Elisabeth Fuchs met Danish textile and paper artist Solvejg Refslund
Solvejg Refslund never dreamt of becoming an artist. Originally she trained as a schoolteacher. She enjoyed sewing clothes and linen, and occasionally dabbled with weaving, but with no formal artistic background she considered needlework to be a spare time activity only. One day, however, she had an experience that changed her focus forever. She had hung the pattern for a vest back over a tree bough and suddenly the mask motif on the pattern seemed to be telling her a story. She says it made her realise that working with fabric pictures could help her inner and unconscious self become visible. She transformed into a textile artist and started developing her own technique straight away.
Solvejg Refslund works in a very intuitive way. "It's all about layers", she says. Without any preliminary sketch (except for a few lines on a piece of paper for faces sometimes) she works from her palette of hand painted and screen printed fabrics. She lays fabric pieces on a foundation, plays around with them, puts them one next to the other and one over the other, again and again, until she reaches the "Core of the tale the picture wants to tell". Then she machine appliqués the three to five resulting layers of fabric down using a simple zigzag stitch.
She believes that working with fabric surfaces goes well with femininity because women are always looking for closer relationships and they are active, determined and curious. "Curiosity is one of my driving forces in the process of making pictures", she says. "Fabric surfaces are everyday objects. We wear them, sit on them and sleep wrapped in them. However, something magical happens when we start playing with small fabric pieces and organising them. The flexibility of the material allows us to turn anonymous surfaces into a means of expression that helps us tell about our lives, thoughts and inner stories. When the fabric picture comes together we can feel whole."
As a picture artist (she works with paper too), she wants to reach the essence of her motifs, to go beyond and behind them, to experiment, break down and build again. She feels a strong relationship to the earth. Gathering plants, making paper from them and incorporating it in her work while watching closely "nature's lines" (the plants fibres) materialise before her eyes when she paints them is a fascinating process to her. She hopes that it will enable her to get closer to the statement "Man is Heaven and Earth a miniature".
Solvejg Refslund's textile pictures often feature a woman as the central figure and larger than life animals behind or next to her. Although most of her female characters bear an undeniable resemblance to her she swears they are not self-portraits. She will admit though that her own weaknesses and strengths show through her characters' eyes and body attitudes. According to her, the animals in the pictures reflect the inner being of women in a symbolic way. It can be surprising then to note that these animals are not the ones you would traditionally associate with so called feminine qualities. Solvejg's animals are wild ones. Sometimes their attitudes seem powerful, dynamic and even a little aggressive: wolves show their teeth, a lion is roaring, an eagle spreading its wings. At other times they look more serene, very much aware of the present moment, protective or looking towards the horizon. Through her textile art Solvejg Refslund wants to show how strong a womans personality is. She wants women to understand that perhaps they have much more strength and power than they believe. Her art is not therapeutic as such but she firmly believes that true art, art coming from the heart, moves and changes both the artist and the viewer. When she looks back at textile pictures she created some years ago she often finds she discovers something about her feelings and her life at that time.
Solvejg Refslund puts her philosophy into practice during her classes and is therefore a very much sought-after teacher. She comes from a family that has always been close to the Danish folk high school movement inspired by the nineteenth century Danish priest, politician and author NSF Gruntvig. One of the principles of Danish folk high schools is that learning only becomes a significant part of our lives if we are actively involved in it and share responsibility for it. Teachers live at the school with their families and interact with students outside formal lessons daily.
Solvejg has tried to recreate the same kind of atmosphere for her students. She lives at Bangholm, a little four-wing renovated farm situated on the Helnæs Peninsula, an area with an exciting history that goes right back to the Stone Age. There the landscape is a varied one of hills and cliffs to the east and protected meadowlands to the west. In these inspiring surroundings she has created an environment and an entity based on her artistic work. It includes a workshop, a little art gallery and teaching space as well as bed and breakfast accommodation.
She does not require any particular background or training from people who attend her classes, rather she likes to take them from where they are. Her aim is to help them give themselves permission to experiment and play; she is there to help them let go and delve deeper into the expression of their needs and feelings and to be proud of their work. It can be difficult for most people because we all tend to look for security. Often students have a finished picture in their minds and just want to make a textile copy of it. Solvejg wants to help them realise that this could slow down their creativity. It is normal to crave security when you are a beginner but it is also very important to understand that development takes place when there is a tension between security and insecurity. One has to learn to open up to one's work, to lay first impressions and ideas aside and to accept the way the picture is developing because it is a visible projection of ones inner and outer being.
To me, there is something very Scandinavian about Solvejg Refslunds work: her connection to the earth and nature, her use of symbols, her constant quest for self-growth, reminiscences of age old myths, etc. She is indeed a well-known artist in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. She went to Iceland recently and felt very pleased by the way people responded to her art there too. However, I believe that a lot more people can relate to her themes of work and to the way she expresses herself, so I have no doubt that she is going to touch people outside Scandinavia very soon!
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