In the Studio
with Sara Kelly
Weaver Sara Kelly Finds a home in
Color and Community
Medium: Weaving Based: South East London
Artist in Residence: April '22
It all starts with a color palette; A combination of colors that corresponds with the brief Sara Kelly drafts for herself before embarking on a new design. The chosen colors can be picked from anything, but the weaver finds a particular fascination with the link between colors and emotions. “Recently, I did a piece whose color was based on traumatic events that I can’t process in my brain,” Kelly explains to Ti-Pi Exhibition Space. “It’s sort of like channeling emotions into a piece of design, and converting emotion into color.”
She then moves on to the actual design of the patterns that will soon manifest into her woven pieces which emerge shortly after a few painting sessions. “I go through iterations of painting to see what flows and what happens without really thinking about it. I often chop things up and mix things together. It is a long process and the hardest part, but also the most fun, I think.”
This ritualistic and meditative process manifests itself into a plethora of tapestries and rugs designed and handwoven by Kelly. Made out of a long Rolodex of fabrics (wools, cotton, and more), these woven creations often boast geometrical designs that feel both controlled and spontaneous. Though she mentions perhaps a somber example of how her colors are chosen, one may never really tell. The colors within her work are often vibrant and striking and elicit warmth and comfort. At least, from one perspective. And, perhaps, that’s the point.
“Color is such a powerful thing. Or even the lack of color,” she says. “A lot of my work explores blending different colors and seeing how many iterations can come about. It’s fascinating really– how your eyes perceive color differently than how others do, and how they change with angle. And also fabrics! The same color can look totally different on linen than it will on wool.”
“With architecture, you might not see a completed project for years. Whereas weaving, it’s often shorter. I think it’s better for my mental health, honestly. I need constant change.”
While her curiosity continued to bubble, Kelly took baby steps by enrolling in her first weaving class. Then, she’d come across a weaver based in London that further exposed her to the practice. But, it was a four-month excursion to Mexico that would finally push her over the edge and pursue weaving full time.
“I witnessed the culture of crafting and their use of natural colors, and was in awe. Seeing weaving outside of the UK was enough for me to realize that it was something that I wanted to pursue.”
Originally trained in architecture and working in the field for nearly seven years, Sara Kelly’s fascination with tapestries began “four or five” years ago when her fixation with the craft led to a bit of research. “I found it all extremely interesting. I had gone my whole life not knowing or even considering how so many things around us were made such as rugs and clothes.” Architecture, though alluring in its own ways, was never truly fulfilling for her. See, Kelly craved using her hands to create, something that weaving certainly offered. Plus, the creation process is much quicker.
Now well into her trade, Kelly cites Celia Pym, another textile artist, as one of her inspirations. “One of her works, in particular, was crafted throughout her trip to Japan. She went without anything and collected yarn as she traveled. The end result was sort of results of her journey.”
But, her inspiration expands more than just the aesthetics. In fact, it lies primarily behind an underlying factor in weaving: community.
“When I went to Mexico and Guatemala, I was really inspired by the weavers there because I never considered how community plays a role in weaving,” she begins. “Before, it felt like I just needed a loom and the space. It felt like a very solitary craft. But, I saw the weavers there working outside of their homes and in their communities; bouncing off ideas, relying on each other for help, and, simply, socializing.”
Now, as the first artist residency at the Ti-Pi Exhibition Space, Kelly hopes to continue experimenting with different materials and different techniques while researching what these practices looked like traditionally in Belgium.
“This morning, I walked around feeling a bit anxious. Just because it’s my first time here and I wasn’t really sure of where to go, what to do,” she says. “I kind of just walked around and enjoyed the environment. Ghent has this special feeling. I feel like if I were to start working outside, people would stop and engage with me. It’s all about that: bridging art and community.”