Sorrell's Portraits

Sorrell Kerrison has been commissioned to create four large embroidery portraits for the new Egyptology wing of the Bolton Museum as part of the unveiling of their refurbishment. The portraits will be of four significant curators and benefactors whom, without their foresight and innovation, their exquisite collection would not be possible. Interview by Jessica Edney.

What was your journey towards becoming a textile artist like?

When I was growing up I was taught to make-do and mend, so I was pretty young when I first picked up a needle and thread. I always loved augmenting my clothing, adding embellishments or a-fixing missing buttons. Over the years textile and design have bolstered my other pursuits. While working as a musician I would often screen-print band t-shirts or design merchandise and posters. I
love the multiple uses of textile art and that it isn’t just for hanging on a wall.
I started experimenting and applying the way I approach drawing to embroidery. I really loved the result and felt that it translated well into portraiture due to the expressive nature of the medium. In 2017 I was commissioned by Andrew Hung to make a portrait of him for the cover of his solo album. After that, I realised that this was something which I wanted to pursue full-time.

Could you tell me a little about the portrait subjects? What is their

I was commissioned by Bolton Museum to create four portraits for their Egyptology wing. They were in the process of fully refurbishing the wing and they wanted to honour the people who had historically been integral in the creation and curation of the collection which they now house. The four people who I created portraits of were:

Annie Barlow (1863 - 1941), who was a pioneering woman that undertook travels to excavation sites in Egypt and was a secretary to the EES.

Dr Samuel Taylor Chadwick (1809 - 1876), a Doctor and philanthropist who donated money to found the natural history museum, which is now Bolton Museum.

William and Thomas Midgley - Father and son curators who were integral in the early establishment of the Egyptology collection in Bolton.

Your use of colour is very striking – how do you go about choosing
what colours to use in your portraits?

I usually pick one colour to start the palette. That colour is shown to me through my synesthesia condition. One portion of this condition denotes the colour which people “give-off” as part of their vibe. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s easy for me to experience and translate into art. Everyone has a base colour that I can see and I use this as a jumping off point to start the portrait. I usually keep a box of hundreds of thread colours next to me and as I progress the colours just jump out. I don’t plan it, I just feel it and go with it. I find that if I try to plan it or pre-empt it, it ends up looking bad so I’ve learnt to just let go and allow it to progress as it wants to.

What was your favourite part of the process?

I love learning about the subjects first and foremost. Obviously, faces are intriguing, but I like to learn a bit about my subjects. What they enjoy, what they stand for, what is their passion? My favourite part of the process is when I’m about 50 hours in and I know how it’s going to go and I can almost float while I’m making it. I almost don’t recognise that I’ve made it when it’s finished.

What other projects have you been working on?

I have just finished a portrait of Grayson Perry as Claire. He is an incredible influence on me, not just in his art but as a person. I find him compelling and intelligent but also adore that he is able to express and see his own farcical side. It’s important to have strength in our art while remaining humble and not too serious about everything. 

Bolton Museum will be reopening its door to their Egyptology wing to unveil the
refurbishment and Sorrell's portraits on September 22nd 2018.

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