In the middle of the winter it’s quite lovely to weave a tapestry reminding you about summertime. This tapestry is woven from the side using a very complex technique. The 4th image shows the design in the correct direction. Finished, the tapestry will measure about 48 ins high and 72 ins wide. I started the tapestry in November 2016 and I estimate that the weaving process will take me through late spring. The tapestry will be available for sale when completed.
Contemporary Tapestry Weaving – firstname.lastname@example.org
Woven space: Architecture and tapestry
An upcoming design competition promises to reinvigorate the connection between architecture and textile art, and hence human experience and the built environment.
There is a long-standing historical connection between architectural space and textile art, and in particular, tapestry. Rare tapestry remnants have been found in Greece dating from the 3rd century BC and the tapestry-laden walls of European museums and palaces are very familiar to us. The longevity of this art form over the centuries makes my 15-year connection with it via the Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW) pale into insignificance. Time is not the relevant metric, however, when measuring the alchemy that occurs in the creation of tapestry—this is timeless.
Significant wall hangings have been created around the world and used in a myriad of configurations for functional, decorative, celebratory and didactic purposes, with a clear knowing of their ‘other’ underlying capacity to modify thermal and acoustic conditions within interior built space. Tapestries have ranged from monumental formats in great public and private buildings down to small-scale intimate works for personal enjoyment. Often underpinned by great wealth, they have been traded and presented as gifts to leaders for hundreds of years across countries and societies. They show enormous scope, having been used for traditional designs employing historical and mythical themes, to being utilised as a preferred medium by avant-garde architects and artists at the beginnings of the modern movement in Europe.
From their earliest history to the full integration of textiles into the comprehensive design program of the Bauhaus in Germany under Walter Gropius (1919-28) and later under Mies van der Rohe (1930-33), tapestries have been linked intimately with built space and its creation. One only has to think of the great architect Le Corbusier and his integration of textiles with architecture, including his own masterfully self-designed epic tapestries, to understand the significance of placement in architectural space.
William Morris in the 19th century and the contemporary French artist Jean Lurcat paved a way for others to follow, including internationally influential artists such as Picasso, Calder, Leger and Miro, who used the mediums of tapestry and textile as key platforms for their work.
A point to note is that the realisation of the two great tapestries for new Parliament House and the Sydney Opera House came via collaboration with the ATW. In fact, most of the ATW tapestries are designed with a specific location in mind, and architectural considerations often have a great effect on the designing artists and the weavers when they create a commissioned work. In our Australian context, the architect and enthusiastic champion of integrated art, Aldo Giurgola of Mitchell Giurgola Thorpe, included the monumental Arthur Boyd tapestry Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape) in the new Parliament House in Canberra. Harry Seidler, European émigré and pioneer Australian modernist architect, included great tapestry works in his local buildings. Jørn Utzon, responsible for the world-acclaimed Sydney Opera House, designed his tapestry Homage to CPE Bach for the Utzon Room in that same building.
Ainsley Murray in her marvelous review of an installation by Sandra Selig at the MCA in 2004 (Artlink magazine vol. 25, #1) wrote perceptively and provocatively about architecture and intervention:
“Architecture has long since surrendered the tactile in favour of grander visions. Processes of digitisation, prefabrication and mechanisation have lead to the widespread abandonment of the human hand in architectural practice, and private eccentricities are now buried, smoothed over with flatter, more uniform design solutions. Recalcitrant fingerprints and other imperfections have dissolved from all but the vernacular and indigenous architecture of Australasia. The question is, how might we reconsider our relationship with built matter to restore a direct connection with human experience? I suspect the clues lie not in architecture, but in contemporary installation.”
An upcoming design competition promoted by the ATW will reinvigorate this connection between architectural built-form and textile art. It will help to build an awareness of tapestry as a relevant medium that sits comfortably within the materiality of contemporary architectural thinking, providing another tool that architects can draw on in response to this increasingly complex and challenging world.
As Ainsley Murray concluded in her article: “Perhaps the handmade in architecture is nothing to do with the physical character of buildings, but entirely to do with how we engage with them in our enlivened and repetitious gestures. Not only is architecture rethought, but the relationship between being and building reconsidered.”
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.
My parents went to a craft fair in Easton, Maryland, USA recently. Knowing I was strugling a bit with weaving, they took a picture of an amazing contemporary tapestry weaved by Ulrika Leander for my inspiration and moral support.
What an inspiration, this picture is magical, especially after struggling with stage 3 of this project I just can’t believe the amount of hard work, dedication and artistic enthusiastic that went into making this beautiful piece.
On her webpage she describes her weaving process and shows pictures of her studio and art work through the years. Truly inspirational and the use of colour is breathtaking.
« J’ai vu là-bas des formes gigantesques, presque inhumaines… Aussi bien dans les feuillages, les orchidées, les fleurs que dans les insectes, les papillons… Ce qui m’intéresse, par exemple, dans le papillon, ça n’est pas la réalité de cet insecte, c’est l’invention extraordinaire que constituent l’entrelacs des formes, le pétillement des coloris, ce côté gratuit – si j’ose dire – de la coloration… »
“I have seen gigantic shapes there, almost inhuman… in the foliage as well as in the orchids, flowers insects or butterflies… What I am really interested in a butterfly for instance, is not the insect itself but the amazing creativity in the interlacing of the forms, the sparkling of the colors and the randomness of the coloring if I may say so”.
Jean Lurçat dedicated himself to the tapestry’s art and developed a very personal style. He let his lyriscism have free play on monumental scales.
Jean Lurçat is one of the main protagonists of the postwar movement “French Tapestry Renaissance”. Yet in the 1910-1920, he took an interest in murals and in tapestry by making produce his canvas with needle. Postwar, he introduced the use of numbered cardboards, as in painting, on which the artist draws the artwork. The artwork is then made into tapestries by manufacture weavers as at Aubusson or by self-employed craftsmen. Yet the artist was called a cardboard-artist. Lurçat wished the writing and the outline of the drawing to be simplified. After that the big stitch weaving allowed the weavers in charge of the tapestry to well “transcribe” the cardboard. That technique has revolutionized the art of tapestry as well as the range of the possibilities that the tapestry’s specific language offers.
In parallel, he took up medieval weaving techniques as in the tapestry The Apocalypse of Angers.
Yet in 1913, he founded the journal « Les feuilles de mai » (The May leaves) which Bourdelle, Elie Faure, Vildrac, Rilke among others collaborated to.
In 1917, he organized a show at the Tanner Gallery in Zurich; his mother carried out his first tapestries with canvas stitch. In 1922, Jean Lurçat exhibited his gouaches, his oil paintings and his fourth tapestry Le Cirque (The Circus) in Paris for the first time. In 1936, his first tapestry woven at the Gobelins National Factory called Les Illusions d’Icare (Icare’s illusions) was commissioned by the French State and offered to the Queen of Holland.
Jean Lurçat is part of the generation after the great cubists as Picasso or Braque, a generation which has suffered from the consequences of the First World War. As a surrealist, he has kept for a long time a taste for the unusual and a sense of the fabulous. In his tapestries, he has placed mirroring texts and poems: his or his poet friends’ poems. Paul Eluard’s for the tapestry Liberté (Freedom) is probably the most famous example. Jean Lurçat took part to that movement but he has kept and developed a particularly seducing and colorful palette which characteristics and qualities have been praised in the 1920-1930s by art critics.
The discovery of the Angers’ Apocalypse in 1937, the biggest tapestry in the world woven in the XVth century by Nicolas Bataille, has turned out to be a major one for Lurçat. Deeply moved by what he considered as one of the best masterpieces of Occidental Art, he then undertook the Chant du Monde (The World’s Song), a modern replica of the Apocalypse. The Chant du Monde is a set of ten monumental tapestries (347 m2) that makes up an epic, poetical and humanist view of the XXth century. It is permanently exhibited at the Angers Museum.
Sometimes anxious because of the threat looming over our world, sometimes thrilled by the confidence he bears in the human being, Jean Lurçat has used his own language of forms, rhythms and colors in order to convey his message throughout that set of tapestries. Jean Lurçat regarded the Chant du monde as the “the combination of existential components: gall and honey(fiel et miel)
In 1939, he directed the fabrication of his first monumental artwork Les Quatres saisons (The Four seasons) in Aubusson. In 1945, under the impulse of Denise Majorel, the Association of tapestry’s cardboard artists (APCT) was founded and he was elected the president. That was the beginning of great exhibitions: “The French tapestry from Middle Ages to nowadays” was organized in Paris in 1946 at the Modern Art National Museum and then in Amsterdam, Brussels and London in 1947. An exhibition of tapestries including the Chant du monde, of ceramics and jewels took place in the Decorative Arts Museum of Paris in 1964.
On the 13th February of 1964, the election of Jean Lurçat to the Fine Arts Academy inside the painting category as a cardboard-artist consecrated the work of an artist who had been an impassioned defender of the tapestry. This election was the crowning achievement of the revival of an art that had been ignored for a long time before being reinstated by Jean Lurçat. Jean Lurçat has done his best to give back the weaver’s art its dignity. He has succeeded in giving the contemporary tapestry renewed meaning and language and he has inspired a whole generation of artists.
His tapestry work is huge, the most important left by a XXth century’s artist.