the crowded, cobbled streets of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. From each of the open-fronted shops she passed, there emanated a smell of melting wax. Around pots of the honey-like substance, men and women huddled, deftly applying the thick liquid to lengths of fabric, draped artfully across wooden poles. Annie was mesmerised by what she saw that evening, captivated by the masterful sleight of hand with which these artists carried out their craft. This experience was Annies first introduction to the traditional techniques of Batik and it would go on to inspire a 30-year love affair with the practice.
The process of Batik is a much-treasured form of wax-resist dying, a method which can be traced back to ancient Egypt and which has long been practiced throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. Batik arrived in Europe via Sumatra in the early 1800s and can still be found, in an abundance of different forms, in many countries around the world today. Since discovering the skill and joy of Batik, Annie Phillips has studied with craftsman throughout Indonesia and Ghana and today incorporates their time-honoured tools and techniques into her own practice.
In the creation of her works, Annie uses a traditional tool, a canting (or tjanting) and brushes, applying hot wax, heated to the consistency of honey, to the surface of her fabric. Next, a layer of dye is applied to each textile, with the waxed area resisting the dye. Further layers of wax and dyes are built up, until each graphic, multi-layered artwork is complete. This process is one that Annie finds exciting, challenging and soothing in equal measure - a practice that can often induce a therapeutic and joyful flow state.
Conceptually, Annies practice is concerned with her environment, culture and upbringing, as well as her desire to challenge and explore the ancient technique about which she is so passionate. It is this final concern which truly sets Annies work apart. As a teacher, Annies Batik workshops encourage students to surprise themselves, to discover new creative skills and, just as Annie has, fall in love with the process of Batik. As a commercial artist, Annie is dedicated to creating surface decoration that is both uplifting and playful, producing a little piece of art for everyday living.
The textiles of Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art highlight Annie Phillips expert skill in the application of colour theory, with every emotive example challenging our expectations and perceptions of Batik. In works such as Monochrome Delight, Annie pushes our understanding of her medium by creating with an intense, graphic quality, while in Midnight Forest, she further illustrates her mastery of colour, with a composition that sets muted olive green against more vivid tones. Each of the further 30 artworks on display encourage us to develop our understanding Annies colourful journey and to share in her joyful exploration of the relationship between modern design and historical craft.
Annie has been a modern batik artist for most of her adult life. This is the medium that unlocks her creativity and continues to thrill and challenge her. She has worked and trained with artists in both Ghana and Indonesia exchanging skills and collaborating on batiks.
From the beginning Annie saw how her artworks could be adapted to the world of design in many different ways. In recent years she has collaborated with numerous designers and architects. In these projects her original batiks have been printed and glazed onto an array of surfaces from canvas to voiles to glass. She has also worked closely with skilled weavers in Nepal and India creating bespoke hand woven rugs inspired by and created from her original artworks.
Her next step was to transform her artworks into a broad range of designs for fabrics, homeware and apparel. Over the last few years she is proud to have established successful relationships with selected wholesalers and retail partners.
Annies original source of inspiration, batik, remains the same. Translating it from pure art to the world outside is her passion. Her aim is to have her designs accessible to a wide range of customers, allowing gorgeous and affordable products to be enjoyed by men, women and young adults in their homes and in their wardrobes.