Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne.
Workshop weaving is a demanding 9-5pm job where weavers interpret the works of artists through highly skilled, labor intensive and artistically demanding processes.
However, this exhibition gives us a window into the personal creative practices of the weavers in their own time, after workshop hours.
Sue Walker, founding director of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, always maintained that the weavers were all artists in their own right. Their talents were obvious in the translations from artworks by other artists into woven tapestries, but their own artwork was seldom displayed in the workshop. This exhibition validates her statement by showing the diverse range of artistic practices of weavers and other staff.
The range of artwork exhibited includes woven tapestry but is varied – from mixed media to print to sculptural forms. Weaving all day, often on monumental scale works, means little time in the week is available for personal works in tapestry/the artist yearns to work in another form/returns to their original medium or experiments and develops their own highly individual style of work in tapestry.
Cheryl Thornton’s finely woven miniatures are sensitive to every detail. They are understated and captivating in every pass of weft over red warp. The illusive tapestries are not facades – they are about the interaction of warp and weft, depth and a quiet appreciation of the medium.
At the opposite end of the scale Emma Sulzer’s three dimensional woven training shoes at first glance say it all in a quirky humorous way. The famous brand names are resplendent worked in wool, cotton and touches of lurex.
Milly Formby’s Monster Brooches are lots of fun; I expect woven as some light relief from heavy art, taking pleasure in the experimentation with materials within the small shaped pieces.
John Dicks presents plastic needlepoint, a contemporary take on the domestic craft, previously so shunned in art circles. The craft circle has come round again as we again celebrate the hand made.
The throw away materials of cardboard and newspaper are painted and arranged like a Marquette for a stage set by Lily Fraser. The freedom and abandon in this work is entirely refreshing and thinking about this work in relation to woven tapestry is very exciting.
In some previous instances workshop weavers have had their own designs woven in the workshop. This has allowed for individual creativity to flow into the weavers’ day jobs. Perhaps this exhibition can again spark some weaver initiated designs and commissions for the workshop.
Valerie Kirk tapestry Weaver and Head of Textiles, ANU School of Art, Canberra.