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.
Erin M. Riley takes the images that usually live on Snapchat, Tumblr, or the privacy of your own phone and translates them into tapestries. They are pictures you wouldn’t want your parents to see. They feature naked and half naked women, drug paraphernalia, used condoms, and more. In an interview with Arrested Motion, Riley states, “I try to take pictures of the condoms after I have sex, the pictures I send to people, pictures of tables at parties, substances & liquids that change the course of events.”
If broadcasted the world, these are the type of photos that would really embarrass someone. Riley takes time to translate these experiences into large, detailed, and colorful weavings completed on a loom. In the same interview, she goes on to say, “I am taking the time to recreate these images as physical tapestries, because these are the events and objects that are significant to me. Tapestry allows images to be given more time, for hookups to gel, for mistakes to be thought over, its a way to over analyze every detail.” This is a cathartic activity for the artist, who says that there is an ebb and a flow in her images over time. Sometimes, they will be more aggressive or explicit, then scale back. Riley says that it’s a reflection in her own life, and she’s open to sharing this with her viewers. Doing so gives the opportunity to start a dialogue with people who admire, question, and collect her work. She’s happy to have conversation with people who might not broach the subject without the help of her tapestries.
Part of the success of Riley’s work is the way it is produced. She combines two different worlds; weaving, an old art form that requires a lot of skill, and the digital age, one that is very focused on instant gratification and accessible by nearly everyone.
Colleen Toutant Merrill works in fiber– from stitching to embroidery; and interestingly enough, it makes sense that she would use such a traditional folk medium to examine contemporary subject matter such as social media, Google, and Google Maps. These Internet resources are, essentially, a modern day electronic quilt of sorts, piecing together not only our societal curiosities or interests, but also our performative identities in a community.
On this note, Merrill explains, “Quilting bees and embroidery traditionally served as social outlets and communication. Quilts and embroidery both have encoded symbolism and explicit messages as do digital communications.”
Interesting and illusionistic, artist Jen Pack‘s fiber-on-frame works take on elements of both painting and weaving. After spinning and stitching together colorful compositions of thread, chiffon & cotton, she stretches out the works on a wooden frame like a canvas, paying attention to the way the colors and textures interact on the wall. Her interest in abstraction and slightly meditative clustering or patterning of materials give the works a dreamy effortlessness, and they exist as a space for the viewer to step in and lose themselves in the reverie of observation.
From afar, the works feel bold—even slightly aggressive—but upon further inspection, each piece reveals a soft, extremely fragile surface quality, complete with tiny, wild threads left to catch in the breeze. The duality is pleasing, and Pack’s finishing of the pieces leave the fragments of fabric interacting like paint on panel, illuminated from within by meticulous layering and draping of translucent materials.
With a serious understanding of classic carpet-making techniques, Azerbaijani sculptor Faig Ahmed is able to stretch, distort and reinvent an iconic symbol steeped in tradition and cultural significance. “The carpet is a symbol of invincible tradition of the East, it’s a visualization of an undestroyable icon,” Ahmed states, noting that the manipulation of the woven medium gives visual form to ideas he has relating to “destroying the stereotypes of tradition to create new modern boundaries.” The rug, as a medium, works well for Ahmed, helping to deploy a deeper message about the stretching, bending and restructuring of physical and political boundaries in the Middle East. His technical mastery is evident in the movements of each thread, and his generous use of color gives the work an overall vibrancy—perhaps hinting at the artist’s sense of optimism in a time of great uncertainty and turmoil.
Doug Johnston’s imagination knows no boundaries. His list of interests and mediums includes architecture, photography, installation, performance, music, and fiber art– which primarily involves stitching nylon thread around coiled rope to create functionally simple, yet playful forms.
His collection of weaving, shown here for example, includes a “wearable hut” for those looking for a unconventional dose of “anonymity and privacy” and deliciously modern “light sculptures” which structurally investigate varying unconventional shapes.