Alice Kettle: The garden of England

The Queen’s house, Greenwich, London until 18th August 2013

I have always admired the work of Alice Kettle who creates vast, painterly embroideries. So I headed to Greenwich enthusiastically to see her new work exhibited there. The Queen’s House was originally a garden retreat, thus the title. Kettle’s portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria is magnificent, and its golden threads shimmer and sparkle. The other portraits in the room are dressed elaborately in fine lace and flamboyant dress, though Henrietta was known to prefer plainer clothes.

There is a flower bed  installation beneath the portrait, which echoes the details of lace, and flowers found in the surrounding portraits. The floor is scattered with flowers, both embroidered and cut from floral fabric, as though the wind has blown them in, and visitors are invited to take a few as a memento.

I am especially fascinated by lace, so it was interesting to see this aspect of the work (I certainly plan to make some lace inspired by the paintings seen there). Though, as always with the work of Alice Kettle it is the textures, three dimensional quality and the dazzling colours that fascinate me. Her stitches are applied like brush strokes, thick and bold, and the density of them creates a sculpted effect. She uses metallic threads blended in with others, and they catch the light in a magical way. I found myself looking at the portrait from all angles of the room, and found it difficult to leave, as it has such a mesmerising quality.