In conversation - Artist May Hands

May Hands is an artist living and working in Folkestone. Her practice investigates how our relationship with materiality shapes our understanding of the world.  Reflecting upon seasonal cycles, sensuality and the inherently curated aspect of our everyday consumptions she questions how society constructs and articulates value and desire. 
 She documents and collects her observations and processes through traditional craft- based techniques, photography, field notes and the collecting of objects, layering them together to create sensory experiences.  

 Vital to her practice is the honouring of tactility, sensitivity and sustainability. The handmade is heavily present in her work; techniques such as natural dye, stitch, spinning, knit, weave and ceramics are used within contemporary fine art frameworks. These handcrafted tactile elements are juxtaposed with ready-made and mass-produced objects and detritus, inviting the viewer to consider the origins of technologies, language and culture. 

You come from a very creative family, how did your childhood influence your decision to become an artist and has it informed the content and style of your work?

My parents have always encouraged my sisters and I to be creative. I was always drawing or making something, and art was my favourite subject throughout school. Many fragments
of my childhood have informed my practice, growing up by the sea is what has instilled my love of the horizon and my Mum inspiring me to always look in detail and find the beauty in the everyday has influenced me greatly. My Dad is an artist so I grew up surrounded by his paintings as well as my Grandma’s ceramics and weavings. This informed my inquisitiveness and understanding of colour, textures and composition. I am very grateful to my family for their impact on me and my art practice.

You work in many different disciplines and mediums, do you have favourites?

I enjoy all the materials, tools and processes I use in my practice, I am attracted to the tactile and working by hand. Right now I am really enjoying working with natural dyes and fibres, weaving pieces of material with plant dyed yarns which will become surfaces of future artworks.

You have lived in London, Brighton and now Folkestone, how have these very different environments - Urban, Rural, Coastal, influenced your work?

Since moving to Folkestone I have connected to the edge of things, both physically and metaphorically; where the land meets the sea, the in-between of these two expanses. The eroding coastline reveals fossils and leaves a crumbled edge and surface. When the tide goes out it leaves pools of water amongst the rocks, catching the light and providing a temporary home for small treasures and creatures. I collect what the sea churns up along the tidal path, both manmade and natural.
Growing up in Brighton I was also inspired by the sea, gazing out towards the horizon, but also by the city itself; the creativity and energy of Brighton is very special to me.
London was where I studied and continued to live a little after. Here it was the commercial and consumerist world that captured my attention, collecting designer packaging and street debris like a magpie. Local markets and hardware stores in South and East London inspired me too, an array of materials and objects for artworks I would accumulate as well as film footage, photography and field notes.




Is there a material that is integral to your work?

Rather than material I think it’s the immaterial that is integral to my work. I am intrigued by the history and emotion that material can hold. I believe in the animacy of all things; thoughts, feelings and memories are imprinted within everything. The immaterial is becoming more and more important in my work and I still don’t have the words to convey exactly what I mean, but I suppose that’s the beauty of it and what keeps me curious.



How does a piece begin, do you have an idea first, or do the materials inform the outcome?

Most of the time I have an overall idea of a piece or a series, for example right now with the series I am working on I know I want all the surfaces to be woven or patch-worked, but as I make, I let the process and materials guide me. I like to surrender to their ways and work with them rather than against them, building a relationship and understanding with the ingredients I use. Some work falls into place almost effortlessly and other times it’s a long ordeal and a lot of taking apart and putting back together until the piece says ‘I am complete’.

You were already a successful artist with many solo shows under your belt when you decided to take your Masters in Fine Art. What lead you to extend your studies?

I always wanted to do a masters and waited till the time was right. I wanted to put down some strong foundations to my practice, take time to delve deep and ask questions I had been avoiding, to get uncomfortable and challenge myself.

Is your art influenced by world events? Is there a message in it?

My practice is influenced by many things that are happening in the world around me, I think the main message in my work is an ecological one and the importance of care that we must show the earth as well as one another. I hope to provoke thought around the value of materials and their provenance, the processes we engage them in, their uses and the associations and hierarchies we place upon them. I am interested in how the idea of a ‘gift economy’ inherent to the ecosystem of the natural world can be replicated in our interactions with the local community and our environment.
I draw inspiration from writer and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, who speaks about indigenous communities recognising that all living things are in service and gifts to one another; the earth is an ecosystem of gift giving and interdependence.

What are your thoughts on how the unprecedented rise of technology has impacted the art world - for good or bad?

Art is led by ideas and experimentation so I think technologies are in the right hands when artists are working with them and can have a great impact on many things.
However I find people can be quick to forget that even the simplest of tools such as a needle, drop spindle or knife are technologies and perhaps they aren’t appreciated and valued enough. I am fascinated by early technologies, hand tools especially and ways that civilizations worked with the elements such as wind and fire.


Who are your favourite artists?

I have many favourite artists and who I am looking at will change on a regular basis. But If I had to pick: Alexandra Bircken, Agnes Martin, Veronica Ryan and Howard Hodgkin.

If you could recommend one book, what would it be?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer.

What’s next for you?

Currently I am working on a series of woven works which will most likely include found and small handmade ceramic and crocheted objects within them.
I am just about to release a small collection of naturally dyed and handmade textile pieces which include silk scarves and linen patchwork scrunchies. This is something I have been
doing for the past few years now for Christmas, it is separate to my art practice yet overlaps with the use of natural dyes and hand-made processes and is a way to offer more affordable pieces to a wider audience.

I also have work included in group exhibitions:
Niagara Falls Projects: Return, Galley DODO, Brighton, open now till 13 th January 2023

Small Frames, RO Frames, Stroud, opening 9 th December until 17 th December 2022

Where can we see or buy your work?

Instagram @may_hands
Original artwork and editions:

 Please see May's Instagram for more details on the exhibitions. *May is wearing Studio Wylder current season.