Thursday, 27 January 2011

The ability of tapestry to inspire

Whilst rooting through some photos from last year I came across this:
Dovecot exhibited 4 tapestries at the Pittenweem Arts Festival in August 2010. The tapestries, each designed by one of the studio's weavers, had been commissioned to celebrate the opening of Dovecot's new home at the old Infirmary Street Baths, Edinburgh in 2008. Their designs, all inspired by the watery history of the building, were perfectly suited to the Pittenweem's Old Town Hall, with its views out to sea.

One of the invited artists at the festival was renowned glass artist Keiko Mukaide. Her exhibition took the history of Pittenweem's fishing industry as it's point of reference. On exiting the exhibition, visitors could write their hopes and wishes on a piece of glass and attach it to a fishing net strung against a wall. This is one of them!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Day in Manchester

As part of my research, I am trying to go and see as many tapestries as I can, within financial reason. Tapestries are notoriously difficult to photograph: the textures of the weaving don't show up or the colours are distorted. There is nothing like seeing a tapestry in the flesh. So much work and time goes into weaving that I can spend ages in front of a tapestry examining the shapes and marks made by the weaver.

It was certainly worth going all the way to Manchester to see the Whitworth Tapestry, designed by Eduardo Paolozzi and woven in 1967/8 at Dovecot.
Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester
The Whitworth Art Gallery, run by Manchester University, is home to an expansive collection of modern and historic paintings, sculpture, prints, textiles and a unique collection of wallpapers.The historic part of the building, which you can see above, is mainly home to the collections and the galleries occupy a modern extension built in the 1960s.

There was time to look at the galleries before going to see the tapestry. The textile gallery, exhibiting a selection of the permanent collection, was fascinating and showed both historic and contemporary works side by side. A favourite was Jennifer Vicker's Yesterday's News, a quilt made from newspapers and Judith Duffy's Sheep in Wolf's Clothing, a knitted piece which plays on the saying 'a wolf in sheep's clothing'.

There were two exhibitions running on the ground floor: 'Unstable States: John Ruskin and the Truth of Water' and 'The Land Between Us'. The Land Between Us was an exhibition featuring both contemporary and older landscapes, in a variety of mediums, displayed alongside each other. The exhibition obviously had bold intentions, exhibiting works together, which would not normally occupy the same gallery space. However the lack of labelling on many of the objects was furstrating and many of the pictures did not hold their own in the roomy gallery. That being said, the exhibition was was worth going to see, if only to experience Olafur Eliasson's installation, The Forked Forest Path.
The Forked Forest Path, Olafur Eliasson
When we eventually went up to see the tapestry, I was staggered by the vibrancy of the colours used in the tapestry. I was fortunate to be able to look at Paolozzi's original collaged design alongside the tapestry. His collage looks like two images, put together. One uses bright colours whereas the other is more sugary in tone. It is clear that the colours used in the tapestry have been subtly changed which results in a more cohesive composition with a bolder colour palette.
Whitworth Tapestry (detail), designed by Eduardo Paolozzi, woven by Archie Brennan, Douglas Grierson, Fiona Mathison and Harry Wright at Dovecot Studios. Whitworth Art Gallery Collection.

To mimic the finely dotted areas of Paolozzi's design, the weavers have chosen a time-consuming method of alternating between pink and white yarn on every horizontal warp. This technique proves to be very effective and must have taken a considerable amount of patience!

The tapestry's 'object file' in the collection has a wealth of correspondance, not only about the tapestry's design and weaving, but also referring to the grants applied for to cover the cost of the tapestry. Such archival information is so invaluable and often gives an artwork an added dimension.

Whilst in Manchester I also had the opportunity to whizz into the Manchester Art Gallery where I saw one of the most amusing pieces of furniture I think I have ever seen. Click here to see Scrub Together by Jason Taylor.

Friday, 14 January 2011

'Collaboration' - a contemporary buzz word

My enthusiasm for Harold Cohen has continued to grow since beginning my PhD. As I mentioned in an earlier post, his on going relationship and openness about the experience of working with Dovecot provides a lot information from which to leap into further analysis. 'Collaboration' and 'Inter-disciplinary' are the buzz words of the moment and seem to be taken as contemporary ideas, but the work done by Cohen in collaboration with the studio illustrates that these approaches to art were being undertaken many decades previously.

Untitled 29s (c.1963), Harold Cohen, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, installed in 'Tapestry Revealed: Harold Cohen' exhibition at Dovecot, courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
In tapestry's history, there has been an on-going relationship between artist designers and weavers. The Raphael Sistine Chapel tapestries exhibited at the V&A last year are testament to that. But when I use the term 'collaboration' I am referring to a process in which the interchange of ideas takes place on a more personal level, often face to face. Working together requires the coming together of different personalities and often their project's success is defined by their compatability as colleagues. This could be that they have different ideas which compliment each other. Or that they have shared ideas about visual communication and what they want to pass on to the viewer.

In the case of Dovecot and Harold Cohen it was the relationship between Cohen and Archie Brennan (then Artistic Director) in the 1960s which kick-started their work. I'm currently exploring this further in a paper, taking into consideration the two different periods in which Cohen designed for Dovecot, the changes in Cohen's working practices and the nature of the tapestries which were produced.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

National Museum of Scotland collection

A few days before Christmas I was lucky enough to visit the National Museum of Scotland's Collection Centre to view a number of Dovecot tapestries in their collection.

The variety and quality of material they own is outstanding and every time a new tapestry was rolled out I was awed by the colours and workmanship. Highlights included a seat cover designed by Cecil Beaton, a beautifully virbrant 1940s tapestry based on a painting by Gauguin and Graham Sutherland's Emblem on Red (1980).

Unfortunately I am unable to reproduce any of our photos here so you will have to wait until the centenary exhibition in 2012 to see them! You can however see one of the tapestries, designed by Archie Brennan, here.

Happy New Year!

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle, New Years Eve
The New Year always marks new beginnings, although in my case it's more of a continuation and narrowing down of the ideas I have been developing over the last four months.

Having spent the last semester easing back in to student life it is now time to focus on the more difficult task of what to focus my thesis on. Dovecot's history provides such a rich variety of tapestries, artists and personalities to examine that until recently I have had difficulty those I find most interesting. I am now considering the post-war period of the company's history, 1945-1970.

The latter half of the 1940s were one of great change in Dovecot's artistic aims. The company moved forward from designing tapestries to furnish the homes of the Bute family, to creating tapestries in collaboration with famous artists to sell on the open market. The reasoning behind this change was two fold. Firstly, it followed the commercial example set by Jean Lurcat in France; he had revived the French tapestry industry in Aubusson by encouraging famous artists such as Leger and Picasso to create designs for large scale tapestries. Secondly, the running of the company had been taken over by the Marquess of Bute's brother, Lord Colum Crichton-Stuart, and his children. They wanted the studio, at that time called the Edinburgh Tapestry Company, to be able to support itself financially - working with famous artists such as Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland would help to boost their reputation.

It is not only the calibre of artists with whom the studio was collaborating, but also the cultural and economic climate of Britain which interests me about this period. I would like to see if there is a pattern to be formed by linking the types of tapestries woven (artist designed v. weaver designed, commission v. speculative work) with the wider cultural situation in Britain, particularly the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s. This also gives me a chance to indulge my love of graphs and tables - probably the only opportunity I will have to use maths in my research!

Modern British Sculpture at the Royal Academy
January and February offer a feast of opportunities for me to travel in the UK, visiting tapestries and archives, so expect updates on my return. Highlights will include: the Whitworth Tapestry in Manchester (designed by Eduardo Paolozzi), the Graham Sutherland archives at Cardiff Museum and Gallery, a trip to Coventry Cathedral, a textile identification study day in York and a visit to the forthcoming Modern British Sculpture exhibition at the RA.

PS Father Christmas bought me some super cosy cashmere fingerless gloves so I will no longer have chilly hands whilst typing at my desk!
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