Why Tapestry?

 

‘Before Time” – ( 6 panels) – 80″ x 149″

Designed and hand-woven by Ulrika Leander

Before Time - progress 3

Before Time high res

 

Fine Art Tapestry

Swedish Landscape in Fine Art and Tapestry

Illustration: Helmer Jonas Osslund. Varafton Bakom Kiruna.
 
Swedish tapestry design of the early twentieth century was known at the time as probably some of the best woven artwork being produced in Europe. Much of the narrative and compositional work was based on the landscape and tended to follow what was termed as typical of the Swedish natural environment. Many of the tapestry pieces produced by a range of fine and decorative artists contained the colors, tones and textures that were so much a part of the Swedish identity across so many disciplines, but particularly in textiles.
Fine art and tapestry during this period enjoyed a particularly close relationship. Swedish artists showed a creative interpretation, but also an innate understanding of color, tone and texture. The relationship between artist and color seemed so apparent to many outsiders that it was often seen as an integral part of the Swedish fine art and tapestry scene, so much so that it was often stated that Swedish artists placed ‘…great weight…on colors and their values.’
It seems fitting therefore to place two illustrations, one fine art and one tapestry, beside each other in the same article. They were not produced by the same artist; the painting is by Helmer Jonas Osslund and the tapestry by Henrik Krogh. However, it perhaps needs to be seen how close fine and tapestry art were considered to be during this period. Tapestry in particular was entering a rich new creative phase of its life in Sweden. Woven textiles had a long and traditional history in Sweden, but it was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that weaving within the remit of tapestry, really began to be opened up as a contemporary art form.
Illustration: Henrik Krogh. The Spruce Coppice, c1913.
 
Both fine art and tapestry became linked with the search for idyllic ruralism and even a search for the untouched wilderness as portrayed by scenes of Sweden’s northern provinces. In some respects, both fine and tapestry art were influenced by the Swedish Arts and Crafts movement, which in its turn was initially influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement. With the late but rapid industrialization of Sweden and the urbanization of at least part of its population, the search for an idyllic rural life in the 1890s was just as important and illusive as the same search had been in England. However, although rural idylls and utopias always seemed to struggle with the realities and practicalities of industrial Europe, the ideal did fuel the creative arts. So much so that in many respects the Arts and Crafts movement which took place in many European states and regions, and for a variety of differing reasons, produced some of the best in hand produced decorative arts work.
To see fine art and tapestry in tandem with each other, sharing the same inspirational origins and with similar results, allows us to see how closely the two mediums could work together when inspired to do so. Osslund’s painting Varafton Bakom Kiruna could well have been commissioned as a tapestry work, and Krogh’s The Spruce Coppice could equally have been commissioned as an original fine art piece. Both are beautifully proportioned and use color and tone to its most dramatic effect. Texture is inbuilt and implied, taking on a creative naturalism that is easily identified with the landscape. Although one composition appears enclosed and insular and the other open and expansive, the color themes which range from the rich and deep earth tones to the series of greens and yellows that denote foliage, are in some ways so similar that they could be said to be part of the same sense of creative and observational characteristics and they certainly share a part of the Swedish environmental identity.
By showing these two pieces of work it is hoped that it gives some indication of the artistic creativity that came to fruition during the early part of the twentieth century in Sweden. That Sweden had a strong native tradition of creativity, one that is often considered to be perhaps one of the oldest unbroken craft systems in Europe, did not stop native Swedes from allowing a sense of contemporary and expansive creative freedom being added to the traditions of the past. It is this continuation of tradition through the contemporary that has made Swedish art, design and decoration so successful and such an essential part of the decorative and creative arts of our own time. It is perhaps an understanding that tradition does not necessarily entail intransigence and retreat, which should in its turn be seen as perhaps a lifesaving attitude to take when considering those same traditions in other parts of Europe that have and are struggling to survive as part of the contemporary world.

Woven Masterpieces; Aubusson Fine Art Tapestries

Woven Masterpieces: Aubusson Fine Art Tapestries

November 2014
View Original Article

AAA

ARTFIX DAILY — At the ateliers of Aubusson, tapestries are woven today in the same way they were hundreds of years ago. An art both ancient and modern, the tradition of Aubusson woven masterpieces experienced a modern revival in the early twentieth century. Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall – these are just some of the master artists of the 1930s who contributed their works to the ancient art. From the 13th century, tapestry making was a flourishing art in France. At a time when the upper echelon of society resided in large, expansive estates, tapestries were used to create portable partitions, keep rooms free from drafts, and decorate vast, bare walls. By the Renaissance, tapestries based on painted masterpieces came into vogue, and works by the Old Renaissance Masters were translated into colossal woven masterworks boasting incredibly complicated designs, some incorporating upwards of 600 different colors. The practice continued through the Baroque period, when works by in-demand artists such as François Boucher were commonly re-worked into woven form, often under the guidance of the artists themselves. Yet, by the end of the 18th century, the art of the tapestry experienced a brief decline in popularity, and these grand works and master ateliers would spend the next century fighting for survival in the industry. The 20th century brought with it a revived interest in the Old Renaissance Masters, and with it an increase in popularity for tapestries from this age. Collectors and art lovers alike snatched up these woven recreations of much loved Renaissance masterworks, which became incredibly valuable on the market. This sudden uptick in interest in Renaissance Aubusson tapestries led some to question why works by the modern masters could not also be translated into this ancient art. It took just one incredibly important and impassioned woman to spark a modern revival and begin a new history for the Aubusson ateliers. With the aim of reviving the declining Aubusson ateliers, art collector and patron Madame Marie Cuttoli began commissioning designs from masters of the modern movement. Her greatest contribution was her ability to break the Aubusson houses of their traditional designs, heralding in a new era during which contemporary artists were engaged with designers for the first time in two centuries. Artists such as Picasso, Miro, Braque, Matisse and Léger worked with Aubusson cartoonists and designers to translate their most important works into the medium, creating monumental woven wonders of modern design. In the early 1930s, these tapestries were exhibited side by side with the paintings that had inspired them, and often times the tapestries yielded higher prices than the originals. One of the most enthusiastic of these collaborative artists was French painter Fernand Léger. Léger’s epic cubist works, such as his monumental Les Constructeurs series, lend themselves well to the art of the tapestry. The expressions of color, the mechanical and geometric elements of his compositions, and the carefully wrought characters of man as engineer all shine through these meticulously woven masterpieces. Delighted by the collaborative process of tapestry design, Léger continued to lend his distinctive geometric designs to Aubusson weavers until his death in 1955.

aubusson

Caring for your tapestry

Wall tapestries require little maintenance after they have been set up in your home.

But there are some tips that will help you to make sure that your tapestries will maintain their superb beauty for a lifetime.

They will continue to exude their amazing beauty and charm for as long as you need, to continue to enchant you and your guests.

Where should I hang my tapestry?

You may place your tapestry in a location that’s not exposed to direct sunlight for the entire day, if you want to avoid fading of the tapestry.

Most walls in the home will now have this problem of excessive sunlight.

Just check that the wall where you’ll hang your tapestry is shaded for some or most of the day.

Also, choose a location that is neutral in terms of excessive heat or moisture.

Lounges, studies, halls and bedrooms are ideal locations for tapestries. Here, you and your guests tend to take more time to admire your art tapestries.

Kitchens and bathrooms on the other hand may cause moisture retention in the tapestry due to their heat and moisture levels.

Will my tapestry fade with time?

Being a fabric art, tapestries may fade over time, though depending on the situation, this may take some time before this happens.

However, keep in mind that some people actually prefer a slightly faded appearance of a tapestry as it’s in keeping with their style and character.

So it’s not a big issue, and if you prefer to avoid fading, choose a location that has low levels of direct sunlight.

How do I remove a crease of curl or crease in the tapestry?

As tapestries may be folded or rolled in transit, a mild crease or curl may be present. These are usually resolved when you lay out the tapestry or when you hang it.

If you need to remove a crease or curl in your tapestry before hanging a tapestry, you can simply lie it flat and place some books or weights on it for a period of time..

When in doubt, use caution and do not do anything that may damage your tapestry or tapestry accessories.

How do I clean a tapestry?

To clean your tapestry, simply use a soft brush such as a dry, clean, soft paint brush on its surface.

A tapestry requires a little bit of care when setting up, and the occasional maintenance as needed.

By following these simple instructions, you’ll have a lifetime of enjoyment from your tapestries.

 DowntownMOD (2)

“Downtown” 58″ x 128″ by Ulrika Leander

In the collection of WilmerHale Law Offices, Boston, MD

Artwork to tapestry; what is contemporary tapestry?

John_Olsen_Tapestry

Top image: John Olsen, Lily Pond (detail), 1984. Commissioned for the Eva and Marc Bresson Collection. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

Artwork to tapestry: What is contemporary tapestry?

[PUBLISHED IN THE EXHIBITION PUBLICATION ARTWORK TO TAPESTRY, 2011. © TARRAWARRA MUSEUM OF ART/IAN WERE]

What is contemporary tapestry?
Well, it is . . . a coarse, vigorous organic fabric . . . It is heavy with matter and heavy with meaning. But it is more, it is heavy with intentions. It is this which secures its magnificence to man and therefore to the building.¹

So said French painter, Jean Lurçat, credited not only with championing tapestry as a significant architectural element but also with the renaissance of the French tapestry tradition. Soon after the end of World War II, Lurçat gathered a group of French artists at the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop to pursue a new approach to the age-old textile, arguing that tapestries were the ideal wall decoration to replace frescos.2  

The history of the art of Western tapestry, and of the famous European workshops associated with it, is integral to the history of painting and architecture. Tapestry has played a time-honored role in architecture, humanizing spaces in buildings both public and private through its natural charm and its softening effect, both texturally and acoustically. The revival of tapestry in the twentieth century claims inspiration from medieval times when workshops — which had been trying to imitate paintings and compete with each other for fidelity of reproduction — returned to the principles of weaving based on traditional methods, and artists began entrusting their designs to the skill and judgment of workshop weavers.

Since its inception in 1976, the Melbourne-based Australian Tapestry Workshop’s (ATW) philosophy has been to employ weavers that are trained artists to work closely with the artists who design the tapestries — to create unique works of art, rather than just reproduce a design in woven form. As founding director Sue Walker said, ‘each [tapestry] is an original work of art created through the dynamic interaction of the artist, the weaver . . . and the collector or client commissioning the work’.3 Over the last three and a half decades many notable Australian and international artists and architects have collaborated with the ATW’s artist-weavers.

A notable example was when Romaldo Giurgola, architect for Parliament House, Canberra, welcomed the collaboration that resulted in Arthur Boyd’s Great Hall Tapestry (1984−88), one of the largest tapestries in the world. ‘What is important to me’, he said, ‘is the Workshop’s potential for collaborative work, work which transcends the usual barriers between client and architect or between architect and artist or between built forms and works of art.4

The process of interpreting an artwork and creating a tapestry is a complex and fascinating one. The Workshop first selects a color palette based on the artwork from the ATW’s range of dyes — over 370 colors on wool and more than 200 colors on cotton, all hand-dyed — and then weaves interpretative samples. The upright loom is prepared for weaving by wrapping cotton warps (yarns placed lengthwise in the loom) around the bottom roller and then threading them through the reed (a series of parallel wires that separate the threads of the warp). The loom is now ready for the cartoon — traditionally a sketch based on the art work but, for the ATW, is usually a black and white photographic enlargement or a line drawing — which becomes the design for the tapestry. The weaving can now begin and collaboration between artist and weaver continues throughout. On completion the tapestry is rolled up on the top roller so that the image can be viewed before it is cut off.

Over the last 35 years the ATW’s skilled weavers have produced an extraordinary collection of tapestries for a wide range of purposes. Monumental tapestries have been commissioned as part of the design of iconic buildings and notable suites of tapestries and significant examples of public art have been created. Commissions within Australia and internationally have resulted in an array of tapestries for private, public and corporate art collections.

Two of the nine artists in this exhibition are John Coburn and John Olsen, both of whom were among the first to collaborate with the ATW. More than any other Australian artist, Coburn displayed a true affinity with the tapestry medium, designing almost 100 tapestries over the four decades of his life. Coburn’s love of tapestry was triggered by seeing the 1956 exhibition of contemporary French tapestries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which inspired him to live and work in France for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He produced a number of tapestries with the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop including the acclaimed Sydney Opera House curtains, but, the establishment of the ATW in 1976, allowed him to shift production from France to collaboration at home.

Garden_of_life-_Coburn

Coburn’s bold graphic forms and vibrant colors were an ideal match for tapestry translation. His deceptively simple curvilinear forms were a challenge for weaving, with competence in producing a ‘Coburn curve’ the benchmark of a highly skilled weaver.5 In this exhibition his Garden of Life (2000), which provided great scope for the weavers to develop rich textures, is no exception.

John Olsen was the first Australian artist to design for tapestry, working with workshops in France and Portugal in the 1960s before commencing collaboration with the ATW in 1981. One major tapestry, Rising suns over Australia Felix (1997), was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its monumental scale conjures the vastness of the Australian continent. In Olsen’s vibrant tapestry Lily Pond (in this exhibition) — commissioned for the collection of Eva and Marc Besen in 1984 — the weavers have effectively translated the lyrical lines that are a hallmark of Olsen’s painting.

The other seven works in Artwork to Tapestry represent the versatility of the medium and its ability to interpret a range of original artworks — from paintings of various styles to two large-scale prints to a lively gouache to a modest-sized photograph. In this exhibition are three diverse painters: Gareth Sansom, Angela Brennan and Song Ling.

4.0.1

Sansom’s expressionistic paintings combine iconoclastic and sexually explicit imagery with rebellious humor. His Family trust (1990) brims with contorted faces with disembodied eyes, all writhing in a patch-worked pattern. Unlike most other artists commissioned by the Workshop, Sansom did not desire active collaboration during the development of his tapestry. However, he confessed that his curiosity had so piqued that, while the work was in progress, he prowled around the Workshop at night, trying to catch a glimpse of it on the loom.6

The enigmatic title of Angela Brennan’s tapestry, It was not I that looked (2006), is taken from twentieth-century modernist painter Paul Klee who wrote in a journal, ‘It was not I who looked at the trees, the trees were looking at me’. Brennan, intrigued by the translation of the painting into tapestry, visited the Workshop several times to see the preliminary drawings and color samples. For her, the developing tapestry took on a new life. ‘I was fascinated’ she notes, ‘to see the work . . . emerging independently from its original source’.7

SLKF08-_Completed_tapestry_cropped

Song Ling’s art work for the tapestry, Kong fu – our dream 1 (2009) — inspired by Japanese animation and manga comics — has a bold, graphic style. But, he said: ‘The colors I use are often found in Chinese folk art and embroidery. Old technique versus new technique, traditional versus modern; color versus colour.’8 Ling was also curious to see how his painting would translate to a tapestry, and a visit to the Workshop enabled him to discuss the weavers’ interpretation and the nuances of color.

The original artworks for the four remaining tapestries were two prints (GW Bot and Geoffrey Ricardo), a gouache (John Wolseley) and a photograph (Yvonne Todd). GW Bot’s tapestry, Glyphs, was conceived as a large-scale relief print on tapa cloth in 2005. The cloth, made from bark and sourced from Tonga, is used as both swaddling for new-born infants and as funerary shrouds. According to the artist, the glyphs are ‘a form of shorthand calligraphy dealing with the Australian landscape . . . symbolically and metaphorically’.9 The colors, translated in woven form, are in rusty reds and browns, broken up by black jagged forms echoing natural objects such as fallen branches, burnt tree trunks or termite mounds.

Geoffrey Ricardo’s art often employs a figurative-based narrative tinged with humor and, sometimes, a sense of the absurd. Since 1993 Ricardo has closely collaborated with the ATW on four tapestries, large-scale and smaller, including the one in this exhibition. Emblem (1999), based on an aquatint and dry-point print of an ambiguous human−kangaroo figure, was the result of a particularly intense working partnership with an ATW weaver, resulting in this strange and compelling tapestry.

Wolseley_Tapestry

For his tapestry, Fire and water-moths, swamps and lava flows of the Hamilton region (2010), John Wolseley was commissioned to create an original design, consequently spending a week in the wilds of the Hamilton region in Victoria, painting and recording. The enchanting gouache study on paper is full of observations — the moths, lava flows and volcanic sinkholes that characterize the area — scribbled on the page margins. Wolseley then enlarged the study on a color photocopier, reassembled it, and painted back onto the copy, creating a new art work. In realizing their interpretation in wool and cotton, the weavers have used both the original and revised versions.

In 2006, with sponsorship from Tim and Gina Fairfax, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) commissioned an ATW tapestry for its collection, Alice Bayke (2008), working closely with photographer Yvonne Todd. ‘It was the involvement with the . . . Workshop . . . that was exciting and rewarding’, said the Fairfaxes.10 As QAG Curator Maud Page finds, Alice Bayke conveys a palpable sense of psychological unease: ‘The key to Todd’s portraits is the deadpan expressions on her protagonists, carefully constructed through conflicting facial elements: mournful eyes, slightly wet lips. The Alice Bayke tapestry does all of that and more’.11

With its rich colors, strong images, hand-made tactile surfaces, and range of scale from palm-size to monumental, tapestry today enjoys a renewed vigor as part of the contemporary art world. The richness of woven color, derived from the mixing of multiple strands of vibrant, specially-dyed yarns, is a technique that is one of the hallmarks of the Australian Tapestry Workshop. As this exhibition vividly demonstrates, tapestry — ideally suited to large spaces — complements the varied surfaces and materials of modern architecture creating an atmosphere of warmth and color.

Progress photo of ongoing tapestry commission for a private home in Laguna Beach, CA, “Serenity” – 83″ x 55″

Dick 1 (2)

 

Ctw-tapestry.com

Wall tapestries

Wall tapestries: A popular choice for home décor

Home décor made beautiful!

For millennia people have used wall tapestries and textiles to decorate their homes, from castles to condos. Tapestry wall hangings are one of the most accomplished textile-based art forms and come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds giving them a great diversity of styles.

Some wall tapestries originate from museums and others from artists are licensing their artwork to be made into tapestries. Any subject matter from nature and landscapes to impressionist and modern art can be used to create a tapestry. These add an entirely unique dimension to this traditional form of art.

Traditional materials with a modern twist

Traditional tapestries, particularly Medieval era tapestries, were made from wool. This provided a strong basis for adding dyes and pigments and had the added benefit of being hardwearing and easily available. Over time other yarns have been added to the mix, but the basic principle of natural materials has remained with tapestry weaving, using traditional materials and weaving techniques. Wool tapestries when mixed with synthetic polymers have the distinct advantage of preserving the traditional warmth of wool tapestries, but add a long-lasting robustness that would have made them the envy of medieval weavers.

The very best quality modern wall tapestries make the most of this blend of old and new, using new improved fibers to reproduce classical art and famous tapestry art from the past. With the improvements made to pigments and dyes in the last century we can now easily buy faithful reproductions of centuries-old tapestry designs; unseen in such vibrant colors since the time they were originally designed.

Solve decorating challenges

Like any form of high quality art tapestries can open a window to the past, expand living space both emotionally and visually, create the basis for a theme, add color and give your living space individuality, personality and charm. Decorating with tapestries adds beauty, warmth and character.

Choosing a horizontal tapestry will help add length to a room or try opening a space by choosing a tapestry with doorways and windows. These types of tapestries give an illusion of added space by leading the eye of the viewer outward. If your room is large and cold, scale it down by hanging a series of smaller tapestries together. This creates the illusion of a smaller space and can bring a large, blank wall down in size. Hanging small tapestries together will also add warmth to your room.

Wall tapestries – rich in history

Wall tapestries, often rich in history, can transport us to another time and place. They encourage reflective and tranquil moments, enlighten the human spirit and are great subjects of conversation. They also add charm and coziness to our homes and are balm for the soul. All of these qualities have made wall tapestries a popular choice amongst art lovers for centuries. Today with modern textiles and fabrics and centuries of tradition, art and design behind them many are finding wall tapestries as charming, versatile and beautiful as ever.

Swift Silvertails Passing

FRAMES OF REFERENCE

Artist’s studio and home

Artist’s studio and home for sale in Bellevue, Maryland.

5592 Poplar Ln, Royal Oak, MD 21662

3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths

5,217 sq.ft.

Located in the heart of Bellevue, close to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, public boat ramp and park, this spacious home offers a contemporary lifestyle in the roots of history. Built in 1898 and renovated in 2006, this light- filled home has an open floor plan with high ceilings, an eat-in European gourmet kitchen and hardwood floors. An adjoining 1700 sq. ft. room provides a perfect artist’s studio and gallery, although the commercial zoning allows for many other uses or simply conversion to additional residential space. The property sits on four lots and has a wealth of mature trees, perennial flower beds and raised gardens. The large parking area allows easy storage for boats or recreation vehicles. Located 7 minutes from St. Michaels and 11 minutes from Easton or just a short ferry ride to Oxford, fine eating and shopping, music, plays and galleries are just a short drive away. A perfect home, conveniently located for those who love biking, boating, fishing and walking or simply need a peaceful place to live and work.

Offered by Benson & Mangold Real Estate

Agent: Debra Crouch

Direct: (410) 924-0771

Office: (410) 745-0720

E-mail: debracrouch@mris.com

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The Glory Days of Tapestries

The Glory Days of Tapestries

Last week I attended really interesting lecture at the Bard Graduate Center by Tristan Weddigen. The talk was entitled “The Warp and Weft of History: Raphael and Le Brun Reflecting on the Textile Medium” and explored the ways tapestries from early modern Europe expressed and reflected the early modern artists intentions, in the same way that painting and sculpture did.

The starting point of the talk was the fact that tapestries were amongst the most expensive and valued works of art on Europe during Renaissance, but that importance isn’t reflected in art theory, either from that time or today. Several examples of tapestries with cartoons from Raphael and Charles LeBrun were discussed, highlighting how tapestries were start mimicking reality, in such a detailed way as paintings. The first examples of a tapestry depicting water reflections, and perspective, and facial expressions come from the 16th century and it is really mesmerizing to think how that result was achieved by weaving with colorful threads.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, part of the 10 tapestries series commissioned by     Leo X for the Sistine Chapel, cartoons by Raphael, 1519

However, what really got my attention was learning that it was around this time too that tapestries started depicting textiles, and clothing, and other tapestries in extreme detail. Take a look, for instance, in this tapestry commissioned by Louis XIV and made at Gobelins, following a cartoon of Charles LeBrun. This tapestry depicts Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins workshop in Paris, and you can see represented another tapestry in the background, draped brocade textiles and voluptuous clothing.

Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins Factory, cartoon by Charles LeBrun, 1673

Imagine the work involved on the creation of these tapestries and it’s not hard to understand why their were so valuable. Also, the fact that a tapestry workshop and the work-in-progress was represented in a tapestry (and the fact the Louis XIV commissioned this work and is represented in it) only reinforces how important tapestries were in the society.  Another good example are the early mentioned Sistine Chapel tapestries, commissioned by Leo X (with cartoons by Raphael), which costed at least 16,000 ducats, and that amount was around five times what Michelangelo was paid for the work in the ceiling. (More on the process of creating a tapestry from the cartoon in this video about the Raphael’s Sistine Tapestries)

What happened since then though? At what moment did we stop acknowledging the creativity, the mastership and all the work involved on the creation of fiber art? What made fiber art lose its status as art, and be sent to the complicated-to-define craft concept?

This lecture made me feel overwhelmed with knowledge (I didn’t even attempt to make a summary of it, knowing that I probably missed great part of the art theory discussion about tapestries and their role in the society and art at that time), but also made me feel that I need to study more, much more.

Artwork to tapestry: What is contemporary tapestry?

 

What is contemporary tapestry? Well, it is . . . a coarse, vigorous organic fabric . . . It is heavy with matter and heavy with meaning. But it is more, it is heavy with intentions. It is this which secures its magnificence to man and therefore to the building.¹

So said French painter, Jean Lurçat, credited not only with championing tapestry as a significant architectural element but also with the renaissance of the French tapestry tradition. Soon after the end of World War II, Lurçat gathered a group of French artists at the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop to pursue a new approach to the age-old textile, arguing that tapestries were the ideal wall decoration to replace frescos.2  

The history of the art of Western tapestry, and of the famous European workshops associated with it, is integral to the history of painting and architecture. Tapestry has played a time-honoured role in architecture, humanising spaces in buildings both public and private through its natural charm and its softening effect, both texturally and acoustically. The revival of tapestry in the twentieth century claims inspiration from medieval times when workshops — which had been trying to imitate paintings and compete with each other for fidelity of reproduction — returned to the principles of weaving based on traditional methods, and artists began entrusting their designs to the skill and judgement of workshop weavers.

Since its inception in 1976, the Melbourne-based Australian Tapestry Workshop’s (ATW) philosophy has been to employ weavers that are trained artists to work closely with the artists who design the tapestries — to create unique works of art, rather than just reproduce a design in woven form. As founding director Sue Walker said, ‘each [tapestry] is an original work of art created through the dynamic interaction of the artist, the weaver . . . and the collector or client commissioning the work’.3 Over the last three and a half decades many notable Australian and international artists and architects have collaborated with the ATW’s artist-weavers.

A notable example was when Romaldo Giurgola, architect for Parliament House, Canberra, welcomed the collaboration that resulted in Arthur Boyd’s Great Hall Tapestry (1984−88), one of the largest tapestries in the world. ‘What is important to me’, he said, ‘is the Workshop’s potential for collaborative work, work which transcends the usual barriers between client and architect or between architect and artist or between built forms and works of art.4

The process of interpreting an artwork and creating a tapestry is a complex and fascinating one. The Workshop first selects a colour palette based on the artwork from the ATW’s range of dyes — over 370 colours on wool and more than 200 colours on cotton, all hand-dyed — and then weaves interpretative samples. The upright loom is prepared for weaving by wrapping cotton warps (yarns placed lengthwise in the loom) around the bottom roller and then threading them through the reed (a series of parallel wires that separate the threads of the warp). The loom is now ready for the cartoon — traditionally a sketch based on the art work but, for the ATW, is usually a black and white photographic enlargement or a line drawing — which becomes the design for the tapestry. The weaving can now begin and collaboration between artist and weaver continues throughout. On completion the tapestry is rolled up on the top roller so that the image can be viewed before it is cut off.

Over the last 35 years the ATW’s skilled weavers have produced an extraordinary collection of tapestries for a wide range of purposes. Monumental tapestries have been commissioned as part of the design of iconic buildings and notable suites of tapestries and significant examples of public art have been created. Commissions within Australia and internationally have resulted in an array of tapestries for private, public and corporate art collections.

Two of the nine artists in this exhibition are John Coburn and John Olsen, both of whom were among the first to collaborate with the ATW. More than any other Australian artist, Coburn displayed a true affinity with the tapestry medium, designing almost 100 tapestries over the four decades of his life. Coburn’s love of tapestry was triggered by seeing the 1956 exhibition of contemporary French tapestries at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which inspired him to live and work in France for several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He produced a number of tapestries with the Aubusson Tapestry Workshop including the acclaimed Sydney Opera House curtains, but, the establishment of the ATW in 1976, allowed him to shift production from France to collaboration at home.

Garden_of_life-_Coburn

John Coburn, Garden of Life, 2000. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

Coburn’s bold graphic forms and vibrant colours were an ideal match for tapestry translation. His deceptively simple curvilinear forms were a challenge for weaving, with competence in producing a ‘Coburn curve’ the benchmark of a highly skilled weaver.5 In this exhibition his Garden of Life (2000), which provided great scope for the weavers to develop rich textures, is no exception.

John Olsen was the first Australian artist to design for tapestry, working with workshops in France and Portugal in the 1960s before commencing collaboration with the ATW in 1981. One major tapestry, Rising suns over Australia Felix (1997), was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its monumental scale conjures the vastness of the Australian continent. In Olsen’s vibrant tapestry Lily Pond (in this exhibition) — commissioned for the collection of Eva and Marc Besen in 1984 — the weavers have effectively translated the lyrical lines that are a hallmark of Olsen’s painting.

The other seven works in Artwork to Tapestry represent the versatility of the medium and its ability to interpret a range of original artworks — from paintings of various styles to two large-scale prints to a lively gouache to a modest-sized photograph. In this exhibition are three diverse painters: Gareth Sansom, Angela Brennan and Song Ling.

4.0.1

Gareth Sansom, Family trust, 1990. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

Sansom’s expressionistic paintings combine iconoclastic and sexually explicit imagery with rebellious humour. His Family trust (1990) brims with contorted faces with disembodied eyes, all writhing in a patch-worked pattern. Unlike most other artists commissioned by the Workshop, Sansom did not desire active collaboration during the development of his tapestry. However, he confessed that his curiosity had so piqued that, while the work was in progress, he prowled around the Workshop at night, trying to catch a glimpse of it on the loom.6

The enigmatic title of Angela Brennan’s tapestry, It was not I that looked (2006), is taken from twentieth-century modernist painter Paul Klee who wrote in a journal, ‘It was not I who looked at the trees, the trees were looking at me’. Brennan, intrigued by the translation of the painting into tapestry, visited the Workshop several times to see the preliminary drawings and colour samples. For her, the developing tapestry took on a new life. ‘I was fascinated’ she notes, ‘to see the work . . . emerging independently from its original source’.7

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Song Ling, Kong fu – our dream, 2009. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

Song Ling’s art work for the tapestry, Kong fu – our dream 1 (2009) — inspired by Japanese animation and manga comics — has a bold, graphic style. But, he said: ‘The colours I use are often found in Chinese folk art and embroidery. Old technique versus new technique, traditional versus modern; colour versus colour.’8 Ling was also curious to see how his painting would translate to a tapestry, and a visit to the Workshop enabled him to discuss the weavers’ interpretation and the nuances of colour.

The original artworks for the four remaining tapestries were two prints (GW Bot and Geoffrey Ricardo), a gouache (John Wolseley) and a photograph (Yvonne Todd). GW Bot’s tapestry, Glyphs, was conceived as a large-scale relief print on tapa cloth in 2005. The cloth, made from bark and sourced from Tonga, is used as both swaddling for new-born infants and as funerary shrouds. According to the artist, the glyphs are ‘a form of shorthand calligraphy dealing with the Australian landscape . . . symbolically and metaphorically’.9 The colours, translated in woven form, are in rusty reds and browns, broken up by black jagged forms echoing natural objects such as fallen branches, burnt tree trunks or termite mounds.

Geoffrey Ricardo’s art often employs a figurative-based narrative tinged with humour and, sometimes, a sense of the absurd. Since 1993 Ricardo has closely collaborated with the ATW on four tapestries, large-scale and smaller, including the one in this exhibition. Emblem (1999), based on an aquatint and dry-point print of an ambiguous human−kangaroo figure, was the result of a particularly intense working partnership with an ATW weaver, resulting in this strange and compelling tapestry.

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John Wolseley, Fire and water moths, swamps and lava flows of the Hamilton region, 2010. © The artist/Australian Tapestry Workshop

For his tapestry, Fire and water-moths, swamps and lava flows of the Hamilton region (2010), John Wolseley was commissioned to create an original design, consequently spending a week in the wilds of the Hamilton region in Victoria, painting and recording. The enchanting gouache study on paper is full of observations — the moths, lava flows and volcanic sinkholes that characterise the area — scribbled on the page margins. Wolseley then enlarged the study on a colour photocopier, reassembled it, and painted back onto the copy, creating a new art work. In realising their interpretation in wool and cotton, the weavers have used both the original and revised versions.

In 2006, with sponsorship from Tim and Gina Fairfax, the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) commissioned an ATW tapestry for its collection, Alice Bayke (2008), working closely with photographer Yvonne Todd. ‘It was the involvement with the . . . Workshop . . . that was exciting and rewarding’, said the Fairfaxes.10 As QAG Curator Maud Page finds, Alice Bayke conveys a palpable sense of psychological unease: ‘The key to Todd’s portraits is the deadpan expressions on her protagonists, carefully constructed through conflicting facial elements: mournful eyes, slightly wet lips. The Alice Bayke tapestry does all of that and more’.11

With its rich colours, strong images, hand-made tactile surfaces, and range of scale from palm-size to monumental, tapestry today enjoys a renewed vigour as part of the contemporary art world. The richness of woven colour, derived from the mixing of multiple strands of vibrant, specially-dyed yarns, is a technique that is one of the hallmarks of the Australian Tapestry Workshop. As this exhibition vividly demonstrates, tapestry — ideally suited to large spaces — complements the varied surfaces and materials of modern architecture creating an atmosphere of warmth and colour.