Janis White and Gordon Livesy
Textile artists, treasure hunters and makers of all sorts of things
What seems to be crystalising for me at the moment is what I’m trying to make is me.
I’m just trying to become me who got side-tracked decades ago.
The stuff I really enjoy doing, its like I can’t think about it, I can’t plan it, my subconscious or as someone I was speaking to referred to as my ‘hind brain’ works everything out, and then I just sit down.
Gordon's journal entries. Image, Carla Knight
It evolves, but I am discovering there is always a connection to my own personal history, even if I don’t realise it. Sometimes we make a comment like ‘that reminds me of’ and you’ve finally got it, that’s where it comes from. Which is why when I came to look at the nice handmade little journal, I’m like ‘oh god I’ve actually got too think of something to say’, or something to make. I find it difficult to just sit.
We walked on the beach the other day, I said ‘my back is aching I am not picking anything up’ and I still carried a full carrier bag back, but I might have that stuff for the next 2-3 years, before it becomes part of something else.
Gordon's studio space. Image, Carla Knight
We love to visit other peoples studios and exhibitions because to me I have always found art and artists fascinating and quite often it’s not so much the work it’s the person, it’s the stories, it’s the history, it is what makes people do it. To me a genuine artist is someone who doesn’t have a choice.
Because it’s within them.
Gordon & Janis
Janis' journal entries. Image, Carla Knight
A word that increasingly occurs to me is happenstance.
Because that’s how things happen for me, It will quite often involve Janis as we spend a lot of time, when we can, walking around, finding villages, markets, whatever we can see, and learn from, and then something will come out of that.
It might be a piece of furniture, quite often Janis will say ‘oh this would look good on it’ ‘why don’t you do this?’ so we tend to be intertwined with what we do because we’ve got our own feedback loop between us.
I haven’t always got the confidence either and I’m like ‘What do you think of this‘ and he says ‘oh it’s beautiful’ and I’m like ‘No don’t just say that because you know me’ .
He goes ‘oh no I’m not’ or ‘you could at that to it’, then I realise ‘Oh yeah I didn’t think of that’.
Gordon and Janis
Janis' studio space. Image, Carla Knight
‘Right, get in the car, we’re off to the beach.’ Margate, I’d never even heard of Westgate. To me Margate was somewhere my boys really enjoyed. It was all quite retro; it was half the price to anywhere else, and people seem to have fun. The kids really enjoyed coming.
Got a nice beach, got a dreamland. Bit of both, they can get chips.
Yeah, and you get to the end the day and you have to beat them with a stick to get them back in the car.
They didn’t want to go home; their life had changed.
Gordon and Janis
A crafted life, Gordon. Image, Carla Knight
I think I was very lucky as a young child. Once again happenstance, I was a very ill child, I wasn’t allowed to go out if it was foggy, I had breathing difficulties, I wasn’t allowed to play sport.
So, I had a fantastic early childhood at school, because I sat with the girls.
I did craft with the girls, so I learned how to use a needle, I learned how to weave, I did pottery, I even did country dancing which none of the other boys would do because it was indoors.
There was so much pressure to be something that I quite obviously wasn’t.
So I had this marvellous few years of just literally making stuff.
A weaving in progress, Gordon. Image, Carla Knight
Then, it was literally ‘right well, you don’t do school anymore, you’re coming in to work with me in the morning.’
No discussion, that was it.
So I became a builder, which people still say is creative?
And I don’t get cross any more, but you’ve obviously never done it. It is very mechanistic, it is about achieving goals, building boxes. It is something I could do mindlessly, and in the old days you could have music on.
So I could listen to any music and I did it all day long.
Then at the end its ‘well, what am I going to do now?’
This is me talking to myself ‘I want to make stuff.’
What I want to do, I don’t want to work, I want to make stuff.
People say; 'Well, how are you going to make a living?’ and in my head I just want to live.
And to me living is about looking, listing, learning, and then creating something.
A Bridge to Freedom, Alexander Bragg
Written in response to the interview with Janis and Gordon
A crafted life, Janis. Image, Carla Knight
My mum and dad, in their own way, were both creative. So, they met working at a tailors. My mum was taught how to make skirts and my dad used to do alterations for them, he then moved on to be a window dresser.
My dad went on to do window dressings for people like Burtons and he used to bring home bits of fabric that had been left over because you know we can’t throw anything away, if you’re that way inclined. So I used to make things for the teddy bears and the dolls like everyone says, out of the scraps. I never knew about going to university or art school.
I taught myself really, I’ve not done a City & Guilds or anything like that, I was able to use a sewing machine.
In my thirties I had a breakdown, work related stress, and I was at home for 10 months, barely went out of the building, and my mum said ‘Oh, I’m going to decorate my sewing room can you help me make a blind for it’ and that was it.
I’ve made curtains for The Turner so I can say my work hangs in The Turner.
Nothing is wasted, Janis' tools. Image, Carla Knight
Well to me, even though I’m largely uneducated, I find language fascinating because the use of words seems to dictate who you are. Most of society wants to put you in one box, or a series of boxes, they’ll change the box, they’ll change the label, what they cant seem to bare is no label, no box-
'Why are you doing it?’
‘Because I have to.’
‘Well what’s the point in doing it?’
‘Well you’re not listening, because I have to.’
‘Well how do you make money?’
‘Well I make money when I have to.’
I don’t want to make choices anymore because they’re always somebody else’s choices.