The Fashion and Textile Museum is the only museum in the UK dedicated to showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design. Their latest exhibition, Annie Phillips: Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art, presents more than 30 modern examples of a historic form of wax-resist dyeing: the art of Batik. The display explores Phillips’ practice across a 30-year career, highlighting how her craft skills work in perfect balance with her distinctive vision, creating textiles that celebrate colour, movement and form.
It was early evening in 1988, when artist Annie Phillips first made her way down the crowded, cobbled streets of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. From each of the open-fronted shops she passed, there emanated a smell of melting wax. Around pots of the honey-like substance, men and women huddled, deftly applying the thick liquid to lengths of fabric, draped artfully across wooden poles. Annie was mesmerised by what she saw that evening, captivated by the masterful sleight of hand with which these artists carried out their craft. This experience was Annie’s first introduction to the traditional techniques of Batik and it would go on to inspire a 30-year love affair with the practice.
The process of Batik is a much-treasured form of wax-resisten practiced throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. Batik arrived in Europe via S dying, a method which can be traced back to ancient Egypt and which has long beumatra in the early 1800s and can still be found, in an abundance of different forms, in many countries around the world today. Since discovering the skill and joy of Batik, Annie Phillips has studied with craftsman throughout Indonesia and Ghana and today incorporates their time-honoured tools and techniques into her own practice.
In the creation of her works, Annie uses a traditional tool, a canting (or tjanting) and brushes, applying hot wax, heated to the consistency of honey, to the surface of her fabric. Next, a layer of dye is applied to each textile, with the waxed area resisting the dye. Further layers of wax and dyes are built up, until each graphic, multi-layered artwork is complete. This process is one that Annie finds exciting, challenging and soothing in equal measure - a practice that can often induce a therapeutic and joyful flow state.
Conceptually, Annie’s practice is concerned with her environment, culture and upbringing, as well as her desire to challenge and explore the ancient technique about which she is so passionate. It is this final concern which truly sets Annie’s work apart. As a teacher, Annie’s Batik workshops encourage students to surprise themselves, to discover new creative skills and, just as Annie has, fall in love with the process of Batik. As a commercial artist, Annie is dedicated to creating surface decoration that is both uplifting and playful, producing a ‘little piece of art for everyday living’.
The textiles of Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art highlight Annie Phillips’ expert skill in the application of colour theory, with every emotive example challenging expectations and perceptions of Batik. In works such as ‘Monochrome Delight’, Annie pushes understanding of her medium by creating with an intense, graphic quality, while in ‘Midnight Forest’, she further illustrates her mastery of colour, with a composition that sets muted olive green against more vivid tones. Each of the further 30 artworks on display encourage visitors to develop an understanding of Annie's colourful journey and to share in her joyful exploration of the relationship between modern design and historical craft.
Annie Phillips: Ancient Technique and Contemporary Art is on display in The Fashion Studio, Fashion and Textiles Museum (London) until 12 September 2021. Entry is free with a ticket to the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Summer exhibition, Chintz: Cotton in Bloom.
Find out more about Annie Phillips on her website: https://www.anniephillips.co.uk/