Thoughts About my Tapestry Work

by Peter Horn

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Why do I weave? I must confess that I do not know exactly why. In earlier years I drew, painted and even sculpted. But none of these artistic practices gave me the same feeling of contentment and the lucky, or sometimes desperate and hopeless sentiments, that weaving does. Even the fact that other techniques are much faster does not help. In fact, weaving’s time consuming nature is a challenge that provokes me to be even more patient and devoted. I prefer weaving, and only that.

I love the technical process of weaving, watching the work slowly growing taller. It excites me to solve a technical problem, and there is at least one in each square centimetre of every tapestry I have woven. I definitely know that I could not live without weaving. Call it a kind of madness or, according to your range of tolerance, a passionate enthusiasm.

Easter Island 80 x 65cm

Weaving is time consuming, but the significance of the work must draw on more than just labor. There must be a subject – a topic or theme that generates the work. I strive to incorporate subject matter and weaving techniques that are unique. This desire for originality might have been the “release button” for my Universe series. In the 1990s I was reading books on astronomy and found an especially inspiring catalogue with beautiful photographs depicting the activities of NASA. This book spoke to my interest in the many unexplainable phenomena in the universe: black holes, the changeable directions of time, the Big Bang and what might have existed before the genesis of our universe. The Universe series grew out of this chance encounter. In many ways, I feel that the idea for the series found me, rather than the opposite.

Since my early school days I have been very interested in astronomy (although not very talented in mathematics). I spent many evenings looking at the stars through my homemade telescope. These nightly observations provided more stimulation to my imagination than they did research results for schoolwork. It is probably the intersection of these traces from very different origins that resulted in my conviction to attempt to relate, through my tapestries, how mysterious, how vast, how beautiful and how romantic our Universe is!

“Date Line is the latest in a series of six tapestries on which I have been working since 1983. The topic of an imaginary world tour carrying me easily to Greece, to Easter Island, to the Sicilian Mafia and to the Pacific Ocean’s dateline began with a number of collages I made in the 1970s.

In my imagination I crossed this ‘line at which the calendar day is reckoned to begin and end, so that at places east and west of it the date differs by one day’ (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). By crossing this date line I could reverse the course of time and travel from Monday to Sunday. This ostensible reversal of time stimulates my imagination. “Time is at my disposal – I am ruling the past and the future, and I can move in both directions as I wish.”3

I would like to complete this reflection on my tapestry work with a quotation by Manfred Korte, who has written about the meaning and significance of time in my tapestry work. In addition, his text discusses the importance of collages as the starting point for my woven tapestries. I worked in collage for many years and sometimes still do. I can recommend it to every weaver who is looking for new ideas. Creating collages involves combining pictures in your mind with unforeseeable and coincidental images that seem to come out of nowhere. These seemingly accidental juxtapositions have the potential to develop new imaginary worlds.

“The work Date Line (1990), whose title refers to the International Date Line, deals with the fact that time is more than an empty, measurable unit. Time also exists as something intimate, something perceived by the inner being, essential and impossible to get to the bottom of.

… Peter Horn introduces the theme in the bottom left section of Date Line with images of childhood and adulthood, concepts embedded in measurable time. We could put dates to the images. Yet, if we pause, if we turn our backs on measurable time and look back, we realise what childhood is. It can still be present within us, and in order to live life consciously, we have to accept it and look after it with tenderness.

The rest of the image expresses measurable time and its emptiness. The large clock dial in the upper part has ‘appropriated’ for itself the regal colours violet and purple. Under its rule, forms and movements are divided, cut, torn and ripped apart. All forces here are horizontal, in other words, of this world, far too earthly. Only ruins are visible.

It is not without irony – that which makes small things appear big and big ones small – that the small picture within the tapestry manages to balance itself against the sizeable dimensions of the work. A brief, crucial moment is offered as a counterpoint to the fragmentation and divided attentions of the dominant age, an expression of tender irony.

Peter Horn created this collaged image from torn and cut paper and then wove it. ‘Collaging’ modes of expression are characteristic of our time, for they bring into view the simultaneous nature of the sub-conscious and the multi-layered wealth of contexts shaping the reality in which we find ourselves. Collage is generally thought to have been born at the start of the previous century, when modern consciousness ceased to be able to view the world from a single perspective. At about the time of the publication of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Cubism was expressing the simultaneousness of various aspects of the tangible world. Later, the Surrealists’ experiments with spatial order took it ad absurdum. Had such a term been coined, one could say that a degree of “Collagism” was a feature of both styles.

The features of collage are also reflected in the actual creative process. The collage artist stores up a variety of materials, motivated by ideas about form and content and by the libido. These motivations also inform the making of the picture, now under the supremacy of formal considerations but with gut feelings having the final say.

As we have discussed the main aspects of collage, one might ask why Peter Horn does not content himself with a pasted collage image – after all, he would be in excellent company! The answer is at least twofold. If one compares his collage design of 1971 to the woven work, one discovers that frequently changes have been made during weaving. This proves that, for Peter Horn, tapestry is the true means of his artistic expression, a living creative process at every moment, rather than a mechanical technique that merely copies.

Peter Horn’s theme in this and other works is that of time and simultaneity. He has found an exceptionally convincing approach to tackling the philosophical dimension of this great subject and a convincing way of executing it with sensual and logical coherence. The loom‘s warp is the equivalent of bare, measurable rhythm, the weft that of animated, rhythmic movement. There are no add-ons. The correlation of warp and weft within the woven image perfectly represents the invisible links and networks between all forms.”

Going for a space walk in Jupiter’s umbra 150 x 380 cm

The following quote taken from my Oeuvre catalogue (2004) indicates my romantic feelings about the Universe.1 These notes might also suggest that I actually inhabited these cosmic places while weaving the tapestries.

“…I started imaginary journeys through the infinite open spaces of the Universe, travelling more and more widely as time went on. Recently I have been to the planets Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and to the Main Belt.

I miraculously survived a spectacular crash onto Earth’s moon and saw some of Jupiter’s numerous moons from close by. I enjoyed the romantic atmosphere of a lunar afternoon, was delighted by the soft-coloured veils of Jupiter’s almost invisible rings and moved by the poetic solitude of the cratered surface of the planet Mercury.

There is so much more to discover beyond what is visible in our world that I do not know where to start. Yet for me the most exciting part of these fantastic journeys is the moment I begin to turn my discoveries into woven images. It is because of my fundamental and existential love of weaving, and because I know that it is the only medium to express my ideas this precisely, that I can draw lasting motivation for this pursuit.”2

I had actually already started these imaginary journeys much earlier, as can be seen in this text from 1991 that displays the same romantic tendencies.

Date Line 150 x 196cm

For Peter Horn, tapestry is not a reproductive process. During the weaving he makes creative decisions, changing the colours and shapes of the design. The creative work reconciles the opposition between the rigid and calculable and the moving and unfathomable and is experienced as time spent in fulfilment. It neutralizes the problem posed by the ‘date line,’ expressing it convincingly and with sensual nourishment. What it cannot do is rid the world of the problem. The artist is aware of that. With self-irony, he avoids pathos and a patronising stance, puts words to the situation.

A situation not unlike that described by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s figure of the poet Tasso, who says, “And when man’s voice is silenced in his ordeal, a Higher Being asked of me to say what I was suffering.”4

Peter Horn
April 2008

1 WELTBILDER – BILDWELTEN. Oeuvre catalogue of Peter Horn’s tapestries. Lódz, Poland 2004.
2 loc. cit. p. 79. Translated by Volker Rosenberg.
3 from my homepage, “ON MY TAPESTRY WORK”.
4 loc. cit. Manfred Korte, “ON TIME AND TENDER IRONY”. p. 69 ff. Translated by Volker Rosenberg.