Thursday, May 8, 2008


Published in the Canberra Times 06-05-2008

The Fine Art of Tapestry Weaving at The ANU School of Art Gallery, Cnr Ellery Crescent and Liversidge Street, Acton, until Wednesday May 7. Open Monday to Friday 10:30am to 5pm.

Tapestry weaving is unquestionably a fine art. Weavers create their final images with coloured yarns and fibres, not paint or pencil. Weaving tapestries takes a special kind of patience – it is a time consuming and labour intensive process.

The exhibition explores relationships between fine art, tapestry and weaving in the works of nine contemporary artists. They are from varying backgrounds, different countries and work from diverse perspectives.

Traditional European tapestries depict great narratives, celebrations or mythical and ancient scenes. Many have fantastical animals, plants and castles. There was a close relationship between painters and the artisan weaver.

Contemporary tapestry artists are more likely to design their own works, although there is still a strong tradition of artists interpreting the works of painters.

An exhibition of this size, with a relatively small number of exhibitors in a large space, gives an unusual opportunity to see a body of work from each. This enables us to see a progression of ideas, different interpretations of their own work or in some instances, reinvestigation of an idea.

Tapestry weaving offers viewers much aesthetic pleasure. Tactile, textural surfaces are evident in many works, including Archie Brennan – described as the godfather of contemporary tapestry.

Soft, muted colours evoking an idyllic childhood in Yasuko Fujino’s (Japan) work contrast with the vivid colours in Fiona Rutherford’s playful works. The lines are crisp and the surfaces dynamic through the use of colour. Drawing on old patched and repatched garments and cloths from Japan, she pieces tapestries to create uneven edges in an apparently random manner.

Australian artist Sara Lindsay explores her family’s history as British traders in Celyon (now Sir Lanka). Visiting the country for the first time soon after the tsunami in 2005, she responded to the country by using cinnamon quills in her tapestries. These works are gentle and evocative, hinting at the country’s difficult past.

Many artists use metaphor, creating rich images. Sue Lawty (UK), uses minimal colour and a variety of yarns, including lead, in her works. From Canada, Jane Kidd is interested in the Western desire to collect objects. Historic collections and the way in which they were displayed and classified have led her to examine contemporary issues and combine them in her rich and complex surfaces.

Susan Martin-Maffei depicts very urban and contemporary scenes in her Sporting Series. The stark white floor of a boxing ring, the bodies of outstretched horses on the race trace, the heads and shoulders of marathon runners, all give us a different view of the world.

Finnish artist Ă„ino Kajaniemi’s work is lyrical and feminine. She draws on her memories and combines a variety of materials in her work, giving it texture and tactility and an ethereal quality.

Susan Mowatt from Scotland is the youngest artist exhibiting and uses tapestry with a range of other made elements in different materials building up a rich image of line, pattern, colour and depth. Her works are playful, yet insightful and represent a personal narrative.

Tapestry weaving as an art and a craft is being actively created throughout the world and undoubtedly we will see more in the future. This exhibition shows us the many different directions it might take.

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