The following ARTIST STATEMENT was written by Annemieke in 1991 for her book THE ART OF ANNEMIEKE MEIN: WILDLIFE ARTIST IN TEXTILES.
The encouragement of an awareness of our environment and an understanding of the importance of the preservation of our natural heritage are among the most important needs of our time. Gippsland, where I have lived for twenty years, still has a rich diversity of flora and fauna. It covers about one-sixth of Victoria and its habitats range from snowy high plains and plateaus to forests, grasslands, inland lakes, rivers, wetlands and beaches. Man’s use of the natural resources of this region — its oil, natural gas, coal, timber, water and the soil itself together with the accompanying population growth, will inevitably have a profound effect on the survival of its wildlife. I have already seen disturbing changes in the environment and witnessed the effects of apathy, ignorance, financial greed and premeditated vandalism.
Through my textiles, whether sculptures, wall works or ‘wearables’, I hope to make people more aware of our native species while expressing my love and concern for our natural environment. My art has evolved through my lifelong interest in Australian flora and fauna. I still use any excuse to go out in the field and always feel rejuvenated when I do so. Each work requires extensive research, field studies, observation, specimen collecting, countless sketches and a disciplined timetable of working hours.
Insects are my primary interest. With the aid of fish tanks, boxes, jars and netted cages I have been able to successfully breed many of them and observe their complete life cycles. This has given me deeper insight into their particular characteristics and behaviour and assisted me in portraying them in original and credible ways.
I study species of birds, frogs and lizards in the wild, then sketch, photograph and research them further through library references. From time to time mounted specimens have been borrowed from museums and collectors, and live specimens have been lent by breeders. Many an unfortunate road victim has been delivered to me by a supportive local community member.
My textile works generally portray indigenous Australian species. Although many are realistic in style, they are not correct in every botanical or anatomical detail. Instead, they try to capture an event or experience, and the mood or motion that the subjects have aroused in me. The works are also designed to have a strong visual impact through larger-than-life relief dimensions, textural variations and colour combinations. I especially enjoy depicting species that are not normally considered interesting, let alone beautiful, and visually enhancing their individual charms and attributes by giving a great deal of attention to their fine details. The sculpture Cup Moth Larva is an example. This is a grub to be wary of - its bristles give a nasty sting - yet I have chosen to feature the beauty of its multicoloured saddle.
Sketching has also been a lifelong interest. My initial sketches are quick and simple, and are intended only to capture an action, antic or behavioural pose. Full-scale work layouts and plans, however, can take weeks to prepare before I begin a textile.
Designing a textile on paper is very different from executing it in fabric, because I have to allow for the light and shade created by the relief work, and the textures of the various materials. It is also easy to clutter a work with too much detail in the sewing, and knowing when to stop is a learned art. I prefer designs that look simple, yet their making may be extremely complex.
Often the colours used are not identical to the real species, as I prefer to alter colour tones to suit the mood and purpose of the design. In my early work I preferred the soft muted colours of our bush and landscape and generally used brighter pigments very sparingly. Splashes of colour were only introduced on focal points, such as the inside of a bird’s beak or on the wing of an airborne insect. In later years I have enjoyed using a wider range of colours, particularly in my imaginative and interpretational works, such as the Mythical Moth series. I have also used paint more extensively as a colour-tone basis for embroidery, both on the backing canvas and on the fabric of the sculptures.
The materials used, such as silk, wool, fur, cotton and synthetics, are carefully chosen for their colour, texture, durability, credibility and aesthetic appeal. These fabrics are then meticulously painted and stitched to enhance the tactile quality that is unique to textiles. For example, sheer silk stockings basically resemble the wings of many insects but with appropriate embellishment they can be made to mimic a particular species quite remarkably. Similarly, a piece of dull green wool can be transformed into a leaf, a frog, a moth wing or a grasshopper. Each type of
fabric has its individual inspiration for me. I am an avid collector of all sorts of materials, whether new, pre-loved or recycled. A room in my home is devoted to their storage in colour-graded compartments, and I treasure my fabric collection.
Pattern drafting is an exacting stage in all my works. I draft tissue-paper patterns from the completed full-scale pencil-on-paper design layout. Angles have to be precisely drafted to suit the size and shape of the relief area. This is rather like drafting darts in a dress to fit the female form. The designs for sculptural textiles often need to be broken down into many separate sections, as in Slate Pencil Sea Urchin and Fallen Red Gum Log. Also, because of the size limitations imposed by the arm of the sewing machine, all my wall designs are divided into small workable areas. Large works, such as Freedom and Fantail Rhapsody, are made up of several hundred pieces of fabric. Each small part is individually stitched before being attached to the backing fabric, a process rather like working on a giant jig-saw puzzle. Even with extensive forward planning, areas often have to be remade, their colours or textures toned up or down to modify the effect. Other pieces may be scrapped altogether. While these small sections are only pinned or tacked together, there is a great deal of improvisation and alteration, such as adjusting angles, particularly in relief areas. A few degrees can make an enormous difference to the balance, design flow, optical impression and shadows cast. Even when taking great care, there are often days when I seem to be doing more unpicking than sewing.
The sewing is only the last of many stages in a work. It is the culmination of sometimes weeks of planning, with an infinite number of decisions made daily that will all affect the end product. Fine details, such as the expression of an eye or the stamens of flowers, are sewn by hand. Sculptural forms particularly require a lot of hand sewing to avoid flattening their outer shape. This is a slow, laborious job but well worth the effort.
Machine embroidery involves only four variations of the basic lock stitch: straight stitch, zigzag, stitches with more thread showing on the front of the fabric, or those with more showing on the back. When these are combined with different stitch lengths, widths, needles, feet, threads and fabrics the various possibilities are endless. Each work featured in this book has been stitched on normal household sewing machines - Husqvarna Class 20, and models 6570, 6370, 990 and 1100.
I take pride in the neatness of completed work so all thread ends are tied off at the back of the canvas or inside the relief structure to achieve a flat, strong, secure and tidy finish. Where possible they are also ‘invisibly’ embroidered back into the fabric. Some large works have countless thousands of ends to tie and I deal with them on a daily oasis. Steam ironing the individual parts, as well as the total canvas, is also a constant chore.
The techniques I use include machine embroidery, painting, dyeing, appliqué, trapunto, quilting, pleating, moulding, sculpting, felting, hand embroidery, beading, spinning, weaving, plying, stiffening and wiring - in a limitless number of combinations
My major commissioners and patrons deserve a mention. They have allowed me artistic, financial and emotional freedom within the constraints of a sound brief. They have also allowed me to exhibit their commissions prior to installation in their home environment. I acknowledge their large contribution to my artistic growth and development, and thank them sincerely.
Textile art and Australian wildlife have become my hobby, profession and addiction.
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