Fiber Arts have a longstanding history rooted in craft and tradition. Woven objects have tended to be functional or decorative, and often viewed more as the works of artisans, as opposed to artists. In the twentieth century this has begun to shift more, and in the 21st century the practice of weaving and knitting has been reclaimed and turned on its head by a number of artists that are forward thinking and highly skilled in their “craft.” Artists included here are: Olga de Amaral, Erin Riley, Olek, Ann Tilley and Andrea Sherrill Evans. It is important to note that historically weaving has been viewed as women’s work. All of the artists included in this post are women, yet appear to have adopted the practice of weaving and redefined it on their own terms, while becoming masters in the process.
Olek‘s work is an absolutely fantastical explosion of bright-textural fun. Often taking her work outside the white walls of galleries and into the streets, Olek has taken fibers to a place most thought impossible. Some of the works she has made recently include huge feats such as completely encasing the Wall Street Bull in neon crocheted and knitted camouflage pattern and re-adorning a whole locomotive in rainbow patterned softness- completely handwoven. Her work tends to encase and cover objects and people- creating whole installations, performance art costumes and beautiful sculptural objects in a sort of renegade demonstration of liberated punk-rock-quirk.
I encountered a work by Olga de Amaral the other day in the group exhibition Gold Rush at Bentley Gallery, and had an overwhelming urge to touch it. Unfortunately this isn’t allowed and I know better- yet I was struck by how tactile the experience of even observing the piece was. De Amaral is a Colombian textile artist, born in 1936, who has refined a highly laborious process over the decades of her work. Her process includes weaving the strands to create a painting surface, coating it thickly with metallic paints till it stands sturdy as a metal object, then cutting into strips and reweaving the strips into linear patterns. De Amaral makes a substantial surface that is both heavy and fragile, bringing in many traditional practices of the art of Colombian weaving.
Erin Riley‘s works are ingenious. Grabbing viewers with their instantly recognizable content- cameos and “selfies” reminiscent of Instagram and Facebook- her works function with the visual digital language we have grown so accustomed to, as a society. However, the instant-2-second relationship that is often had with this type of imagery is offset and challenged by Riley’s visible investment of time in rendering the images. Woven on looms, they serve as meditations on fleeting moments while coupling layers of opposites: time spent with images, the gulf between ancient and contemporary ways of creating pictures and the perspective of what is discardable and what is precious.
Ann Tilley‘s fiber works, specifically her text based works strike a chord of nostalgia and domestic irony. They are incredibly clever in their usage of phrase and their rendering and delivery captures certain moments of awkward American culture. Patterns that are reminiscent of doilies and Cosby sweaters deliver humorously mismatched phrases in an aesthetic of cuddly kitsch.
Andrea Sherrill Evans has several steps to her process of adapting knitting and fibers work into her practice. She begins by designing and knitting a wearable object or garment that changes the way its wearer interacts with the world or herself. Then these pieces are often worn in a performance piece, where they further demonstrate Evans’ intention and emotional relationship with the garment. Finally, she creates beautifully delicate self portraits wearing the garment. This process can be seen in the images shared here of her piece “Transplant” which incorporates Evans wearing the knitted sweater that shrouds her entire face, blinding her while she transplants a cactus with her bare hands, and the works on paper below. Her process weaves together fibers objects, performance art and two dimensional works, increasing the layers and points of entry to the work as a whole.
Evans is also currently a part of the collective NCAA, the New Crafts Artists in Action, which is currently working on a project called ‘Net Works.” The collective places colorfully woven and sometimes ironically shaped basketball nets across the neighborhoods of Boston and beyond.