Heavy Metals: Alysn Midgelow Marsden
Copper, bronze, brass and woven metal may seem unlikely materials of choice for a renowned textile artist, but for Alysn Midgelow Marsden experimentation is all part of the joy.
“I can use pretty much any material I come across,” says Alysn. “I enjoy finding the limits of how things crossover. How can I stitch with wire or what happens to metal when you fold it, when you dip it in acid, when you put it under the sewing machine or in a flame?”
Alysn, who was born and raised in the UK, comes from a long line of stitchers but took the roundabout route to artistic acclaim via a PhD in Genetics and Biochemistry. “I decided fairly early on in my science career that it was going to be a temporary thing and I was going to push hard and find out what I could do with Art.”
After studying embroidery at City and Guilds and developing an interest in the social significance of textiles, Alysn’s work reached a turning point when she decided to think of metal as fabric. “The scale, my drawings, my inspiration and how I presented the work all had to change. That was really exciting.”
All that messing about with bunsen burners now comes in handy for the burnishing, soldering and shaping of her sculptures, wall panels and wearable arts. Alysn says developing each piece is a complicated, engrossing time. “Textiles can be worked and reworked, and I really fight against that, because I want it to feel as though it's flowing straight from me.”
In 2012, after developing her own gallery and arts centre and writing five books on textile art, Alysn emigrated to New Zealand with her husband Brian and their three (then) teenage children. It was time to get back into the studio. “I wanted to give my time to be the artist that I'd always promised myself I could be.” Her work has now won awards in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Two years ago, Alysn and Brian found a house on the Tawharanui Peninsula with a studio, room for visitors, native bush and a view of the sea. “Being near the sea is important in terms of being at the edge of something, being able to stand and feel that you're open in a different way to being surrounded by land,” says Alysn. “There's something about the energy that I find very appealing. And the light in Matakana is incredibly special, I liken it to Cornwall.”
Earlier this year she led an ‘Impressive Metals’ workshop as part of Creative Matakana, one of many workshops she teaches internationally. “Many of my ideas never find their way into my finished work. Passing those on in workshops is a fabulous way for me to continue experimenting and to feel that those ideas have had a life of their own.”