The Contemporary Art Society has helped acquire Alice Kettle’s Odyssey (2003) for Southampton City Art Gallery through its Omega Craft Fund.
Kettle’s textile works exploit large-scale mechanical processes and emotive, figurative scenes. Her work asserts the power of myth and storytelling emphasising its centrality to human life. In her exploration of narratives, she draws inspiration from literary, mythological and poetic sources delving into their power to form worlds. Her works are massive in scale, which creates an almost cinematic impact, yet on closer inspection are incredibly detailed and craft a lyrical narrative through exquisitely intricate embroidery.
Originally made for the Mythscapes exhibition at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax, Kettle’s textile work tells the dual story of Penelope and Odysseus. Homer’s epic explores notions of rites of passion, faith and endurance, which are the references for Kettle’s process of making the resulting artwork.
By crafting a narrative in embroidery, Kettle centralises the role of Penelope even as she is absent from the image. In the Odyssey Penelope fends off suiters by weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s elderly father Laertes and claiming that she will choose a suitor when she has finished. Every night for three years, she undoes part of the shroud and this is presented as an equally heroic action to Odysseus’s journey.
Kettle’s tiny stiches combine to create richly textured, painterly strokes of colour. These form the sea and land which are opposing forces, obstacles and fluid elements that Odysseus traverses throughout the story.
These unsteady and fixed worlds reflect the experiences of those within them and this work, made in a personal time of turmoil for the artist, recreated for her a sense of home: a place in the world.
Kettle renders this epic story in an epic scale capturing both the vast scope and the emotional intricacies of the story.
Alice Kettle (b. 1961, Winchester, UK) is currently a Professor of Textile Arts at the Manchester School of Art. Recent solo exhibitions include Thread Bearing Witness at The Whitworth Art Gallery (2018); Threads at the Winchester Discovery Centre (2017) and More Threads at Candida Stevens Gallery (2017).