Where I work
I live in a wooden house transported to Canberra, the bush capital of Australia when the city was developing in the 1940s. My purpose built studio is behind the house surrounded by garden, neighbour’s hens and children’s playground over the fence. It feels like being in the country although I am only 15 mins bike ride from the city centre.
What inspired my work
Following my interest in the distant past, I visited the Age of Fishes Museum at Canowindra, Australia. I discovered a collection of 360-370-million-year-old fossils from a local site which was discovered by chance during road construction work. I realised that my fascination is not only with the actual objects but with a time and place we can never see or experience – an elusive space that can exist in the imagination.
How I made it
I worked on a series of drawings and paintings on board from images of fossils. Through layering, sanding back and overpainting I experimented with the subject visually, trying to capture a sense of time, space, fleeting and changing. Then referencing one painting, the tapestry was woven as a dense and complex myriad of weft colour, tone and texture. Woven tapestry is based on a strong technical structure, but through years of experience I am free to create from the empty space of the loom to the finished work. It is a deeply immersive process, allowing all the information from looking at fossils and creative visualisation to blend together.
What I am working on
Last year I spent time in Dumfriesshire, Scotland where I was born and grew up on a farm. With family I walked through the glens and over the hills, passing shepherd’s cottages now abandoned or used as holiday houses. From this experience, I began a new body of work exploring the wild, physical quality of the landscape and sense of the country being abandoned as people have moved into towns. Small farms have been amalgamated and run by companies rather than farming families.
Communities have gone from the glens and the land once tamed, cultivated and bound by stone walls and sheep pens returns to nature.
I also completed a residency at the Cité Internationale des Art, Paris in 2019 and researched fossil plants at the Jardin des Plants, French Natural History Museum, Gallery of Comparative Palaeontology. This work provided me with a wealth of visual material and inspiration from the hand-painted storyboards in the museum and Le Corbusier tapestries I studied in an exhibition. This year my studio work will explore this new material.
Valerie Kirk studied art and design at Edinburgh College of Art, where she discovered woven tapestry. As a graduate she came to Australia and worked in the Victorian (now Australian) Tapestry Workshop and travelled the country to teach in communities and colleges, work as an artist-in-residence, exhibit and lead community tapestry projects and textile tours. Between 1990-2017 she was a Senior Lecturer and Head of Textiles at the Australian National University.
While actively maintaining her practice as an artist exhibiting and creating major works, Valerie has also research Australian Indigenous and SE Asian textiles and directed significant projects.
During 2004-2019 she was commissioned to design and weave six major tapestries to celebrate Nobel/Japan/Kyoto Prizes in Science associated with the Australian National University.
Awards such as the Australia Council New Work grant, ACT Creative Arts Fellowship, Muse Arts Woman of the Year Award and the Canberra Centenary Community Tapestry project mark substantial success and her artwork can be seen in collections nationally and internationally.