SEAS OF GRASS
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall of Tysall’s Photography and Michala Gyetvai
Michala Gyetvai is a fine artist with a difference. Not only does she work in pencils, pastels and paints but also in colourful threads, fine silks, thick wool and twisted shimmering fibres. Her inspiration comes from her deep-rooted love of nature and the countryside – of trees in particular; and of the colours that change with the weather as seasons come and go.
Her canvases are in many instances old dyed and boiled blankets. While her method of working is a rhythmic, energetic combination of painter and dancer. She throws herself into her work whether hand-stitching or machine stitching, adding layer upon layer of threads and wools; gathering the fabric as she moves, building up the texture, creating stunning three-dimensional pieces of wall art.
Mother of two, Michala was born in London, grew up in the rural village of Lilbourne in Northamptonshire and then moved to Kenilworth in Warwickshire with her husband and children. Back in 2012 she held her first major art exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry combining the exhibition with a number of workshops teaching her own particular unique craft.
Michala says art is her passion – one that stems from childhood. Her fondest memories are of playing in the fields and woods near her home, gathering raw materials from the open countryside, weaving grass and twigs and pulling strands of snagged wool from barbed wire fences. As a little girl, her mother’s big box of threads fascinating her, she loved the colours and the tactile feeling. A library book on medieval stitching fired her imagination even more and she began making her own threads and yarn.
“I used a potato and a knitting needle to spin it,” said Michala. “I used to dye the natural fleece by mashing up elderberries or blackberries or I would boil onion skins to dye wool. I made a loom and weaved, there was just a great need in me to be creative.”
After leaving school, Michala worked at a fabric and wallpaper company in London and then took a training course for Laura Ashley and spent the next 17 years working for her. Around 14 years ago her husband’s work moved to Kenilworth in Warwickshire and the family moved to the Midlands. There she joined the local arts society and six years ago started work as an art and design technician at a Coventry School and Community College which allowed her to incorporate her own skills and craftsmanship. It was there that she met a man she holds in high esteem.
Michala explained, “I met sculptor George Wagstaffe at Stoke Park School and Community College where he teaches A Level art and life drawing. George became my mentor and I got an enormous education in fine art through him.”
In January 2013 they held a joint exhibition with Michala exhibiting large textiles, drawings and paintings, and George Wagstaffe showing a selection of his sculptures, mainly in bronze.
Some of her amazing pieces measure eight feet long and have taken many months to complete. The first piece that she put up for selection in an open exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum was Summer Field. Following this,another of her pieces, Abbey Fields was selected for the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum Open Exhibition. She was thrilled when this piece won The People’s Choice award, the prize being her very own exhibition at The Herbert.
Such a prospect was incredibly exciting for Michala who added, “When I saw the size of the room at The Herbert, I realised this was my one opportunity to try things out just by using thread and fibre so I really went for it! The larger pieces have really taken my work in a different direction.”
Talking about her craft, she explained, “I work with the materials, let them dictate to me and work with them in a very organic way. I love the way the fabric distorts as you tighten and loosen the stitches. It gives a three dimensional feeling rather than a flat, smooth piece.
“There’s great excitement from having a huge piece of cloth on the floor. I bring movement into the piece, the movement of my body, a bit like Jackson Pollock did in the 1950’s when he threw paint on canvasses, I throw myself into my work. I am connecting with the colours, it is very rhythmical. The movement is integral to the colour of the physical piece.”
“With Abbey Fields, my inspiration came from the landscape close to my home. I went walking one morning in May, took the dog out. I really wanted to capture that fresh feeling with the growth of the leaves.”
Another picture, The Magic Oak, was also inspired from roaming Abbey Fields, taking photographs, making sketches, seeing how the sunlight casts its shadows and illuminates the flora and fauna. While her piece, Deep in the Woods is in memory of a row of elm trees from her childhood, which were all cut down quite suddenly. The memory haunted her and in this picture it’s in honour of those trees and her way of bringing them back to life.
Each piece of Michala’s work, whether it’s just a few inches in size or metres wide is an emotional journey for the artist. With her love of artists such as Samuel Palmer and Paul Nash and of course, her love of nature in all its many forms she literally throws herself – heart, soul and body into the creation of each piece. And judging by the response from those seeing her work, her efforts are certainly appreciated.
Dominic Budd, Exhibition Officer at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum had this to say, “Michala is an upcoming Coventry artist and her work is exciting because it’s so different from anything we’ve exhibited before. Each work is spectacular in its own way and portrays the world by giving it a brand new texture.”
Michala has just moved to a new studio in Coventry and is working towards an exhibition at Bilston Craft Gallery called ‘The Liberated Quilt’: New work by ‘Through Our Hands’. This takes place from 16th May to 11th July.
Another opportunity to view her work will be at the Festival of Quilts at the Birmingham NEC from 6th to 9th August. ‘Maker, Making, Made’: Work by ‘Through Our Hands’.
She will also be taking part in Warwickshire Open Studios at the end of June and has also been invited to have a gallery at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London Alexandra Palace, Harrogate and Dublin in October/November, so it’s busy times ahead for Michala.
Discover more about Michala’s beautiful art by visiting: www.michalagyetvai.co.uk
And follow her blog at: kaylacoo.blogspot.com