Interview with Artist / Crocheter Jeremy Cole

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Jeremy Cole is a visual artist who works in graphite, silverpoint and print. He also crochets amigurumi, something that hopes to incorporate into large scale art pieces still to come. He shares more about his inspiration, process and the benefits of crochet in this interview.

How did you learn to crochet?

I can’t remember why but I found myself sitting on a quiet beach with a hook and yarn attempting to make a net. I remember my curiosity being piqued. I am left handed and initially found decoding instructions, codes and diagrams to be the biggest challenge, I was (and still am) constantly googling instructions to help work out how to hook a new form. I will also ask other crafters. There is a knitting circle locally. I was once leapt upon during a pub quiz when I asked the circle team about decreasing stitches; hooks came out of nowhere and the quiz was forgotten in a flurry of demonstrations!

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What is one fond crochet memory?

The most significant hook (pardon the pun) that got me crocheting was when my daughter lost her most precious soft toy on a train. She was in pieces. I obsessed about finding it and then trying to find a replacement, contacting toy shops in New York, Berlin and Melbourne, but there were none. Then I realized that a replacement should come from me! We looked through patterns of soft toys including amigurumi and she chose one so now she has a bear called Catz and I have spare wool and a pattern should the worst happen. Catz is a most precious object for both of us.

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What draws you towards amigurumi as opposed to other aspects of the craft?

I like objects more than clothes. Clothes rarely carry a narrative or personality until they have been worn by someone and taken on as their own. I like how an object can be picked up, felt; they get held, loved and examined. They are interesting; clothes wear out, objects gather a patina of care and emotion. Antique teddybears are special because they have been loved and handled.

Amigurumi is such a wide umbrella but essentially:

  • they appeal to my love of studio ghibli
  • they have a sense of humour
  • there is an openness about them that allows influence from contemporary culture and alternative cultures be it Angry Birds, Call of Cthuhlu, or sushi
  • It is a light hearted platform for connections

One of the things that I particularly like is that I can make something and give it to a person. I like the act of giving especially giving when there is no reason or expectation. I like the activity of offering gifts.

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All of that said, I do also like making crochet hats. I’m currently working on a set of bobble hats for a swim team.

What are some things that you want to learn / do in crochet moving forward?

I am really keen to learn how to plan and create my own designs to move from relying on finding patterns and develop my own pieces. This was the point of why I came back to focusing on crochet; I have been planning to use crochet to create larger sculptures for trails and events in the countryside around where I live.

Do you have a specific project in mind?

Crochet fits perfectly with a slow brewing project within which I have been making rope. I have built a rope making machine and am turning out lengths of rope from different twines. From this I intend to crochet larger forms that can stand alone; these large pieces will be creatures and vessels to be placed in the landscape.

I think that making my own hooks is a necessary next step!

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What inspires you about working with older crafts / techniques?

I get deeply fascinated about refiguring out how to do something especially those things that have been superseded and lost – rope making for example had a huge place in seafaring towns and ports, unfathomably long warehouses, street names, circular train tracks all still exist but their significance and original use is lost.

I enjoy the research into a craft. It comes through practical experimentation, studying pictures and books. I have to admit that I rarely document the experimentation; it gets in the way of the making and discovery.

In this respect this is another thing I really like about crochet – the interpretation of a secret code, a map of abbreviations and numbers that match complicated diagrams, that in turn form an object constructed over days of concentration and devotion from a single length of yarn.

Rope making and knot tying has often been considered “masculine” whereas crochet has been dubbed a “feminine craft”. Any thoughts on this?

That ‘what is male / female’ really gets on my nerves. What does it matter who makes what and how? I think that a part of me wants to front up against that; I quite like feeling that I might get a judgmental glance now and again when I’m crocheting. I do get asked questions about what I’m making and only once did someone say that I was brave doing that in public in front of other men.

What is considered a male craft and a female craft is societal and not universal and I think that this divide can’t be that old. Tailors were men, weaving was once a male craft, I think that other influences have decided that different things are male and female for the sake of social order, marketing, sales something like that … Whatever it is that means that a man working with yarn is unusual or novel is outdated but I haven’t had any confrontations around it.

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How does this crochet work intersect with your the other mediums of your craft?

At the moment I don’t think that the different mediums do intersect well, but I’m not worried about that. I think that the intersection comes from the thought process that I am working with at the time; any intersection that happens is delightful and I quite like the idea that different mediums will interact and inform and change my thought process.

A lot of my work is about telling a story. I have always loved how artefacts add depth to that narrative. When you walk through a museum it is the objects and fragments that tell a story, more than any text, and often it’s the domestic objects that give you a deeper, more intimate grasp of a different time or a different reality.

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Can you take us on a brief tour of your art journey?

I did do a foundation in art before going to University to study biology and photography (originally I hoped to do biological illustration but that aspect of the course was dropped). I didn’t enjoy the course and left university disillusioned and with a poor grade but it was enough to eventually get into a teacher training college. From that point, drawing was something that I could do but didn’t.

For a long time art was something other people did. I would avoid going into galleries and exhibitions because it was painful to see others doing something I loved, I felt that it wasn’t my place to draw or attempt to take anything further. That said, I did always draw; secretly sketching passengers on bus and train journeys, doodling with clay and wire.

The need to make and draw has become an overwhelming internal force now and rather than live with my frustration I put together a portfolio and took it to The Newlyn Art School. I was offered a place on a mentoring program with 16 other artists and over the course of a year we met to discuss and develop our practice as well as learn how to take our work further in terms of exhibiting and sales. We had an exhibition together and many of us are still in contact and working together. I have to say since then I haven’t suddenly started selling anything or become a “success” but I feel validated and that what I do has a reason and maybe a place. I am enjoying what I do so much.

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What does the word “artist” mean to you and what has been your journey in claiming (or avoiding) the title?

This is a hard question to answer. I see the title of Artist as honorific; it is given not self-assigned. To be an artist is more than the combination of imagination and skill, there must be more. Nina Simone spoke about how an artist has a duty to reflect the times – to offer a perspective on the changing world, a point of view that might offer reassurance the the concerned and concern to the assured.

You know it’s easy to spout all this, it’s written everywhere and I read it a lot, but it means nothing. I am honestly mortified of taking that step, entering a gallery and daring to show what I’ve got, to put a price on my work; it is easier to make objects and give them away than put myself under the public eye. I have piles of work to frame. Ideas and projects that keep me awake at night and yet I fear that between fear and trying to earn a living I won’t gain that title that I think I seel

Laurence Olivier has said, “If you’re an artist, you’ve got to prove it.”

What do you hope people come away with after seeing your work?

I love telling stories and creating myths, stringing through them questions that people might ask of themselves and what assumptions we make about how we have lived. Also, simply, I hope people can feel good, interested and entertained.

Galleries concern me that they outprice the everyday person, plus are not easily accessed by those who would most profit from what a gallery has to offer. I know that is the nature of galleries and the art world but it’s sad that the gap is there. I would hope that in some way I might find a way to bridge that gap.

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Who are a few artists / crafters that really inspire you today?

I pour over the aquatints of Goya and the etchings of Alexander Aksinin first for their technical prowess and for how each image is so succinct in tales within whilst carrying such beautiful form. Further Aksinin has always interested me as a gift giver – someone who shared their craft with others because that was, for him, the right thing to do with his work. Similarly, I appreciate Keith Haring who set up shops and shared his images and projects with the people of the communities he worked within.

One of the best exhibitions I have ever been to was one curated by Grayson Perry at the British Museum. It was a mixture of artifacts picked from the British Museums collection and Grayson Perry’s own work and commissioned work. They sat together so well, told such a romantic story of a mystical and mythical non-reality.

Equally I dearly love Netsuke, these delicate, intricately detailed objects carved over months, pieces that are hilarious, erotic and touching objects made often by anonymous makers centuries ago now forgotten but their work lives on, loved and enjoyed.

What benefits has crochet offered to you? Or benefits from art making in general?

My daytime job is in education. I work especially with those struggling with behavioural and emotional problems. For me my drawing and making is an oasis from employment that is potentially all-encompassing and highly stressful. To remain emotionally healthy means that my work impacts minimally on my family and my ability to do my job.

I do think there is an intrinsic desire to create, to make in all of us, to take materials and make something. If my hands aren’t making or forming I feel that I am wasting time, I feel frustrated and I fidget. To be making is to feel sense of calm, joy and reason even whilst struggling against challenge and complication.

Have you taught crochet to any of your students?

Although I have yet to find a young person interested in the crafts I personally enjoy, I do try to offer them projects and experiences that draw the students to see their own abilities and how worthwhile their efforts are. I try to lead them to feel that intrinsic joy that comes from making. As a teacher I am successful and I work well with my students. helping them grow and improve as young people and in gaining qualifications to find employment or further education.

Follow Jeremy’s work on Instagram.

Kathryn

San Francisco based and crochet-obsessed writer, dreamer and creative spirit!

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