Cheryl Bridgart dreams, and stitches, in vivid colour. Her signature freehand embroidery portraits have always been known for their vibrancy and heart-warming joyfulness.
The mangled, half-burned and twisted sheet metal stirred in the wind – the only object which could still be swayed by the breeze – the grass and trees were gone. After the roar of the fire, the silence felt eerie. Everything was quiet. Black and quiet. Then the birds came back. “ They were able to flee the fire, to fly to safety, but they were the first to come back, bringing with them bursts of colour among the blackness. And hope of new beginnings.” Cheryl Bridgart recalls the destruction on her 6th generation family farm due to the Pinery bushfire in November last year. Bridgart dreams, and stitches, in vivid colour. Her signature freehand embroidery portraits have always been known for their vibrancy and heart-warming joyfulness. Portraits with soulful eyes and expressive lips, combined with flamboyant birds and animals, express Bridgart’s infectious joy for life. But that’s not the whole story. Bridgart’s story is not in just one portrait – it is told across her whole body of work. The last series of works – she completed before the fire – are sombre, ominous and sad. Bridgart explains, “I was becoming overwhelmed by all the evil and sadness in the world. I saw black birds, sad and worried faces – a world without colour.” Spending more time on the farm, getting away from the world, landscapes started appearing in Bridgart’s dreams and embroideries. “I am a portrait person – eyes and faces, but the landscape presented itself in my work.”
Cheryl Bridgart, The Dark Within (2015)
Waves of olive groves, farmland and rolling hills washed over the portrait faces. And slowly some colour came back. Greens and yellows. The black birds were still there, but they came with olive branches. After the fire, the loss, the sadness, and the blackness came home. Reflecting on the loss of her property, her family heirlooms and memories, Bridgart saw hope in the return of the birds. They came back and immediately started nesting in the mangled remains of the shed. New life triumphed over destruction. As she stitched through her sadness and grief, more colours slowly returned to Bridgart’s work. Reds, blues, greens. The broken shed and the black birds are still there, but they are smaller and now keep to the background. The vibrant birds and the colourful faces are back. As Bridgart and her family rebuilt their shed and their new life, her latest work, and her latest life-chapter, Whispers of Passion, has two faces. Man and woman. A couple. “Adversity brings people closer. Sadness brings intimacy.” Bridgart’s dreams and stitched portraits are once again filled with colour. The colour of hope and joy. Bridgart’s new body of work, Laced with Dreams, will be on display at her studio in Beltana House, as part of the SALA Festival in August. She is a member of Well Made, a Guildhouse initiative. bridgart.com Ansie van der Walt is a freelance writer specialising in bre art and textile ansievanderwalt.com thefabricthread.com