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charcoal on paper, 84.1 X 59.4 cm
4.75” x 5.25”
Shetland wool on cotton warp
It all comes from reading too many myths and fairy tales as a young girl. I saw my neighbor spinning on a spinning wheel and I soon was learning to spin, weave, dye and knit. It was really just an extension of my make-believe fairy-tale-play. In college, as research for an art history paper I was writing in pursuit of my Bachelor of Fine Art, I saw a modern tapestry exhibit – ATB 6 – at a nearby museum. I wrote about a piece, “Stamps” by Tricia Goldberg. A few months later I returned to the same venue and struck up a conversation with a nice lady, who just happened to be Tricia Goldberg. I ended up taking a class with Mme. Goldberg in her studio in Berkeley. It was there that I learned that I loved this art form, and since then I’ve been tangled up in tapestry.
Tapestry is only a part of my creative practice. The core of my practice is drawing. I don’t draw to make a tapestry design. I don’t think about tapestry at all. I just draw. Later I go back to the drawings and reacquaint myself with them. Often it’s like I’m meeting them for the first time, because I was in a different state of mind when I made them. Some are beautiful, most, mediocre. Some are downright awful- but those can be the best teachers.
monoprint, 11x11 cm
Life model monoprint
84.1 X 59.4 cm
I look at my drawings critically, or rather, curiously. I have a conversation of sorts with the drawings; “Why are you beautiful, or not? Is it this mark? That tone? The tear in the paper?” I try to figure out which marks are most important. “What are you trying to say?” Only then do thoughts of weaving began to arise, because as I begin to understand the drawing, I might realize that I could better articulate its meaning through threads, rather than graphite, or chalk or ink. “I think I’d like to get to know you better. Come, let me weave you.” Then I start thinking about which materials might best express the essence of the drawing. I don’t adhere to the concept of “Truth to materials” but rather, “Materials to truth”.
The slow process of weaving complements my drawing practice beautifully. I can draw, or print quickly, and weave slowly. Weaving acts like a sieve for my thoughts. I understand more and more each step of the way, starting with what sort of materials to use. I can intellectually critique what I’ve done unselfconsciously in the drawing through the process of weaving. Weaving refines my practice.
I don’t think of my weaving as tapestry. Rather, I approach it as cloth, as threads. I focus on the process, and not the end result. There is something about weaving that reminds me that I’m human. I think of my weaving as poetry. My poetry at the moment is intimate and personal. My dream is to move beyond the realm of personal narrative, reducing my language in order to weave poems in which the sense of touch- the mother of all senses, is the only metaphor. But I am not quite there yet.
If there is any historical influence on my tapestry weaving, it is that of the deceptively simple, ancient, universal act of weaving cloth. I find the large, grandiose tapestries of castles and palaces rather depressing. I find much more beauty and sincerity in those little scraps of Coptic weaving. I had an odd experience last year when I checked out a book on Coptic techniques from the library, only to find that I had been using some of them already! But I am not so concerned in trying to repeat what has been done already. I learn, but then I make it my own and utilize a technique as I see fit.
I think that the best way to promote tapestry is by not promoting it as “Tapestry”. The fact that a work is a tapestry is rather irrelevant. I always think of Getrude Jekyll’s quote in her book, Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden, about designs for the blue garden: “My own idea is that it should be beautiful first, and then just as blue as may be consistent with its best possible beauty.” (Jekell p120) I apply this to tapestry: A tapestry should be beautiful first, then just as tapestry-ish as may be consistent with its best possible beauty. Or: Great works of art should transcend their medium.
The reverse is true- just because a work is tapestry does not make it beautiful. I think the tapestry world is especially afraid to admit this, because we all know how much time it takes, and that is why we sometimes exhibit mediocre works. The public sees this and thinks tapestry is kitsch. Tapestry itself isn’t kitsch. Everything depends upon how the maker uses the medium.
Tapestry has so much potential for artists. For a painter, there’s no match for the colour in a tapestry. It can be seen as a flat surface, or a three dimensional form for those inclined towards sculpture. There’s a world of materials to explore and play with and nearly every culture offers a tradition from which an artist could draw. It has so much potential, but it needs the right artistic minds, and hands, to realize the potential. Minds and hands that will use tapestry not to exploit the form, but because they can articulate themselves best through the language of cloth.
Erica Diazoni earned her Bachelor of Fine Art at San Jose State studying with Consuelo Underwood in her native California. She pursued Post Graduate studies in Tapestry Art at West Dean College in England under the guidance of Pat Taylor. She now lives in the Swiss Alps, where she continues her artistic practice through drawing, printing, and painting as well as tapestry. Inspiration reveals itself to her in new surroundings, old memories, ancient stories, poetry, fairy-tales and cups of green tea.