A combination of digital screen prints, chemical dyes, beadwork, and Swarovski crystals become narrative textile collages in the work of UK artist Henry Hussey. With embroidery as his medium, Hussey crafts vividly beautiful psychedelic narratives that range from the personal to the geopolitical.
Hussey collages and manipulates his imagery to create a variety of scales and colors. In Voices, he crafts a large head that is dissected by various lines. In the middle of the head are a hallucinatory jumble of smaller heads composed of various media. Hussey addresses state and perhaps religious control in Gestation, in which two disembodied heads in profile (connected at their backs) sit amidst flames and Nazi symbols. Hussey’s text is simple: “You can make people live under control but you can’t force them to change their ways.”
Hussey went to London’s Royal College of Art where he studied textiles, exploring the narrative properties of the medium. He tells The Creators Project he found a “forceful and dramatic medium” in textiles that proclaim authority and grandeur. Yet they’re ideal for the masses reclaim in voicing their discontent.
“My engagement with embroidery comes from ecclesiastical and Christian vestments that have a significance embedded into the garments giving them a sense of magnitude,” Hussey explains. “Equally military and masonic regalia has been a source of inspiration as they carry the reoccurring visual tropes and compositions of religion. These pillars in our society interweave with an aim to empower the wearer with a presence and hierarchy.”
Hussey’s introduction of words into his embroidery work began when he directed a performance piece between his grandfather and the actor Chris Brandon. This became the source of a wealth of stories and revelations he has used in his work; many of which focus on power and usurpation in personal relationships and national politics, but also with the loss of loved ones through death or separation.
Ideally, Hussey wants the imagery and the text to be direct. The strength of the word is all about the intention with which they are spoken in the performances, but Hussey accents them with bold color and text. He only makes a few of these per year, so they are usually full of thoughts that need to be cathartically expelled.
“My work for the past couple of years has dealt with my own turmoil and concerns, yet I have reached the conclusion that mine are inconsequential to those that are in dire need,” says Hussey. “This has since forced me to pursue making politically conscious pieces and interrogate the systemic issues we feel as a society. It is my intention to push this further by travelling to cultures removed from western fundamentals that we see as dangerous.”
While many of Hussey’s works are large-scale, they often deal with his most intimate moments and greatest insecurities. He uses these as fodder for artwork so they no longer have any power over him. Hussey generates these thoughts by staging performance pieces between himself and actors, then amplifies these narratives with his materials and processes.
“I use chemical dyes which have a vividness that could never be achieved with natural dyes and have a radiating quality,” Hussey says. “Humans have an inherent response to tactility. It is a primal sensation—we all innately know the feeling of cloth on our skin.”
The artist says this is why embroidery has such a hold on humans. Throughout history, its process has stayed relatively the same, playing a big part in the stories we tell of events, whether personal or collective.
In future pieces, Hussey would like to work more with gesture and physicality by revealing remnants of each embroidered contour and manipulation. He would also like to create glass, bronze and aluminum works.
“I find it thrilling and thrive upon working in new mediums and disciplines, so I have an innate desire to expand my creative practice,” he says. “This avenue of inquiry should equally be reflected in the subject matters I engage with, and I have every plan to travel to the Middle East to question my own views and assumptions.”
Click here to see more of Henry Hussey’s work.