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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Valerie Kirk

Born: 1957, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
Works: Canberra

Valerie Kirk
Video: 6 minutes

Artist statement

This body of work focusses on my experience of migration, particularly the move from Scotland to Australia, which is now my home. I constantly move between the two countries, both physically and psychologically. In my work the salmon represents my migration, as I remember the fish swimming upstream to spawn. The crosses represent the movement between places, as well as the Scottish flag, the Saltire or Saint Andrew’s Cross.

I am passionate about woven tapestry, a medium that allows me to combine my love of art and textiles. While leading a textile tour near Ayacucho, Peru, I noticed my shadow over rocks at an archaeological site. It looked as if I was holding a large walking stick, and in that moment I recognised myself as a traveller exploring the world, and not deeply rooted in a particular place. It was the genesis of the work The Traveller; I took a photograph, which I then adapted and re-drew for a tapestry design. I wove the image over six weeks, from bottom to top, building the form with attention to the detail of every mark of weft over warp, and through my deep immersion in the process.

1 The Traveller, 2018. 2 Croxxing, 1999. Both by Valerie Kirk.

The Ayrshire Slates series arose from a trip to Scotland, where I made studies of a family collection of heirloom textiles – Ayrshire needlework. I was also drawing on pieces of natural slate picked out of the hillside, and salvaged wee ‘peggies’ (roofing slates) from a derelict building, to bring back to Australia. When I experimented and combined the drawings and the slate, I became excited about the incongruous light of the paint on the dark surface; the suggestion of fabric on the hard, brittle material; and the warmth of cloth, cold of slate.

1 . 2 . Ayrshire Slates 2017 Both by Valerie Kirk.

Gouache mixed with water painted on the surface of the slates evokes the white muslin or cotton lawn fabrics used in Ayrshire needlework; it sits like stitches on the surface. The series developed as a reflection on the textile tradition and culture, and it also reminds me of the seasons and natural environment of Scotland.

Video transcript

6 portraits

1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . Croxxes, 1999‑2000 All by Valerie Kirk.

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Valerie Kirk

Related information

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Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey

So Fine

Contemporary women artists make Australian history

Previous exhibition, 2018

This exhibition features new works from ten women artists reinterpreting and reimagining elements of Australian history, enriching the contemporary narrative around Australia’s history and biography, reflecting the tradition of storytelling in our country.

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The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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