Tapestries

Donald and Eva Farnsworth, Forum Pine, 2003 Courtesy Klaudia Marr Gallery Santa Fe, New MexicoCombining historical artform with up-to-date technology, “Tapestries,” at the Klaudia Marr Gallery in Santa Fe, documents an exciting and ambitious new area of collaboration. The Magnolia Editions Tapestry Project offers contemporary artists opportunities to rethink a millennia-old medium. Highlights from the history of tapestry include Coptic and Pre-Columbian textiles, Chinese silk kesi and Middle Eastern kilims as well as the celebrated wall hangings of medieval Europe. Yet the quintessential modernist architect Le Corbusier also recommended tapestries, which he called “nomadic murals” for their portability, to enliven his interiors. In 1801 Joseph-Marie Jacquard revolutionized weaving by encoding designs through a series of perforated cards tied into the loom. The Jacquard punch-card system is often considered a forerunner of the player piano, the adding machine and the computer. The Magnolia Editions Tapestry Project digitalizes designs from paintings or works on paper into woven cotton jacquards measuring up to fifteen feet high. The current project grew out of a collaboration between John Nava and Donald Farnsworth when they were Photoshopping compositions for Nava’s Communion of the Saints cycle for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, with the fabrication undertaken by a small mill in Belgium. For the works in the current exhibition, Farnsworth or Nava collaborated with various artists to translate a work into a digital weave file, using custom calibrated color palettes. While historically artists began with a cartoon, many artists in the Tapestry Project chose to generate a unique composition in the weave file itself.

Several generations of artists participated, and the results cover a wide range of styles, from Chuck Close’s hieratic monochromatic Self-Portrait (2006) to abstractions by George Miyasaki—Terra Incognita (2005)—and Ed Moses, Ziwke-X (2006). John Nava’s realistic Portrait of RE2 (2005) and Stop the Dim Reaper (2005) are in a familiar painterly idiom, while Hung Liu’s Golden Glyph (2006) flattens out a girl’s face overlaid with blossoms—his sources include Buddhist cave murals and nineteenth-century photographs—to suggest the two-dimensional aesthetic of the wall hanging. Some artists focus on the flat, decorative quality of the genre. Donald and Eva Farnsworth offer an Eastern moon-and-cloud emblem, Dharmakaya (2004), and Forum Pine (2003), which might come from an ancient Roman wall painting. Robert Kushner’s Change of Seasons (2005), is as flat and embellished as a Japanese screen or lacquered box. Some tapestries make overt historical allusions: Bruce Connor’s black-and white Blindman’s Bluff (1987/2003) adds surreal distortions to what looks like an allegorical engraving; William Wiley’s No Fault Insurance (2006) directly quotes grotesque figures from Hieronymous Bosch in a politically loaded cartoon style. Martha Mayer Erlebacher’s Embrace (2006) and Guy Diehl’s Still Life with Zurbáran (2005) are fairly straightforward translations of the nude figure and still-life genres, respectively. Whether anything is gained by transferring these images to textile could be a matter for debate. Squeak Carnwath’s playful Recorded Life (2006) rejects illusionistic depth, even flattening out an image of the famous Portland Vase and mimicking the decay of a frescoed wall. Contemporary realist Alan Magee finds an interesting solution to the dilemma of illusionistic space verses two-dimensional plane. His Little Fugue (2005) is an almost photographic depiction of smooth stones in a blue-grey palette, but by viewing them from above in a nearly square, overall arrangement, Magee creates an elegant pattern of shapes. As this renewed art form continues to tempt artists, new compositional and conceptual possibilities will open up. This handsome show is an excellent start.  “Tapestries” was on view July 21–September 21, 2006, at Klaudia Marr Gallery, 668 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501. Telephone: (505) 988–2100. On the web at www.klaudiamarrgallery.com

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2006, Volume 23, Number 4