Threads of History

written by Sophie | Sophie’s Studio, Thoughts on Art


How can textiles from the past have meaning today? How does authenticity play a role in my work (or not)? A few months ago I was asked to join in a corporate event. Together with curators from various big London museums, we shared our ideas on this topic and answered questions from the audience.

Identity and Representation

The topic of identity, representation and costume is one close to my heart and I thought it worth it to write about here. How much do clothes say about ourselves and how much do clothes mean in a painting? How do clothes have meaning in my paintings? ​

Sophie Ploeg - The Fur Hat

History of Art

In the history of art fabrics play a huge role role. There are the spectacular cloaks and gowns in Renaissance religious paintings in rich crimson and expensive lapis lazuli blue. Often the materials depicted are silk and velvet, evocating the wealth and/or status of kings, queens and saints but also showing off the technical skills of painters. In portraiture the skill of the artist was utilised to show status and wealth but also a particular fashion for certain patterns, styles or materials.


Associations of Mood and Atmosphere

For me fabrics can tell a story and evoke immediate associations of mood and atmosphere, even when there is no clear narrative. One of the advantages of the language of painting over writing is that a painting can be about concepts that are less easily verbalised, less easily explained – even to yourself, let alone to others. Within painting I can let thoughts, moods, feelings, associations and suggestions float by, merge, emerge, take a stand or leave unresolved. The viewer, you, might pick up on them or they might not. They might get their own associations, fed by their own personal experiences and see things in my paintings that I never intended. I always hope that my paintings might just take you on a journey – not in words, but in thoughts, moods and imagery. It doesn’t have to be clear. Issues can be raised but not solved or worked out. An artist can use a lot of things to do this.

I Would Like to Show You

I like to use painted fabrics to get my ideas across. I like to point you to the past – our past – and just show you a bit of the beauty of our history. Sometimes it is just a simple nostalgia that is perfectly fine in a painted picture. Sometimes a more authentic and analysed dynamic between past and present. I can pick and choose from the past and try to create images that are beautiful, a touch mysterious, recognisable or even contemporary. I want to show you the beauty of fabrics such as silk, lace and velvet.  Man-made materials that shine most in use, on a model, in 3D, in movement, in changing light. They are often woman-made materials that defy belief in its complexity, softness or transparency. Would you just come and marvel at its sheer beauty? Perhaps it will make you stop and think, just for a second. That would make my day.

Play, Pick, Choose and Change

I love fashion from past times. I have little inclination to wear it in my daily life but I feel its history, its potential role in theatrical drama,  in fantasy, its ability to tell not only its own story but any story you give it a part in.  Fashion and clothes grow heavy with associations over time. Whether it is a Chanel suit, jeans overalls, a Victorian mourning dress or a Tudor gown – it is bubbling with reminders of tv, film and stage, history lessons, characters in books, our grandparents and fleeting glimpses of things we never got round to find out about but seem interesting. I love to play with these associations. I love the fact that in painting I don’t need to solve or accuratley tell any of the stories involved like an historian would. I can play, pick, choose and change. I can follow my gut and create something new, something I find beautiful and hopefully you too. I can stick to authenticity and show you something real and awesome.  Whether it is the17th century threads-and-all piece of fabric that I try to meticulously emulate in my paintings, or whether it is the scene I create within a painting; fashion and fabrics from the past are tools to dive into a fantasy world of the past with some very strong links to current modern taste and historical facts.


Published: March 10, 2016

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