A Stitch in Time - In Conversation with Richard McVetis

A Stitch in Time - In Conversation with Richard McVetis

The creative process differs wildly from artist to artist. Some work in a maelstrom of feverish inspiration, moving from canvas to canvas with wild arcs of splattered paint as their conduit. Others focus intently on the minutiae of form, painstakingly carving away at a sculpted parabola. Richard McVetis's work is like a repetitive meditation on time, space and skill, deeply rooted in the process of hand embroidery and drawing. It is performance art in poetic slow motion. We recently caught up with Richard in his London studio to find out more about his meticulous approach to his art. With needle or nib, his attention to detail is something we can all take something from, especially in a world where immediacy has become so valued.

How did you navigate your creative energy towards hand-embroidery in the first place?

My introduction to embroidery was a happy accident and, in fact, happened on a visit to the open day of the Embroidery degree at Manchester School of Art. The course opened my mind to the broad sense of 'embroidery'. What attracted me to this place was the chance to learn one of the world's oldest crafts whilst also exploiting the contemporary possibilities; without a doubt, this period of my life is one that I regard with great fondness. The diversity and exploration of the medium are liberating. Under excellent tutelage, we were encouraged to use anything and everything as materials in our work. As a result, there was always a sense of everything being well made and thought out, whether design or fine art.

Ilfracombe Jacket
Ives Indigo

Tabley Polo Shirt Morval Cream

Tabley Polo Shirt
Morval Cream

Fundamentally though, embroidery's particular appeal has always been about drawing, the similarities between pen on paper and thread on fabric, and the immediacy and directness of the mark-making. It is a wonderfully expressive, simple, democratic, and accessible mechanism for storytelling. Drawing as an act is at the core of everything I do. I use the stitch as any other drawing medium, using the density of stitches to create various tones and textures.

Hand embroidery is a continuation of the exploration of surface and texture through rendering. Substituting the ink for thread and the paper for fabric, the subtly and the dimension of hand-stitch continues to fascinate me. When I stitch, I'm endeavouring to recreate the flatness of pen on paper and the graphic qualities of a texture.

Can you describe your creative process? Where does the kernel of inspiration come from and how does that extrapolate out through your process to finally become a completed work of art?

This depends on the sort of project; if it’s a large, long-term work, I’ll plan the work in detail, calculate dimensions and think about how I might present it. Then, in parallel to these more significant works, I will play with materials, draw and mark-make with stitch, take photographs and make maquettes; these may inform outcomes later, or they may exist on their own. The process of creating a work also starts with inspiration. Inspiration takes many forms: a memory, an artist, the urban environment, the process of making itself, and something I might imagine. I read a lot, and I’m drawn to the ideas of time and physics discussed in Carlo Rovelli’s books.

Also, I take great joy and solace in the work of Agnes Martin, Rachael Whiteread, Edmund De Waal, Vija Celmins and Berenice Abbott, to name a few. But really, at the heart of my practice is process and hand embroidery—multiples of dots, lines, and crosses, all meticulously stitched, record time and map space. My work is about labour, refinement and investing time in ordinary materials. Through the process, I explore the subtle differences that emerge through the insistent, ritualistic, and habitual making and giving material form to abstract ideas, making the intangible tangible.

Much of your work is painstakingly meticulous - is the process meditative? And what happens when you hit a creative impasse? How do you overcome it?

The process of embroidery, slow, methodical, restores a sense of order and informs a more profound comprehension and connection to the world. There is a wonderful intimacy in this labour-intensive way of making; the ritual and repetition allow you to create space, both physical and mental. The slowness is crucial, I like how I’m limited by my body’s speed. It’s both a meditation on time and process. These physical, tactile, and repetitive modes of creation allow me the time see and think.

Can you describe your studio? And the conditions you find yourself working best in?

I have a shared studio at Cockpit Bloomsbury, just around the corner from Lambs Conduit Street. I split my time between here and my home studio, which is not as flashy as it sounds; the home studio is a desk and comfy chair. The studio at Cockpit is light and airy, well organised and representative of my work, muted and monochromatic. There is a preoccupation with having the space just right before I start the process of making; there’s a need for control. Despite the social nature of stitching, I find that I need to be alone to stitch, it’s an intimate process, and the quiet is essential, so this tends to be done at home. 

How do you approach your own personal style? Do you have an aesthetic you lean on or a personal look that you have evolved?

I’m a classic introvert, so I hate to draw attention. My style is reserved, introspective, quiet, and minimal like my work.

Much or your work in monochromatic, but what about your wardrobe?! Muted palette or riot of colour?! I’m very much the physical representation of my work, monochromatic and muted. I have been known to wear yellow! But I find it much easier to have a bit of uniform, something that doesn’t require too much thinking in the morning, a t-shirt, jacket, and trousers. But with every piece, there is a focus on craftsmanship, tailoring, and quality materials. I’m drawn to subtle textures and well-designed details. I’m getting a little more adventurous as I get older. 

Which artists/creatives do you most admire and why?

There are too many to mention, but I’m constantly inspired by my fellow artists, makers, and designers. All of whom are working hard to bring beauty and joy every day, despite the incredible hardships and inequalities many face. In addition, I admire the people who are not artists but those supporting artists, collectors, leaders of cultural institutions, those people tirelessly championing the importance of art and culture.

If not art then what else?

Architecture, for sure. As a child, playing and building with Lego was always fun and endlessly inspiring. Our interaction with space and the built environment is crucial to the experience and quality of our daily lives; to play a part in designing this world would have been a dream.

Go check out Richard's solo show Shaped by Time 5 April – 30 July 2022, Crafts Study Centre, Farnham www.csc.uca.ac.uk/

richardmcvetis.co.uk @richardmcvetis

Studio – Cockpit https://cockpitstudios.org

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