Based in North-London, artist Annie Phillips has devoted herself for over 30 years to the art of batik. Her studio is filled with the paraphernalia needed to create her vivid original pieces, from Indonesian dyes bought in Germany to a royal-blue smock peppered with paint splatters. Overlooking her garden, the calm of the studio is perfect for loosing oneself in the process. We visited her to find how to batik and why it has retained its allure for nearly 2000 years.
First and foremost, batik is a method. By applying wax to cloth and then dying over and over again a myriad of vivid colours and patterns emerge. It’s a craft that can’t be replicated by a machine and its hands on nature is exactly what captured Phillips’ interest. “I immediately knew I loved it but I didn’t understand it. Because it was technical I couldn’t plan where I was going and I liked the exploration of not knowing where it was leading. I like the fact it was complicated. I couldn’t preplan, I just have to be free.”
"For me it’s intuitive. Everyone approaches a canvas with their own personality."
From the richness of the dyes to the fluidity of the wax as it flows out of the Tjunting (the well-shaped implement) onto the canvas, batik is a visceral practice that demands that the practitioner leave their neurosis at the door and allow their intuition take over.
“For me it’s intuitive. Everyone approaches a canvas with their own personality.” Says Phillips, “my original arts works organically grow. I’m inspired by a crease on some fabric or looking out the window and seeing space in the sky. I make marks and each mark leads to the next.”
Once the wax has been applied, the canvas is dyed and then the wax is ironed off.
“Wax protects your colour. You dye up and bleach out. In this country I iron off the wax, in Indonesia and Ghana they put it in a vat of hot water and scrub it off.” The process is repeated with layers upon layers of wax building up and being bleached away until the finished piece is ready.
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