Q&A: Artist Bethan Lloyd Worthington
19 February 2015
We speak to Bethan as we launch Yonder: A Needlepoint Tapestry Pillow Kit, our latest SMP CoLab.
Can you tell us who you are, where you were born and where you're based?
I'm Bethan Lloyd Worthington. I was born in Birmingham, I grew up in Macclesfield, quite Welsh, now based in London.
How would you describe what you do?
I work with drawing, installation and objects. I have a background in craft processes, particularly ceramics and glass, so I find a particular material or technique often presents itself early in the development of an idea.
How and where do you make your work?
My studio is in Clapton, East London. It's an old concrete factory with huge windows, meaning it's very cold, but light. The studio is my base, but often work is made on residency - being elsewhere for a finite period is really helpful to me.
Can you describe your making process?
In the past few years, I've worked with stained glass, needlepoint, smashed porcelain, photography, wax rubbings... Sometimes it's a process I know well, but sometimes I need to learn a new skill and I'll take an evening class or read about it so that I can make what I have in my head. Often I need to see how a material will behave, for example, are the marks of impact in a boulder of solid porcelain more pleasing if I chuck it at the floor raw, or if I fire it first?
What tools and materials do you use in your work? Is there a tool you couldn't do without?
Porcelain is a sort of 'home' material for me, but I use lots of different things, including found materials. The tool might be a Stanley knife, I use it to sharpen my pencils. I prefer not to use a sharpener on drawing pencils, because a knife helps me understand the texture of the pigment/graphite. It means I know exactly where the point is, and where it might break. With a knife, I can also alter/make other tools, particularly clay modelling sticks.
What initially sparked your desire to become an artist and what drives you today?
I always made things, but when I was little I didn't really have any sense of what an artist is, or can be. I think what I do is I go about noticing stuff and pointing it out to people in whatever form seems right. I like incompleteness, fragmentary things and scant knowledge... I'm really into archaeology.
Can you remember the first thing you made?
I doubt it, but I do remember my Nain (meaning grandmother in Welsh) showing me how to do needlepoint tapestry when I was very young, finding the right holes with the needle. The simplicity really appealed to me. I used this technique again for the first time twenty-odd years later on a site-responsive project with National Trust London. We worked with 2 Willow Road, the former home of brutalist architect Ernö Goldfinger. On my first visit, I was drawn to a needlepoint tapestry chair that had been completed by Ernö's grandmother, to his design. I enjoyed the inter-generational process, and the strong pattern. My own work brought together this technique with the faded colours of a paper calendar on the door to his study.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
Manifold, a shared studio and collective I co-founded in 2010 have been asked to do a quick project with the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London. We're going to curate a display in the Ceramics Galleries, with each of us choosing something that speaks to us and to our work. I'm excited to spend some time there, dowsing for the right thing.
Thanks Bethan! Learn more about Yonder: A Needlepoint Tapestry Pillow Kit on the shop or watch the film here.
Portrait and kit images by Marina Castagna. All others courtesy the artist.