Archie wrote in the International Tapestry Journal, May 2002, “I have always found myself working in series, whether carrying out commissioned tapestries during the 1960s and 1970s or focusing on tapestries provoked by my favorite question – ‘I wonder what would happen if . . .?’ The latter has been my main choice of direction over the last 25 years, coupled with a decision to work within classical tapestry weaving technique. However, whatever the series (windows, words, mailed tapestry packages and cards, social comment, Dersu Uzala, drawings…) my approach was that each piece be individually conceived and planned as a tapestry using terms and handling that firmly refer to the nature of the medium, no matter how obscure such references may seem to some viewers. This exploring and applying of the medium has always been, and still is, at the core of my work and my teaching.”
Archie’s series have slippery edges. They do not always contain themselves easily in separate isolated categories but rather merge and overlap and break away. Textiles merge with windows and people; people appear as miniatures that can be broken up into heads, hair and expand into larger pieces. Packages suggest postcards and postcards form assemblages. Words appear literally and visually both within pieces and separately and can be large or quite small. It is not the categories per se that are important but rather that they are a reflection of how he works.
The ground work for many of his series was laid while doing his graduate and postgraduate studies. During this time he wove dozens of 12″ x 12″s just to see what weaving could do. He explored the contrasts and relationship of yarns and weaves and the results can be seen in such pieces as “Off Square,” 1967, [AB11] and “Chair Covers,” 1968, [AB12]. This and an interest in mechanical production of visual images led to the first of the
Mohammed Ali series, “Cass I,” 1971, [AB23]. “Textures on Black II“, detail, 1960, [AB02] and “Doodle,” 1963, [AB05] show an exploration of texture and the woven line perhaps foretelling the large drawing series he has produced since moving to New York City. “Bird Catcher” [AB01] in 1959 was the first large independent piece he wove.
Its design concept exhibits an early influence by Louis Le Broquey but the subject is pure Archie. It has noactual words but embedded in it is Archie’s love of words both literal and visual and a look at how he approaches an idea. There was a manufacturing company of weaving looms and accessories in Britain named the Dryad Company. The word “dryad” means “bird catcher” or wood nymph. The tapestry “Bird Catcher” connects the literal meaning of the name Dryad and incorporates its identity in the woven cloth. Its play on a word and idea and the clean clear shapes, graphic quality, limited palette, and interest in spatial play can
be seen throughout his later work. It’s tempting to connect “Twa Corbies,” 1967, [AB15] with the “Bird Catcher.” Over his career Archie has woven dozens of pieces either of birds or incorporating birds.
He has made much use of literal text in his work throughout his career. The commission “London and Edinburgh, Insurance Co.,” 1966, [AB13] seems to be its first appearance. While Director of the Dovecot he designed it and directed its weaving. Much later he produced a major piece “Was it worth it Mr. Gutenberg,” 1986, [AB69] replicating part of a newspaper article. He found dry even sadistic humor in reproducing some
rather trivial text by a well-known journalist in the slow and laborious process of tapestry while imitating mechanically printed text. There is also an enjoyment of words visually and concretely as in“Stitch 1″, detail, 1976 [AB63] and “Shadow,” 1979, [AB68] and experiments with letters and positive/negative space as in “HI!HI!,” 1976. [AB64]
The commission “County Map,” detail, 1969, [AB18] links to Archie’s interest in line and pattern and to an extensive history of maps in tapestry. In 2003 Archie wove the large 72-piece “World Map” [AB62] each piece being a postcard 8″ x 5.25″. The postcards were sent under separate cover all over the world to friends and returned through the world’s mails as postcards with
written messages. The idea of sending something through the mail originated in 1974 in the form of a package [AB52] to which postage was literally attached. Archie has woven several packages and 100s of postcards since then. He likes them for their ordinariness vs. the pomposity sometimes associated with tapestry.
The series seem to become more conscious with his move to Hawaii. Although he was weaving in Edinburgh in the 70s and then in New Guinea it is in Hawaii where he decides he really is a weaver and nothing but a weaver. He begins pushing the making of small pieces both priced to sell for extra income and very small for pushing an idea, exploring. And it is in Hawaii where he makes the first forays into hisDersu Uzala series with 20 fragments 20cm x 20cm which were purchased by the State Gallery. Dersu Urzala was the title character in a Japanese film by Ikiro Kurosawa based on a Russian book. It is a man’s journey across the frozen terrain of Siberia. For three months in 1991 Archie stayed with the Inuits on Baffin Island, Canada and the inspiration for the Dersu figure came directly from a damaged photocopied drawing by one of the Inuits. The figure became distorted on the machine and immediately brought to his mind the character in the film.
The fragments were followed by a major set of 12 tapestries [AB81-AB95] each approximately 39″ high that has for its raison d’etre a seeking of a route for a solo designer/weaver of tapestry to produce in today’s world an extended narrative work as inherent in so many major medieval tapestries where a large complex team of makers worked together. With this series Archie has evolved an approach for an individual tapestry maker to take a major subject and turn it into a large, narrative open journey of story telling on the loom echoing the medieval approach but with only one person as designer-weaver-maker. The series developed piece by piece over time and in a non-sequential manner.
Archie’s move to New York City in 1993 marks the start of the drawing series and a major shift in Archie’s approach to tapestry by using drawings on paper that he has carried out as an independent, separate, weekly practice since 1947. It is not a rejection of the concerns of earlier years but is a deliberate flip in order to open up new questions, even to strengthen earlier directions. It began in 1993 with “Head Rear” [AB96]. As of the end of 2009 he has woven more that 78 tapestries in this series. He says he’s having a difficult time bringing this series to a conclusion because he keeps finding new questions to ask.
One day the drawing experience was different. He was seeing the model reflected in a mirror and was struck by the perpendicular lines that the models torso made with her right arm and thigh. He knew that this time he would be drawing to weave. This resulted in “Red Nude/ Blue Grid” [AB97, AB98] 1999. The model is pushed behind a grid yet the rug she is sitting on seems on the plane with the grid except for the 2 diagonal lines pushing her into the space behind. Her drink seems to float in front of the plane. [AB99, AB100] are the original drawing and the tapestry “Seated Nude Rear”, 2002. This is a
good example of Archie reinterpreting the drawing from the language of the conte’ stick to the language of the woven mark. He has further strengthened the interpretation with a variety of shapes and values to create an abstract push/pull of the various planes supporting the woven image.
“Sleeping Woman” 2005 [AB101] is to be seen as an experiment in the use of space on a flat plane. It was developed from a drawing [AB102]. The right foot is flat up against the plane with perhaps the heel extending out of the plane. The body stretches deep into the space behind the plane.
There are lovely small breaks in the otherwise rigid border which lend breathing space and softness to the rigid frame. [AB107] is an example of a drawing evolving through stages resulting in 2 tapestries. Archie first wove “Seated Nude-Rear“ 2009 (24.5″ x 16″). The next step was to see what would happen if this were
woven on a larger scale and if the figure were pushed even farther up into the top left corner. The scale was dictated by the scale of his studio. The slide of the cartoon was projected the full length of his studio resulting in “Seated Nude-Rear” 2009 (50″ x 32″) [AB108].