Richard McVetis Richard McVetis



The work of Richard McVetis is a materialising of opposing forces: attraction and dispersal; quietude and activity; absence and presence. Tiny stitches, black on white, recording the finger movements of the maker across the work, passing through the cloth, finding their place, embedded in the space. These actions emerge from an immersion in the process, one that requires a tacit understanding of the space defined by bodily action. I wrote once: 'Space: we live in it. From cosmic space reaching and spreading beyond our comprehension, to the Nano space present in the intimacy between two surfaces pressed together. It’s out there, it’s in here and it is always with us. It surrounds us and we move through it'. And to negotiate that space we look to create a spatial framework - a cube, a grid or a map, a controlling structure originating from the space itself.

Richard McVetis uses these grids and mapping constructs as a starting point, a useful tool for access to the work. However, looking at his work it is important to remember that, as Alfred Korzybski has written: "the territory is not the map". Even with the work 'Coal Seams', one that appears to directly reference mapping, we are seeing what McVetis describes as "a landscape of time". We are reading an experiential space through the traces of movements within the space, encoded in the stitches. And such evocative constellations he creates, reminiscent of flocks of starlings suddenly swooping together in formation across the sky at dusk. Murmurations they are called. A soft word, so apposite for a textile.

Many years ago, when walking around the Italian city of Faenza in the early evening, the streets were empty, all was quiet. Slowly I became aware of a low murmuring and was drawn towards the sound. The hum steadily grew, becoming louder, finally leading me into a Piazza, that space of passage and of chiarascuro - light and dark. The area was catching the last of the sun and teeming with people. All shapes and sizes, all talking, moving, meeting, parting, reconfiguring the groups and the spaces between. It was a wholly immersive, experiential narrative of space and time, of particularity and convergence.

As I look at Richard McVetis' work I hear that hum, feel that energy, as the stitches are drawn together, each one an individual moment in time, gaining weight of presence as they meet. As he says " A literal and metaphorical stitching together of time and space" .

Lesley Millar
Professor of Textile Culture, Director International Textile Research Centre, University for the Creative Arts.



Time is the intimate medium in which we play out our lives. We exist in time. In a sense, we are time. Outside of time, we are nothing. This truth is as mundane as it is unfathomable. In Richard McVetis’s work, it becomes palpable.
McVetis is usually described as a textile artist. This is true only in the most overt sense. Time is his primary material. The artist employs stitch as a means to work in and with time, to explore how we shape time through repeated actions as we, in turn, are shaped by time.

Time slips through McVetis’s fingers, leaving its trace, making its mark. His artworks give form to its progression and to our quotidian efforts to control it. They explore the interplay between two aspects of time, personified in ancient Greek culture as Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is linear, quantifiable time. Kairos, by contrast, is the elusive, stretchy, qualitative experience of being-in-time.

McVetis maps in space how we strive to measure and contain time. The artifice of time is made artefact. Like William Blake’s Urizen, dividers in hand, the chronological mindset splits time into ever finer segments. It is an attempt to bring order and control to an element so capricious that, says physicist Carlo Rovelli, it might not exist at all.
In quantum physics, time is granular, not continuous. Close up, what appeared at a larger scale to be smooth and orderly has a random, indeterminate quality: ‘the frenzied swarming of quanta’, in Rovelli’s phrase. He could be describing McVetis’s stitched marks. Embroidering freely within set constraints, McVetis gestures towards granularity, each seeding stitch an insistent Now, and Now, and Now.

Graphic, geometric, McVetis’s monochrome palette and spare language of lattices, grids and cubes place his work in the lineage of abstract pioneer Agnes Martin. The affinity with Martin is more than superficial: both artists embody an uncommon depth of presence. Yet McVetis’s voice is wholly contemporary, wholly his own.

In the use of repeating patterns that record and reveal the process of making, there is an affinity, too, with composer Steve Reich. As McVetis puts it, “Even though I am doing the same stitch over and over again […] there’s a rhythm, a flow that changes across each cube.” It is an approach that echoes Reich’s phase-shifting technique where, as a repeated phrase is perceptibly altered over time, the compositional process is rendered discernible in the music itself.

A debut solo show marks a significant moment in an artist’s career, bringing together, in a new constellation, works made over a span of time. In Shaped by Time, works in stitch and on paper, two- and three-dimensional textiles, sculptures and installations take on new meaning in relation to each other. An expansive narrative is revealed: the trajectory and evolution of an enquiry into what it means to be situated in time.

McVetis’s art is as deeply philosophical as it is beautiful. To be with it is to encounter a mind meditating on what it is to be present at this time, in this place. Dwell with it a while. Take your time.

Annie Warburton

This website uses cookies to ensure the best experience possible.