Artist of the Week: DesignerPig (aka Irene Acker)

Designerpig’s latest exhibition has just closed at Arts Hub 47 on Lark Lane. We caught up with the artist to find out how it went and what’s next for the unusually named craftswoman.

Designerpig is an unusual thing to call yourself – what’s it all about?

I’ve always liked pigs and used to have a pot-bellied pig. My brother also used to call me pig as an endearing nickname. When I finished my BA in design, he took to calling me ‘designer pig’ and the name stuck!

You’re a member of Arts Hub 47 – how did you get involved?

It first came to my attention at the Winter arts market. There were lots of people there advertising and I asked what it was about. I went along on a Thursday night and met some members of the committee. I became a member, and have been with them for two years now. I volunteer in the shop one morning a week.

Can you tell us more about how the hub has helped you and others as artists?

It’s a great outlet for my work, and allows me to meet other artists. It’s also great for expanding your skills as there are many classes that take place there such as, knitting, mosaic, crochet, sewing, beading etc. There’s so much going on organised by like-minded people that it spurs your creativity.

The Hub also has space upstairs for exhibitions that members can utilise. I’ve recently held my first exhibition there, which was superbly attended, and I had lots of support from fellow members and artists.

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You specialise in working with wood and fabric – what interests you most about these mediums?

Wood is a such a tactile natural material, and I’m drawn to the pattern of the grain, the colour of the wood and any unusual knotting or individual characteristics. It feels great to transform an ordinary log into a beautiful vase on the lathe. I enjoy playing with colour and adding curious or unexpected additions like crushed stone, gold leaf or glitter. You never really know how a piece will turn out. You have a design on paper, but the process is organic; the wood is not so forgiving, and you can end up with some happy mistakes.

With my textiles, I really enjoy making a material from fibres, and so work a lot with felt and raw silk, bonding the materials and creating texture, which produces unique results. I also incorporate hand dyeing, screen-printing, and felting, as well using devoré techniques with velvet. I have quite a specific palette, and am drawn towards tropical jewel like colours.

After leaving Hope University I was published in the IDFX magazine for one of my textile designs.

You use a lot of very traditional, hands on techniques in your work such as wood turning and dyeing. What do you love most about these processes?

The process of creating something beautiful from nothing is what drives my work. The skills involved are old traditional crafts that are lost to many nowadays, and I think it’s important to keep these skills alive. I love the satisfaction of the creation process for both wood and fabric pieces. I look at every piece of my work as a practical piece of art.

How did you balance your practice as an artist with your work in education?

I found working with children was beneficial to my work as an artist. They opened my mind to new ways of thinking about things. Teaching took up most of my time and my own work was shelved, but in the long run, I feel that being involved in education was an asset to my artistic development. Children are very unforgiving. Any work I did share with them they were brutally honest about, which is very levelling! I also enjoyed passing on those lost skills to a younger generation.

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Do you think more could be done to educate young and aspiring artists in these traditional techniques?

Unfortunately, health and safety has gone a bit mad and curbed the prospects of using some of the necessary equipment in school, but there are places people can go to learn wood-turning like the Merseyside Wood Turning Association, who are based in Calderstones Park Boathouse. Likewise, there are felting classes available at the Arts Hub 47 in Lark Lane. If people are willing to learn, there are opportunities for them to do so.

Where are your favourite places to go see art in Liverpool?

Tate Liverpool and the Walker Art Gallery are favourites of mine, but I also love to visit the Lady Lever Art gallery at Port Sunlight and the seasonal arts markets at St. George’s Hall.  I also thoroughly enjoy my mornings at the Arts Hub 47, as I can see what new stock we have in and check out the new members’ work.

What other projects will you be working on in 2015?

I’m going back to basics, working with more organic processes on my larger projects producing tables and stools from tree-trunks. The same goes for my textiles, as I’m using plant and vegetable dyes ,so the whole process feels more natural. I can see the value in going back to nature, especially when today everything seems manufactured, artificial and throwaway.  My plan is to work on these bigger projects, producing more tables and stools, and I would also like to do a new range of scarves.

You can see some of Irene’s work at Arts Hub 47 and on Facebook – search Designerpig Acker 

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