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Pyrolysis & Perfume - self portrait

Pyrolysis & Perfume

The Exhibition

The Fibre Artist Network (FAN) have a collective exhibition every couple of years. In 2013 the title was Essence, referring to Essence of self, with the theme of self portrait. Art work were required to be textile and 80cm x 60cm in size.

The Inspiration

“Pyrolysis & Perfume” shows two very different sides of my life. “Perfume” as a Textile Artist represented in my favorite colour, purple, wearing fancy cloths and hat. And the other side, “Pyrolysis” where you can’t really see my face because it is covered by a breathing apparatus face mask, shows me as a volunteer in the CFS. Both personas are in my Essence, but they don’t mix together very often.

As a member of the South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) I volunteer my time to help the community, but I get so much more out than just the satisfaction of helping others in there time of need. The camaraderie and mate ship formed with the members of my brigade and others met on the fire ground, valuable training and experiences. I have trained to be a CABA operator (compressed air breathing apparatus) who can fight a structure fire from a position where breathing equipment is needed. The mask encloses my face, with a balaclava, helmet and specialized protective clothing. All you can see are my eyes and my voice becomes very Darth Vader like.

So what is Pyrolysis you ask?

Pyrolysis is usually the first chemical reaction that occurs in the burning of many solid organic fuels, like wood, cloth, and paper, and also of some kinds of plastic. In a wood fire, the visible flames are not due to combustion of the wood itself, but rather of the gases released by its pyrolysis, whereas the flame-less burning of a solid, called smoldering, is the combustion of the solid residue (char or charcoal) left behind by pyrolysis. Thus, the pyrolysis of common materials like wood, plastic, and clothing is extremely important for fire safety and firefighting. (Wikipedia)

The Process

This is a fabric collage with raw edge appliqué using Vlisofix webbing to bond the different layers of fabric to a base, building up the image.

Both photos were enlarged by hand using a grid onto paper the required size.

Each part of the design was traced onto tracing paper, then reversed and traced onto the Vlisofix paper backing. The shape is then cut out loosely from the Vlisofix and ironed onto the wrong side of the fabric. The final shape is carefully cut out from the paper and when all the shapes are placed together, a face emerges. The purple fabrics are all printed quilting cotton and have a smooth texture while a textured yellow fabric was chosen to reflect the fabric that is used in the structure fire protective coat.

Each side of my portrait has different 3D elements. The hose attached to my shoulder strap is made from grosgrain ribbon sewn around thick piping cord. Plastic was used to give the reflective glare of the face mask, glasses and goggles.

My hat is made from a beaded overlay taken from a v neck top. Hand made burnt edge organza flowers embellish the centre of the hat and polyester flowers are around the neckline.

Finally, shading, highlights and definition were added to the collaged fabric appliqué with freehand machine embroidery. 

The background fabrics were chosen to compliment the limited pallet of colours but also to highlight the two elements of undulating fire and deep tranquil water.

Spot the “Artistic License” taken with my CFS equipment. If you are a member of a fire brigade unit you may notice that the way I am depicted wearing my equipment is not regulation.

  • I’m wearing my yellow rural helmet with out the clip on white structure helmet over the top. Yellow because I’m a lieutenant, the white looked to stark. This helmet also has a bigger CFS sticker at the front which added clarification to the uniform I thought.
  • My bushfire fighting goggles are still on the helmet. I liked the extra red. Normally they would be removed to clip the structure helmet on.
  • I don’t have the clear plastic pull down visor normally attached to the helmet in place covering my mask and face. To hard to recreate and covered to much up.
  • The regulator for my mask is depicted on the wrong side in the art work. This allows me to add more red down the lower half of the work and the hose line mirrors the neckline of flowers nicely.
  • These are all things I have chosen to wear or changed to enhance the visual appearance and balance the colour of the art work.
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