An occasional series in which we highlight one of our members. Feel free to ask questions or comment at the bottom of the page.
I am a multidisciplinary artist based in London and Madrid. My work is influenced by theatre, dream, surrealism, cultural myth and fairytale, always guided by a profound passion for colour and light, whilst also reflecting a love of visualising and interpreting text.
I grew up in a very European environment, brought up bilingually, like so many Londoners. Much of my childhood was spent travelling between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean. My Swedish grandmother was a Stockholm furrier and my Maltese grandmother made lace. I loved the contrasting cultures, languages, climates and colours.
Studying English, Drama and Art at A level, it was difficult to decide between art school – theatre design, or acting and directing. I chose the latter but always loved working with designers.
I started my career in the theatre after graduating with a BA in Performing Arts and co-founding Tell Tale Theatre, specialising in Commedia dell’ Arte, puppetry, circus and theatre-in-education, touring the UK and France. Following my degree, I also trained to teach English as Foreign Language. My mother, a teacher and linguist, had taught me Swedish and instilled in me a love of languages. This led to translating, adapting and directing Scandinavian drama – Strindberg and Ibsen in particular. Whilst bringing up my family in Wales, I continued my career in EFL, in teaching, consultancy and life story, which eventually led to working abroad in Spain, Italy, India and South America.
Years later, and having brought up my two sons – now a musician and a journalist, I studied Life Story at post graduate level, and so began work on my mother’s life story, and it was then that I felt the need to return to the visual. My mother had recently and very sadly died. We had been very close and I kept finding her influencing and appearing in my work.
Once back in London, I studied Contemporary Collage at City Lit, and much enjoyed the exploration and juxtaposition of imagery, scale, style and content. During that time, I met the totally inspiring Louise Baldwin. On visiting the departmental exhibition, I was amazed by the variety and range of textile art. And it wasn’t long before I enrolled on her courses, constituting my first year of textile studies. I then went on to do Foundation Textiles at Morley College and following that, I was delighted to be accepted onto the Advanced Textiles course at City Lit.
This gave me a wonderful and very challenging opportunity to explore a huge range of techniques, and a chance to work more conceptually. It was then that I began to examine personal influences from my upbringing; the geographical differences, the light, the midnight sun of northern Sweden, the fairy tales, trolls, the snow and candle light, the infinite and myriad blues of Malta, the heat, sea and sky and the iconography of the dark and ancient churches. My early Nordic influences were Tove Jansson, Astrid Lindgren and John Bauer, followed by the female surrealists – particularly Hannah Höch, and much later, the daemons of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. I began to see characters and stories in my abstract pieces, which were to become the foundation for the Aurora Borealis series.
At the beginning of the course and before the pandemic, I continued my work abroad, between course dates, spending huge amounts of time on trains and in hotel rooms. Free embroidery was the perfect and most practical solution to making work on the road, sometimes even extending to dying fabric in the hotel bath! Once back in the studio, I used an embellisher fusing fabrics, silks and metallic threads, an almost magical process, to explore colour and texture. As with making felt, I love the relative unpredictability of the technique. I work intuitively, almost in an abstract way, guided by colour, texture and light.
Embarking on the Advanced Textiles course at The City Lit, I searched for an image or concept that could capture the essence of my Scandinavian and Mediterranean background – two very distinct cultures. I rediscovered a photograph taken by my mother of me as a young child, dressed up as Santa Lucia, a 3rd Century Italian saint, celebrated in Sweden on the winter solstice. She symbolises light and hope, even in the darkest of times. It was also an emotional response to the political changes of the last few years.
Using photography, collage and digital printing, I have played with colour and mark-making to find characters emerging in a somewhat pareidolic way.
Childwood / Förtrollad explores the influence of myth, dream and fairytale on my upbringing in London. Childwood is the enchanted wood of childhood, with its trolls, demons and magic. My background in theatre has inspired my deep love of the black box and black light theatre. I have used hand and machine embroidery to fuse velvets and silks to juxtapose colour, light and darkness, and with an embellisher I found a way to push light through to the surface.
Childwood, Aurora Borealis and the Lucia Krona series were exhibited at the Textiles 2020 group show at The Espacio Gallery, London, in December 2020.
I love to collaborate and working with text is always an exciting process. I have been fortunate enough to be commissioned for book illustrations by the publishers, Nueva Utopia and Ediciones Arcos, Madrid.
In the future I would also love to write and illustrate children’s books.
The Traveller’s Case
Most recently, I have been developing this series of tiny suitcases. It started during lockdown when I couldn’t travel or escape. Somewhat obsessed with the concept and practicalities of luggage, I found a way to distill the experience by making the tiniest suitcase; something so tiny it could never be useful, but it could contain a memory, or a moment.
These tiny cases float weightlessly, frozen in time. Full of holes, they contain within them the memories and moments of their journeys; tickets, maps, letters, people half remembered, places half forgotten. Captured in time until they can venture out to journey again. This work is dedicated to my mother who taught me how to travel, from a very early age.
‘To call up the past in the form of an image, we must be able to withdraw ourselves from the action of the moment, we must have the will to dream… But… the past is fugitive, ever on the point of escaping…’
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1896)
The Traveller’s Case was exhibited @210 Window Gallery, Brixton, in April/May 2021.
You can see more of Karina’s work, hand and machine embroidery, prints, illustrations and videos, and enquire about commissions,on her website: www.karinahaake.com or follow her on Instagram: @karinahaake
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- You can see more of Veronica’s work at: www.veronicathornton.com
instagram – veronicathornton99
or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org