Imogen Morris: Artist of the Week
This week we are talking to Birmingham based artist Imogen Morris, who creates portraits using nail and thread. Imogen's work depicts both bold yet fragile compositions that explore the delicacy in the materiality of thread.
Image description: a landscape poster showing an exhibition view with large scale thread paintings hung on wither side of a large tree in a white pot that takes up the centre of the room. Sculptural triangular prisms hang from the ceiling, wrapping themselves around the roof. Bold white text in the centre reads Imogen Morris, underneath in a smaller white font reads Imogen Morris dot com.
Can you introduce yourself and your practice?
I’m Imogen and I am a Birmingham based artist who makes portraits out of nail and thread.
What drew you to work with thread?
I’ve always enjoyed working in embroidery because I find the process really therapeutic. I started making small embroidery pieces for fun in my spare time. I enjoy the process of stitching into fabric, but changed my practice into nail and thread as it seemed to gain more interest.
What inspired you to create this exhibition?
Digbeth Art Space approached me to create a second solo exhibition with them. I worked alongside the DAS team to explore techniques I’d been experimenting with for a while, such as, combining different materials with thread, bringing my work out into the 3D space and adding colour to my pieces.
Digbeth Art Space is a huge and interesting space to work in / with. I wanted to create work that interacted with the dome and create pieces that filled the large space. My work looks better on a larger scale as this allows for more detail within the image, and artists don’t often have the opportunity to make work for a space that big so I wanted to create a variety of works that really took up, and worked with, the space.
Imogen Morris, paint and thread on board, 2022
Image Description: a large scale square portrait on a pastel yellow, blue and pink board. Black thread wrapped around nails builds the image of a female portrait, gazing off to the left with hand raised. The figure begins to break off into triangular patterns which merge into small sculptural triangles suspended from the ceiling.
How did you approach creating the pieces for this show?
I have a tendency to overdo it – every idea I explore I try to shove into one piece. I tried to steer clear of this when approaching the individual works within the exhibition - spacing these ideas out into multiple pieces and ensuring there was a lot of space around each individual piece. Digbeth Art Space is huge, but each piece is quite loud, expressive and bold and so I feel they need a lot of space around them. The hanging 3D pieces needed to have their own section of the exhibition; slightly separate as their aesthetic and concept was slightly different to the others. While the 2D pieces indicated a sense of movement within them, the 3D pieces encouraged movement from the audience.
Your installation incorporates many geometric forms and triangular sculptures. Is this in response to the architecture of the space?
The triangular sculptures came from a style of working that has been present in my work from the very beginning – the polygonal forms. Because I am working in thread and nail it is impossible for me to curve the thread, however I make curves using straight lines. And so, my work is basically a big build-up of triangles. The triangle has always been a present style of building form in my images and so I wanted to bring my triangles out into the 3D space, and therefore create pyramids. Weirdly they worked perfectly with the architecture of the space, specifically the dome in the centre of the gallery which is made up of triangles.
Imogen Morris, paint and thread on 4 boards, 2022
Image Description: a large scale square portrait on 4 separate pastel blue and pink boards. Black thread builds up a close up detail of the face, with circular patterns built up of individual lines scattered around the face.
Is colour an essential aspect to your work? How do you go about deciding which colours to incorporate?
When I first started working in the nail and thread technique I strictly stuck to black thread against a white background, then I started working in coloured thread, and attempting to create light / shadow / depth using colour. Now I’m exploring colour in (I think) a more interesting way, by painting it on the board before I start threading. I like the unpredictability of this method and the way the brushstrokes interact with the thread. The brushstrokes are chaotic and irregular and this contrasts nicely with the thread, which is very precise and detailed. In terms of the types of colours I choose, I’m really drawn to pale, baby colours with tiny hints of deeper, stronger colours. Paler colours are better as they don’t interrupt the thread portraits.
Your hanging pieces split a portrait into multiple sections and can only be viewed complete from a certain angle. Is this choice building a specific narrative within your pieces?
I think this decision came from a technical standpoint – I wanted to create something that utilised the space, rather than just hanging against a wall, and I wanted the piece to encourage the audience to move themselves. Alongside this, I begun creating work where I pull apart the face, breaking the facial structure into pieces, and taking certain areas of the face away. (Fragmented Woman I & II) So I ended up combining these three explorations into the hanging pieces. I feel I have only touched the surface in terms of what I can create with this idea – I imagine this progressing into a large-scale installation of a full face, but that face is split into 6-7 different pyramids. I just need to find a large enough space to work in!
Imogen Morris, thread on triangular prisms, 2022
Image Description: two white triangular prisms hang from the ceiling. Fragmented sections of a portrait are sewn onto netting that is wrapped within the prism.
How important is portraiture within your work?
Initially the most important part of my practice was the nail and thread technique, and the portraiture was just a means of exploring the technique. However, now portraiture has become far more important – the importance has reversed – the nail and thread has become a means of depicting my subjects. It’s important that these faces portray different characteristics, emotions or expressions, but are also representative of society today.
What kind of ideas are you aiming to present through your exhibition?
The exhibition is titled In Flux, which means a state of constant movement. The exhibition itself embodies a sense of movement and development. I wanted the viewer to have to move around the space to fully experience the work, and I utilised the space to push my practice in ambitious ways and explore new ways of working with thread.
What one thing would you like to change about the art industry today?
More accessibility and approachability.
Do you have any upcoming projects you are able to share with us?
I’m currently at the Bankside Hotel in Southbank, London, doing an artist residency with DegreeArt Gallery. I have free access to the artist studio here and I’m continuing to explore similar themes that I explored in the In Flux exhibition. I’m here till 2nd September, so if anyone is in London during this time please pop over to say hi!
To find out more about Imogen's work you can find her at imogenembroideryart.com or on Instagram @imogenembroideryart. You can also view works for sale over at Cosimo at www.cosimo.art/imogen-morris.
If you are interested in being featured as an Artist of the Week you can fill out a short application form here.
All images courtesy the artist.