As long as she can remember, Jenni Dutton has always made things; weaving nests for imaginary birds as a child and making faces out of wet concrete. She frequently drew, painted and experimented with customising clothes. Eventually going to art school, Jenni later became an art teacher with plenty of time to research other artists and to experiment with different materials, tools and techniques.
When she left teaching, she began to experiment with making conceptual clothing, amongst which were dresses made from human hair, corsets made from fish skins. Influenced by fairy tales, myths and legends, the work became darker with currents of unease. She made a series of shoes, again experimenting with different man-made and natural materials.
The Dementia Darnings were started in 2011 whilst Jenni was a carer for her mother, who was developing dementia. She began exploring ways of engaging with the past, often looking at old photo albums. She would use stitching to 'draw' likenesses of family members and her mother would enjoy watching her create these pictures of familiar faces.
The Dementia Darnings are made like drawings where crosshatched marks are built up on paper. Jenni uses a simple running stitch using threads of tapestry wool. She works from photographs and sews direct into the netting stretched over canvas. Each of the latest Darnings takes about 4 months to make.
The name 'Darnings' implies mending and repair, as Jenni builds up the individual stitches to create a mesh it does resemble the technique of darning. She does not use a sketchbook and does not do any preparatory work apart from finding and printing suitable photographs. Instead, she allows the piece to develop as it will and then emphasises some aspects over others as they emerge.
There is an element of meditation in producing her Darnings. Jenni tries to forget that her subject is a face with features, preferring to respond to its visual elements only. Often when a piece is completed, Jenny removes a lot of the threads to develop a concept; of ageing, of loss, or deterioration, sometimes even cutting into the fine netting, which is supporting the sewn threads, further emphasising the frailty of the subject matter. She allows the trailing threads to proliferate, so the image looks like it is unravelling.
Blog post by Jessica Edney