Crafts Quarterly Autumn 1982
Review of Sky Felts.
I have seen the large hangings which Jenny Cowern calls her Sky Felts more than once now, in very different places on its tour of Scottish arts centres. I saw them in the Crawford Gallery at St. Andrews University- a large purpose built space with plenty of room for even the largest works of art to breathe- and again at Artspace in Aberdeen; a converted three-storey building with rooms on a domestic scale, though generous enough as such.
In both cases the work managed to invest the available space with a sense of well-being, of colours in various sort of relationship, both harmonious and turbulent- blending, merging, superimposing, underlying, even shimmering at times in perfect balance overall. Obviously one was reminded of the work of the action painters, but only superficially. Those felted colours may lack the sheer immediate energy of pigments thrown or briskly trailed across white paper or canvas, but vitality is there nonetheless. And they possess other qualities, not least a sense of permanence, of ultimate calm. Whatever is random in their construction is no more than the movements of clouds moving through and across one another in a blue empyrean.
The medium is an unusual one, oven exploratory. Jenny Cowern is a painter by training (and a good draughtsman, too, on the evidence of a single drawing in her exhibition in which the essence of a sky in movement is caught and pinned down in a dance of lines) who has found an outlet in the potential scale, and, a~ she herself says, “the freedom, unfussiness, oven crudeness, and the directness” of creating these works in felt.
Her home is in Cumbria where the sky is omnipresent and always fascinating in its element flux - nature’s theatre of wind and light and water vapour. The process used is a physical one - the more completely so than painting. The colour dyed wool’s are used to create a basic piece some inches deep (small woven samplers give some notion of how these ideas take root from the direct experience first put down as free paintings in gouache or watercolours) which is then put through a long, laborious felting process until the fibres interlock and the whole becomes as large as a mural, but free hanging; flatter than a painting, but carrying the coloured composition deep into its substance.
One is continually conscious of subtleties, greys that are tinted, warm against cool, and breathed, as it were, into blues that range from deep cobalt to pale eggshell cerulean. Turbulence, too, makes an appearance with grumbling dark nuclei that vie for dominance with vivid patches of rose and lemon, hinting at the afterglow that remains when the sun has set excitingly on a troubled sky. And one of the most successful, to my mind, merges every pale hue you could imagine into a shimmering opalescence.