Hibiscus, 1981. Woven tapestry, 35 cms H X 50 cms W. A lovely friend I knew in the 1980’s, David used to say: Art people want you to make art neatly, but you should make it ROUGHER. He was a self-employed wheeler & dealer, a guy who knew art well. Born into le monde, educated at one of the best effete-making Sydney schools, David grew up looking at the best art. His family owned museum-quality paintings; he acquired a sandstone, multi-story gentleman’s residence in Darlinghurst, and he spent his days renovating it. Otherwise he haunted Sydney’s auction houses, pouncing on fabulous paintings no one else wanted or could admire. His personal taste was abstract expressionism, and he reluctantly admitted that he had never rationalised this visceral taste. In need of a great deal of psychic rebuilding after an upbringing with two alcoholic parents, he resorted to the most extreme: primal therapy. Other queens in Sydney remarked whimsically on the drama queen he’d become: screaming for hours in a lead-lined therapy room. Sadly, he later died of Aids.
David visited my Elizabeth Bay apartment with harbour view, then my liver brick 1920’s bungalow in the inner west. He was my art teacher. VALE.
I recently applied for membership to a Sydney craft organisation; reports by committee are rarely flattering. This came as a blow, since the president of the group had led me to believe my membership would be welcomed [not guaranteed though]. The report mentioned the need for neat work, amongst other observations. Neatness is surely the attribute of a slave seamstress; hardly a characteristic of artistic endeavour. There are hearsay anecdotes of a French impressionist painter, attacking canvases with his paint-laden penis. NEATLY?
So to the ROUGH tapestry illustrated above. A friend who watched its growth remarked that every colour gesture was anthropomorphic: each mark crawls, slides, prances, rears, sidles…. But it’s NOT a neat tapestry. The sides are rebellious non-verticals.
The committee report seemed to shrink from accepting tapestry as viable in a retail context; clearly it recognised that tapestry is a unique category amongst fibre work, that the characteristics of woven work are not the first consideration of tapestry’s merit. A US craft org calls itself Complex Weavers. By contrast, paradoxically, tapestry is a simple weave. Basically, it consists simply of a weft going in front of, then behind alternating warps. Nothing simpler. It could probably be transcribed using computer binary language 0 & 1. Its magnificent complexity consists in the making of shapes, the language of colour, texture and luminosity. So be it. Anathoth.