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No. 4.

Critical Review: ‘Boteh Beauty’ Dig Yorkshire

By Rich Jevons

Exhibition:  ‘Pip Dickens - New Works'
Solo Exhibition  | The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Rich Jevons finds out about the beauty of ‘boteh’ in new work by Leeds-based painter Pip Dickens at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in the University of Leeds.

Painter Pip Dickens’ New Work at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, Leeds, is based on literary research (the likes of Balzac and Henry James) and inspired by the Michael Sadler Kashmir Shawl Collection at ULITA (University of Leeds International Textile Archive). The Kashmir shawls have an incredible amount of work put into each square inch. Pip enthuses: “People just don’t make shawls like that any more.”

Their production is a complicated process using vibrantly coloured threads built up to make elaborate patterns using the ‘boteh’ motif. This is known as paisley in the West and the word ‘boteh’ is a Persian word meaning bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, herb, palm leaf, cluster of leaves or flower bud.

“I started thinking about these ‘boteh’ shapes almost like little figures, thus traversing and making a journey. They all seem quite individual despite the fact that they have the same shape. They became a metaphor for people who have skills who are thrown out of their work ethic due to oppression.

“So a lot of these works are about the recession we’re in. They come across as very bright and positive almost celebratory paintings but I wanted it to be so that if you peel that back there is something more serious about the human condition.”

Pip has always had a very textural element to her work, building up layers on the canvas, just the way a weaver would build up colour on a loom. “A lot of my paintings use light refraction, starting with a single layer of a very vibrant colour and building up layer upon layer of varnish to give it that effect. So it might look simple looking at it face on but as you study further there is a great deal of luminosity and intensity.”

In ‘The World Within Us’ the ‘boteh’ motif resembles closely the yin yang symbol (in this unbalanced world); in Mother and Child seeing the sizzling pregnant parent against a Venusian landscape; and in The Shadow Followers could be a line of goslings following mother goose.

For ‘Dreams Nascent’ Pip wanted to “hark back again to when we were a small child. When we were born we had so much potential and untainted by this world we were thrown into. So it’s an idea about purity.” And if Blake saw the loss of innocence to be a fit subject for a poem, why not for a painting?

Pip’s work may be on a slow fuse – not that your meant to take your time and ‘get it’ – but both in the light and shadows a fire burns strongly, like any alchemist’s furnace. And please don’t think she is a Symbolist, using symbols is far more interesting than presenting them for their own sake. If you haven’t started off the season yet, start here!

Until 14 April 2012, Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds www.leeds.ac.uk/gallery/
Catalogue available: ‘Pip Dickens – New Works’ with text by curator, Layla Bloom, ISBN -13-978-1-874331-47-6
To purchase a copy email gallery@leeds.ac.uk or telephone 0113 343 2778

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