NotesElsje King, born 1947 in the Netherlands, (most recently used maiden name Elsje van Keppel), was one of Australia's most interesting and innovative textile artists and had worked for almost thirty years in this field. She worked out of the processes and symbolism of textile traditions and used materials drawn from the Western Australian environment to find ways of expressing a sense of personal identity. She had been influential for many years through her teaching, especially in Western Australia, but also throughout Australia and overseas. This work was selected from a major solo exhibition in Perth in February 1997 that showed a range of her interests: quilting, felting, patching, darning, screenprinting and dyeing, the use of natural fibres to make dyes, the development of ideas for motifs from natural rock and plant forms. As well as the connection to the WA environment, this work, and others in the exhibition, reflect van Keppel's interest in Indonesian textile traditions, especially batik, and her experience with artists there, including the Brahma Tirta Sari studio (represented in the collection).
This work complements the much earlier work in the Museum's collection which was the last piece of felted work to be made without stitches, and, like this one, it was made in strips. It was this work that made her realise that stitches were integral to the work, and many works from that time included them. 'Spinifex Stitching', is an excellent example of this stitched work, and is also made up of strips, but is also the only work in this exhibition that includes felt, so there is another connection to the earlier work in the museum. 'Spinifex Stitching' is made up of strips of silk chiffon that have been dyed with natural vegetable dyes from the WA bush, overdyed with acid dye, and discharge printed (which leaves a halo). The screen printed motifs on some fabrics are made from rubbings of rock and grass, like spinifex. Some of these fabrics appear on other works in the exhibition, and in the catalogue on file.
Elsje van Keppel was one of a number of artists in WA (including Nalda Searles and Philippa O'Brien) who had for many years gone on bush camps to make artworks. The accompanying video 'Elsje King: fragile objects', explains some of this process and what it means to the artist.