A Private Function

Publication: The Yorkshire Post

Fiona Russell meets Michele Howarth Rashman, an artist who likes to work with a material she can afford.


High above St George’s Square in Hebden Bridge, at the top of a rickety wooden staircase, is the attic studio of Michele Howarth Rashman.


The publicity for her latest shows describes her as “reclusive”, and two doors which you encounter here and a series of intimidating signs (“Private”, “No Access”, “Unattended Children Will Be Sold to the Circus”) only reinforce that impression.


But in person she is small, black-clad, friendly, not a little witchy, and very funny.
“They’re really to keep my friends out,” she confides when I ask about the notices. “They come for a cup of tea and I can’t get rid of them.” It’s easy to see why.


On a clear but chilly morning the studio is filled with colour and light. The heater is on and the view from the window is endlessly fascinating. Michele seats herself in what is clearly her favourite spot watching the square below. “You know, nobody ever looks up,” she says and grins: “Nobody knows I’m here.”


Michele watches and a listens. The title of her latest exhibition which ran in London to the end of last month and is now about to open at the Artsmill in Hebden Bridge is taken from a conversation overheard in the post office.


“One old woman was saying to another: ‘There’s one in the village, he calls himself Margaret’.” And it set me thinking, about the huge difference between how we want to be seen and how others see us. There was this person choosing to call himself Margaret. It seemed such an old-fashioned, commonplace name. There was something poignant about his modest aspiration. If he’d chosen something exotic it wouldn’t have been nearly so moving.’


“Margaret”, as imagined by Michele, is now one of a series of larger than life-size figures which each began as a small pad of kapok encased in a piece of nylon stocking.


Michele gradually builds-up the pad, stitching layer upon layer, tight upon tight, using tiny micro-stitches which are so small she has to use magnifying glasses. The final effect is something between patchwork and cellulite, pale, grotesque, but peculiarly life-like.


“Sometimes I think: ‘I’ve gone too far’. And then I look out of the window and see somebody walking by (particularly in the summer) and think: ‘I’ve not gone far enough’.”


The figures are comical and sad, saggy and bleary-eyed, but Michele insists they are also noble: “They’re making an effort. And those people are always so much more interesting than those who, whether through beauty or privilege, don’t have to try.”


Much of the effect depends upon the materials she is working with. So how did she end up working in tights, so to speak?


“Both my Mum and my grandmother knitted and sewed – Nan had a sewing machine next to her bed. In those days, all your clothes were made at home, from school uniforms to bridesmaid dresses. You only went to a shop as a very special treat.”


It seemed natural therefore to use stitching in her work. “A metal or woodwork-shop would have been completely alien to me. I could have used more traditional techniques in my sculpture to show I was as good as the lads. But I’ve never felt I had anything to prove.”


Michele went to Leeds Polytechnic to study Fine Art in a notoriously turbulent but also hugely creative department. “It was very diverse, but also very macho. They gave you a studio space, told you to get on with it, and said: ‘We’ll be in the pub, if you want us’. I’ve never been afraid of a big boisterous bloke since.”


Students either sank or swam. Michele thrived: “You could do anything. It didn’t matter if you were working in tights and kapok. You were making art regardless, and the only real criterion was whether it was any good or not.”


Working in tights also came in handy because there was no money, a situation the canny Michele had worked out was unlikely to change once she had graduated. “I was very practical when I was a student. It seemed pointless to do bronze casting because I wasn’t going to be able to carry on working in bronze once I’d left.”


Tights on the other hand were cheap, and for years she had a free supply. “My Mum used to send me her old ones.” But now she buys them herself. Happily, expensive tights are no use: “They’re too fine. I need ones that won’t ladder, support stockings really.”


Leeds left her “fearless, independent, resourceful and unemployable”, but she had good luck. Her work was exhibited for the first time in London alongside the celebrity Turner-prize winning artist Grayson Perry and attracted the attention of one-time Bradford-based gallerist Nicholas Treadwell who championed her for a number of years. She had a brief fling with film making and script-writing in the 1990s (Oh Julie, an animated short film shared joint first prize at the World Animation Festival with Wallace and Gromit). But she continued to make art.


She exhibits rarely (only once in the 90s), but despite this her work has always sold. “I don’t have any of my old work,” she says with a mixture of satisfaction and regret. The Who’s’ John Entwistle, was an important patron for many years and the guitarist from Police, Andy Summers, amongst others, has work in his collection.


In the mid-90s she moved back up north, to Hebden Bridge, and, for a number of years, lived high on the moors above Cragg Vale. “It was magnificent and terrible. The weather was ferocious. I remember watching my cat being blown off a mole hill – it was having a wee.” She now lives half way down a hill, and though it’s still “pretty wild”, it feels “a bit sissy living below the tree line”. She’ll probably move back up to the tops one day: “I like it bleak”.


In fact, she’s beginning to acquire the image of a wild woman of the moors. She was recently described as “a charmingly rustic antidote” to the contemporary London art scene (which begs the question what on earth London art critics think goes on in West Yorkshire). But she is enjoying the fun, not least by insisting on drawing parallels between herself and West Yorkshire’s own weird sisters, the Brontës.


There are parallels. Like the talented girls from Haworth Parsonage, Michelle spends her days engaged in meticulous, minute work (“developing long-sight and a dowager’s hump”) and she has a keen eye, which can get her into trouble (“I do use people I know and it can get a bit tricky”). And while she chooses to base herself in Yorkshire, she exhibits with the best of her London contemporaries. In her case Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin rather than William Makepeace Thackeray. And then there is the family connection. On her father’s side she is a Howarth, but on her mother’s side there are Haworths too.


Parish records show her great-great grandmother was christened by none other than Patrick Brontë and her great-great-great-grandmother is buried in the parsonage graveyard. “I’m virtually a tourist attraction,” she insists happily.


But now it’s time to shut the studio door and get back to work. “I have to be anti-social. The work takes so long that I need to be really mean with my time.” This exhibition was two years in the making. When will the next one happen?


I consult “Other Stuff” on her website hoping for a preview. “Coming soonish” is all it says.


Michele Howarth Rashman’s exhibition He Calls Himself Margaret opens at Artsmill at Linden Mill, Linden Road, Hebden Bridge on February 1. 01422 843413,




Publication: Glass Magazine

It’s on the lips of Michele Howarth Rashman’s textural sculptures that inform us of a youth now lost and a beauty defying recapture. Howarth Rashman’s figurative works form the centrepiece of her new solo show He Calls Himself Margaret – six figures showing us an empathetic, albeit still sad portrait of women “past their prime” – chasing their youth whilst trying to maintain a sense of self worth and pride.


These are sculptures of painstaking detail, surprise and technique. Through micro-stitching, Howarth Rashman builds up layer upon layer of small textile pieces, sewing them together to create her character – the timeline of this hand-construction taking five months from start to finish, heart to lipstick as it were. The power of this handcrafted approach is not to be underestimated – there is something so reassuring, so emotive about viewing Rashman’s artistic labour, created from barehanded talent and dedication.


These characters speak in the language of vanity and judgement, brooding with a knowing wistfulness for their absent youth and holding onto to a flicker of hope provided by cheap makeup and sexualised fashion.
While these works discuss ideas of pride, they are also concerned with judgements towards women in society at large. This charming cast seem to be victims in many ways, victims of bigotry – “she’s too fat”, “too ugly”, “too old”, “she’s a he”! But there is also a charming sense of humour here too, as one can tell that the artist is fond of these characters and greatly enjoys their company.


Also on display are Howarth Rashman’s Psychiatric Knitwear series – an idiosyncratic collection of jumpers hand knitted by the artist for her husband to wear during a severe depressive episode were he felt under attack from society. Much like the sculptures, these jumpers speak of self worth and dignity versus greater social judgement. Featuring slogans such as Emotional Cripple and At Risk, these jumpers were worn by her husband as suit of armour – a protective field during his crisis in which to tell the world at large of his struggles, to protest in the face of adversary and gain empowerment through the act.


The beauty of these jumpers is not just that they worked (her husband recovered) but that like the sculptures they retain a caring absurdity and empathy from the artist to her subjects, and present us with a love letter of sorts – woven, worn, empowering and framed.


By Tom Ryling


Michele Howarth Rashman’s He Calls Himself Margaret is on at The Outside World, London E2, until 14 December 2011.




He Calls Himself Margaret

Publication: Because London / Tank Magazine


“I don’t consider myself an outsider artist, but to be honest any artist who lives outside of zone 1 is considered an outsider artist. If you live in Glenrothes you’re outside of the picture, and with the medium I work in I don’t feel part of any scene.” Michele Howarth Rashman studied Fine Art at Leeds when it was one of the most ill-resourced art departments in the country. First exhibiting after graduation in New Contemporaries1982, the well-established showcase exhibition for graduate artists, alongside now well-established artists such as Peter Doig. Rashman went to work in television and animation, exhibiting only once during the whole of the nineties despite continuing to make new works. Rashman, who has described herself as “magnificently out of the step with the zeitgeist”, has an exhibition of new works, ‘He Calls Himself Margaret’ opens on 17 November at (appropriately enough) The Outside World, a gallery and artist’s space on Redchurch Street.


Rashman creates figures sewn together from women’s tights, a throwback from the lack of resources available while she was an art student; she found that creating with women’s tights became a very practical way of continuing to work. These figures are almost grotesque and difficult to look at. Rashman has noted how responses to her work have been as diverse as people refusing to be in the same room as one, to another wondering whether they had been fabricated from bread. Her characters may defy norms and conventions but for Rashman they are nothing but entirely personal. The amount of work it takes to create a single figure means that a relationship builds between artist and sitter, “You work and you work and you work and then eventually it looks back at you,” she says. “It makes itself. The minute you do anything, it becomes political. A method of work is either valid or accepted, I’m really not looking for acceptance.”

He Calls Himself Margaret is about this acceptance and the badges people wear. Rashman is currently working on the figure of a clinically obese woman, tentatively titled ‘She Calls Herself Big Boned’. A viewer will look at Rashman’s work and see something they recognise, these are very normal situations that we have all been in. Of course, we have our opinions and this is far from exotic. Fundamentally, and simply, it’s very sweet and that’s what adds to the poignancy. “There’s something very boring about perfection.”

He Calls Himself Margaret is at The Outside World between 17 November – 14 December.





Review of Michele Rashman’s show He Calls Himself Margaret: ‘..women past their prime but…

Publication: London Festival Fringe


It’s a small exhibition, but deep in desolation, misery and, ultimately defiance. Michele Rashman has created six larger- than- life busts of women, apart from Margaret, who may be a man after a sex change, but still retains her name, and after whom the exhibition is named.


The busts are on the edge of grotesque; one has had plastic surgery, whose skin is drawn back behind her ears, and whose breasts stick out like grapefruit bowls from her wrinkled chest. It’s sad – and here’s the odd bit – it’s also defiant. The subject’s take on what a woman should be – pert breasts, unwrinkled skin, succulent lips – is the standard advertising model, and she’s going to match it whatever it takes. It’s easy to be scornful of this attitude, but I admire the determination. She is going to be alluring and feminine whatever the cost. She could have grown old gracefully, but macho man doesn’t want sweet old ladies. He doesn’t want what she’s become either, but she doesn’t know that, and it is that that evokes the pity as well as admiration.


The others are similar; women past their prime but defiantly feminine and self deluding – let he who isn’t cast the first stone – with their rolls of fat and sagging cheeks but lipstick, God bless ‘em, as they present themselves as they think they are, unaware of the sad reality.


…. no, nothing can be done To keep at bay Age and age’s evils, hoar hair, Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay……


[Gerald Manley Hopkins, Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well]


The sculptures are basically made of women’s tights, but not obviously so until you look closely and see the texture of their skin, which has lines of tiny stitches and cells the size of 50p pieces, giving the surfaces an eerie touch of mortality.


Outside World Gallery, 44 Redchurch St, E2 7DP, until 14th December. Redchurch St is not well-endowed with numbers, but persist; it’s worth it.






Michele Howarth Rashman: He Calls Himself Margaret

Publication: Culture 24


Exhibition: Michele Howarth Rashman: He Calls Himself Margaret, The Outside World Gallery, London, until December 14 2011


“You think I’m mad, I’ll give you mad,” says Michele Howarth Rashman, setting a slight tone of attrition for her new show. “Show some humanity or f*** off.”


Starting out as a Fine Art graduate in Leeds (“the Ripper years – proper hardcore, made me fearless”) and debuting alongside Grayson Perry in the ICA’s New Contemporaries in 1982, Rashman spent years under the wing of gallery owner Nicholas Treadwell, seduced by his “breathtaking ability to p*** off the entire art establishment”.


A chance meeting with a busker over the princely sum of 30p, so her bio goes, then saw the artist stay with her new-found comrade for 15 years, a period during which she worked in fringe drama for the BBC, made models for an animated short which shared a World Animation Festival prize with Wallace and Gromit and scored a succession of “crappy jobs”, finding a much-needed fan in the form of The Who’s John Entwistle.


After marrying the former manager of the Happy Mondays and Simply Red – who she encountered while he was “going off his rocker in a sweet shop” – Rashman disappeared from the radar of an artworld she was seriously disillusioned by.


She returned at the White Cube in 2008, appearing alongside Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Jake and Dinos Chapman in an Edgar Allen Poe-themed exhibition which had been seven years in the making for organiser Harland Miller.


“I’ve known Michele for years and she is one of the most instantaneous people I’ve ever met, which is strange as I still haven’t got used to her work,” he says.


“Perhaps it reminds me of something or someone I’ve loved deeply but mistreated. She obviously skipped Sunday school.”


So it might come as a shock, particularly to those expecting tranquil landscapes from this incendiary enigma, that Rashman’s latest show involves gurning sculptures and psychiatric knitwear.


“Each piece has an internal life, a back story if you like, that taps into a world of people – usually women – who somehow miss the mark,” she explains, presenting a blitz of “bad hair, bad wigs and bad posture”.


“Saggy breasted and sad eyes – these are the romantically deceived and disappointed, the washed-up and invisible.


“‘There’s one in the village, he calls himself Margaret’ was something I once overheard being said between two old women in my local post office. It had been rattling around my head ever since.


“It got me thinking about what we call ourselves and how we see ourselves – and how other people perceive us.


“Somewhere in their making an effort, in these acts of self-improvement – the wig, the padded bra, the surgical enhancement, the flower in the hair – there is a poignancy and nobility which I hope touches the viewer.”






Picture preview: He Calls Himself Margaret

Publication: The Independent


“There’s one in the village, he calls himself Margaret” was something the artist Michele Howarth Rashman once overheard being said between two old women in her local post office. The remark has been “rattling around [in her] head ever since” and inspired the unsettling doll-like creations which form the basis of her debut solo exhibition.


The remark, whether merely an observation or a demonstration of bigotry, got the artist “thinking about what we call ourselves, how we see ourselves and how other people perceive us,” Rashman explains. So she made six larger-than-life sculptures of wizened and aging women made from painstakingly layered textiles. The figures wear lacy lingerie and are pouting provocatively. But what they provoke in onlookers is not desire but revulsion and disquiet.


Each doll has been hand-made using a special, and closely guarded, technique Rashman has developed over many years. She calls this dogged working method “defiantly unmanly” in an art world that is “persistently macho”.


She said: “Each piece has an internal life, a back story if you like, that taps into a world of people, usually women, who somehow miss the mark. Bad hair, bad wigs and bad posture. Saggy breasted and sad eyed. These are the romantically deceived and disappointed, the washed up and invisible. And yet somewhere in their making an effort, in those acts of self improvement – the wig, the padded bra, the surgical enhancement, the flower in the hair – there is a poignancy and nobility that I hope touches the viewer.”


‘He Calls Himself Margaret’ is at The Outside World Gallery, London from 17 November to 14 December 2011,






Shaun Ryder – the wrongest story ever

Publication: Manchester Confidential



Sleuth hears that the Buy Art Fair launch at Urbis was a smash hit last night. One sculpture is by all accounts the wrongest thing to have arrived in this city for a long while. Michele Howarth Rashman (wife of well-known man about town, Elliot Rashman) has produced ‘Hey Shawarma’. This is based on a Happy Mondays’ line ‘dog with two dicks’ in the Dr Dick song from the Uncle Dysfunctional album. The sculpture has the appearance of a misshapen dog with Shaun Ryder’s head and two…well, er…dicks. Mr Ryder hadn’t seen this before last night and liked it. A photographer asked for some pics, someone made a suggestion: the result was Ms Howarth Rashman and Mr Ryder each fellating one of the sculpted members of the beast. “Won’t be seeing that in the local press,” a passer-by commented. Indeed.






Model Shaun’s tight fit

Publication: Manchester Evening News


HE looks a less-than-Happy Monday, but there’s no mistaking the inspiration for this new sculpture is Manchester music legend Shaun Ryder.


Artist Michele Rashman unveiled her bold vision of Little Hulton’s famous son last night. Michele, whose husband is former Mondays’ manager Elliot Rashman, spent a year creating the sculpture – entitled Hey Shawarma after one of Shaun’s favourite phrases.


She tells me she was inspired by a risque lyric from the band’s most recent album, Unkle Dysfunktional, where Shaun compares himself to a talented dog.


For anyone who knows the song in question, it’s why we’ve cropped the picture from the waist upwards!


Shaun is fashioned into a performing dog-like creature with a clown’s ruffle and cowboy hat balancing on a roller skate – and he’s sporting a rather Kinky Afro, made from mohair scalped off teddy bears.


And Michele, made sure there was no Loose Fit on the sculpture – by crafting it almost entirely from ladies’ tights!


Michele had Shaun’s full blessing in creating the work, which was unveiled at the Buy Art fair at Urbis last night.


She says: “There is something poignant about him being this kind of performing dog… people see him as a cartoon character but he’s an incredible lyricist, a genius really.


“I’ve known Shaun for some time but I’d fallen in love with his nose long before I’d met him. It’s just magnificent.


“The sculpture is all hand-stitched and built up layer upon layer, mainly from ladies’ tights and mohair off old toys.


“Shaun has been great. He hasn’t wanted to see it along the way, he just wanted to see it at the launch. I’ve told him that whatever he thinks about it to slap a rictus grin on his face and say it’s fantastic.”


The Buy Art fair launched last night and runs until Sunday, with a host of art on display and to buy – including a series of celebrity doodles that are being auctioned to the highest bidders to raise cash for the Five Stars Scanner Appeal.