Veronica Thornton

Veronica with “Five Coastal Strips” at Espacio Gallery, December 2020

My mother was a batik artist producing large landscapes and portraits on canvas leaving a memory of the smell of melting wax. She kept detailed sketch books and encouraged her three daughters to do the same. For my first degree I studied art and education at Goldsmiths College; my paintings at that time were primarily of landscapes. Subsequently I took an M.A. at the Royal College of Art in the department of graphic design where the work involved mapping and aerial photography.  Following a career in art education, teaching in both schools and sixth form colleges, I finally found the time to explore my own ideas. I have always been interested in local and family history, the stories of a specific place, and maps. Aspects of some or all of these still permeate my work.

The Spanish Sewing Room, 100 x 100cm

I first visited my Spanish friend’s old apartment in Madrid in the 1980s and found a time capsule from when the family had taken residence in the 1940s. Here were grand rooms with chandeliers, family portraits of relatives in Cuba and a photo of my friend’s father with Franco. The back of the apartment faced south and here were the servants’ quarters, kitchens, cupboards and a sewing room. It was the sewing room that captured my attention: there was a palpable sense of history in the faded velvets, sinister black hats with feathers and hand made linen shirts. In the drawer of a heavy wooden wardrobe was an unopened parcel containing a jacket sent back by the army in 1937 after my friend’s father was injured in the Spanish Civil War.  When my friend sold the apartment in 2010 I acquired some of these items and brought them back to the UK.

Long cummerbund, 180 x 25cm
Cummerbund detail

Joining the Advanced Textiles course at The City Lit, London, in 2018, gave me the structure to explore my ideas with more focus. For the first year my work concerned “The Spanish Sewing Room”. The textile pieces explored aspects of the Spanish Civil war and fascism. I screen printed a 1937 map of Madrid, the exact location of the old apartment, then embellished fragments of fabric to suggest areas under attack. The finished fabric piece resembled a vague outline of the map of Spain. A companion piece made use of a cummerbund found in the sewing room with collaged badges, ribbons, and various scraps attached. The colour palette for this work echoed the Spanish flag of red, black and yellow and Goya’s black paintings in the nearby Prado lurked in the back of my mind.

My interest in aerial photography and maps inspired my work on coastal erosion for the second year of the course. Visiting Happisburgh, Winterton and Waxham you realise the dramatic effects of erosion on these coastal communities. Houses and roads have fallen into the sea and the sea defences put in place at Happisburgh in the 1980s have now worn away. This brings uncertainty to the whole area.

Five coastal strips, 180 x 110cm

I enjoy working with old fabrics, fragment of clothes, and maps. In my current work I am revisiting aspects of the Spanish sewing room, investigating the structures of Chinese slippers and making smaller abstract compositions.  All this is building up to a body of work to be shown at Cambridge Open studios in July 2021.

For the erosion work I dyed various thin fabrics such as scrim and muslin then made coastal strips using an embellisher with some hand stitching. I also used scraps of frayed silk to suggest the insistence of the sea pushing at the land. The colours used were pale blues and greys, more muted and subtle echoing the sea and land.  I created five thin fabric strips which were hung to be read from left to right, each strip becoming more fragile than the last. This was the centre piece of my work displayed at the Espacio Gallery, East London, in December 2020.

Chinese slipper, 32 x 18cm
Chinese slipper collage, 15 x 15cm
  • You can see more of Veronica’s work at: www.veronicathornton.com
    instagram  – veronicathornton99
    or contact her at veronica.thornton@virgin.net

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