Textile artist Zara Merrick was born in Dublin, grew up in Belfast, she moved to London in the 1980’s. After studying Jewellery Design at Central St Martins Zara found her way into textile art.
What lured you to start working with textiles?
I’d been working in jewellery with metal and found I really missed pattern and colour. I just needed that texture. I love the ability to mix and match the patterns in fabrics and am really excited by colour combinations.
My tutor at Central St Martins had suggested I moved course to textiles but I wasn’t ready or interested at that time. I didn’t really know what it entailed and I was happy where I was. My jewellery had become more illustrative and I’d always painted and drawn. I moved into illustration and then started combining painting and textiles, during this time I was also creating very large needlepoint tapestries. It all happened quite organically over the years.
What inspires you to start a piece? Do you make a plan, or just pick up your needle?
My work takes so long. As I’m finishing one piece I have the next work mulling over in my head. I do a very rough sketch. I keep all the elements in my head, but they may change as I’m going along. I might be convinced I’m going to work in pink and end up finding a beautiful green fabric and it ends up green!
I often think about colour first. I normally have colours in mind – I have thousands of photos and screen shots on my phone of things that have quite literally ‘caught my eye’. Colour combinations are so exciting. Then I go off and sort through my collections of fabrics and create a working pile, this often gets sifted to fewer and fewer. I might think I’m working in pink but find a beautiful cornflower blue. I can make my own rules…it’s great! I see fabrics as a form of paint.
Why birds, ships and anchors as your subjects?
With birds I like the idea of trying to capture the texture, depth and colour of feathers. There’s something very decorative about birds.
I had thought these themes were fairly recent to me but when I look over work I’ve done over the last tens of years these elements have always been there.
I started putting hearts and jewellery on the birds, I may no longer work in metal but I still love the beauty of jewellery and all it signifies. I have always been drawn to what they symbolised……secret messages within works.
I love the Victorian era and their love of symbolism. Ships and anchors stood for hope, stars for endurance and of course we all know the heart. That carries on with flowers – Victorian Floriography, the language and meaning of flowers. I’ve incorporated Buttercups for joy, Forget Me Nots for love and Snow Drops which symbolise hope on my most recent works
Where do you find/source your materials from?
I find fabric in antique markets, through vintage fabric dealers or sometimes they’re given to me, but I love searching for them.
Going to Ardingly Antiques Fair is just the best day out.
At Kempton Market I’ve got to know quite a few of the textile dealers and see them at lots of different fairs.
I like thinking of how the fabrics were used before, I enjoy the history of a piece.
What have been your favourite, most treasured materials?
I love all the bits of gold I find. I do have some special pieces.
My husband’s mother gave me a Victorian dress that was once worn by the Lady Mayoress of Tynemouth to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in the 1890’s. It’s a beautiful delicate floral pattern in lilac silk with green trimming that had been loved and repaired and handed down through the generations. Finally disintegrating it was gifted to me. It’s nice to know that it was precious and so loved and now continues onwards in another guise.
How many hours does a work tend to take you?
A very detailed piece can take between 4 and 6 weeks. A whole week can be spent just stitching buttercups! Everything is done by hand.
What spurs you on to start a new work?
The excitement of a new piece….the next one will always be better hopefully….I can’t put my finger on it. I can’t just sit and do nothing. It’s in me.
What’s your favourite work of art?
Anthony Green RA Mr and Mrs Stanley Joscelyne The Second Marriage, 1972 it hangs in the Ulster Museum. It’s of his mother with her second husband, the composition is based on ‘The Arnolfini Betrothal’ by Jan van Eyck (National Gallery, London), which contains many symbolic references to marriage and fidelity. It’s huge at over 2-metres square, so large you feel you’re part of it whilst standing in front of it. I love the intensity of colour and the highly patterned carpet and weird perspectives. I have spent many many hours staring at it over the years.
If you could own any piece of art (even if you had to rob a bank or museum!) what would it be?
Another Anthony Green RA, My Mother Alone In Her Dining Room I love his work from the 70s.