Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Australian Tapestry Workshop
Art Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski.

There are a number of posts on the Australian Tapestry Workshop (previously known as the Victorian Tapestry Workshop) on this blogspot. For your convenience I have listed these posts below:
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1976 - 1985)
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1986 - 1995)
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1996 - 2004)

Tapestries have enjoyed a long and rich European history. They served as a richly ornate testament or allegorical representation of historical events, normally enlivening vast expanses of stone or brick walls in chapels and castles. These wall hangings were kissed by small shafts of light that struggled through narrow windows designed from medieval fear. Some have now found themselves in vastly different surrounds from Houses of Parliament to Museums to Galleries of note (e.g. Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Musee de Cluny in Paris), where the artistic mien of their authors were more readily captured and effectively projected.

A number of Australian artists were interested in designing tapestries, but they had to turn to workshops overseas in order to realize their designs and/or to use home grown facilities (e.g. Mary and Larry Beeston). Moreover, as a wool-growing nation, and with a large craft base in Australia, it was surprising that tapestry workshops did not exist in Australia prior to the 1970s.

Mrs Mary and Mr Larry Beeston at The University of Newcastle, Australia (1988).
Courtesy of The University of Newcastle (Australia).

The "Hunter Tapestry" which hangs in the Great Hall (The University of Newcastle, Australia) was designed by Mary Beeston and the weaving was executed by Larry Beeston and Rachel Frecker over the period 1987-1989.
Courtesy of The University of Newcastle (Australia).

An exhibition of French tapestries in the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in December 1973 - January 1974 prompted the Director of the NGV and Lady Delacombe (the wife of the Governor of Victoria) to galvanize resources within the State and elsewhere, to lay the foundation for the creation of the Australian Tapestry Workshop (formerly called the Victorian Tapestry Workshop) a project that was finally realized in 1976. Within a few years it was producing works of high calibre featuring designs of some of Australia’s most internationally renowned artists. Twenty-four years after its creation, a book entitled – “Modern Australian Tapestries From the Victorian Tapestry Workshop” edited by Sue Walker was published. The images below and much of the information that accompanies the images were procured from this book.

Perhaps the words of James Mollison (the first director of the National Gallery of Australia) best sums up the making of tapestries when he stated that:
“The clue to great tapestries lies in the combined skills of the designer and the freedom with which great weavers take over what the artist has done and make it something the artist could never achieve alone”.

Tapestries From The Australian Tapestry Workshop
The Workshop initially began with weaving small tapestries in scale and restricted in complexity of design in order to develop a reservoir of expertise in weaving. However, within a dozen years the weavers produced a stunning and highly complex tapestry for the Australian Federal Parliament based on Robin Boyd's design (see below).

A Network Of Caste Iron Columns Defines The South Lit Space For Weaving and Weavers.

Some of the tapestry designers began as weavers. Leonie Bessant had an interest in both painting and weaving and in 1981 joined the Victorian Tapestry Workshop. In 1988 she travelled to London to study for a MA at the Royal College of Art. On her return she lectured on tapestries and curated a number of textile exhibitions with her artwork being exhibited nationally and internationally.

In 1995 Bessant was commissioned to design a suite of six tapestries for the Federal Airports Authority to be woven by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop. These works depict different regions of Victoria (Australia) and are hung in the Arrivals Hall at Melbourne Airport.

Title: Ninety Mile Beach And The Gippsland Lakes.
Designer: Leonie Bessant.
Interpretation: Grazyna Bleja.
Weavers: Sue Batten, Grazyna Bleja, Barbara Mauro.
Size: 1.8 x 4 meters.

Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) was one of Australia’s leading artists. His art practice was wide-ranging encompassing such areas as drawing, prints, oil and mural paintings, tapestries and ceramics with broad religious and landscape themes.

He was commissioned to design the tapestry for Australia’s new Parliament House, which was named – The Reception Hall Tapestry. It took the Victorian Tapestry Workshop three years to weave it. The design depicts a landscape at Shoal Haven NSW (Australia) and it now hangs in the Reception Hall in Parliament House, Canberra (Australia).

Title: The Reception Hall Tapestry (Detailed View Of One Section Of The Tapestry).
Designer: Arthur Boyd.
Interpretation: Leonie Bessant.
Weavers: Leonie Bessant, Sue Carstairs, Irene Creedon, Robyn Daw, Owen Hammond, Kate Hutchinson, Pam Joyce, Peta Meredith, Robyn Mountcastle, Joy Smith, Jennifer Sharp, Irja West.
Size: 9.18 x 19.90 meters.

John Coburn was born in Queensland (Australia) and because of his fascination with tapestry, lived in France from 1969-1972. During this time he designed a number of tapestries, which were woven in Aubusson, France, including the Sydney Opera House Curtains. He has widely exhibited nationally and internationally, with his tapestries in some major collections.

Coburn’s Tree of Life tapestry was woven in 1996 and now is in a private collection.

Title: Tree Of Life.
Designer: John Coburn.
Interpretation: Grazyna Bleja.
Weavers: Grazyna Bleja, Joy Smith, Georgina Barker, Abigail Howells.
Size: 2.80 x 3.36 meters.

Ken Done was a very successful commercial artist. In the mid 1970s he began painting seriously and exhibiting his works nationally. He transcribed many of his painting motifs to wearables and became internationally renowned, especially in Japan, where his vibrant artwork and clothing was much sought after, particularly when the Japanese toured down-under as a signature of their visit.

In 1998 Ken Done designed his “28 Views Of The Opera House” tapestry. His figurative work is influenced by Gauguin, Matisse and van Gough.

Title: 28 Views Of The Opera House.
Designer: Ken Done.
Interpretation: Georgina Barker.
Weavers: Georgina Barker, Rebecca Moulton, Caroline Tully, Irja West.
Size: Drawn from 25 small (25 x 20 cm) paintings, the work has been woven into one large tapestry - 2860 x 3980 mm.

Robert Ellis was born in England, and later moved to New Zealand. He has participated in 100 group exhibitions in New Zealand and overseas. His work is represented in many major New Zealand collections.

In 1989 he was commissioned to design a tapestry which would hang in the Aotea Centre in Auckland, New Zealand.

Title: Aotea Tapestry.
Designer: Robert Ellis.
Interpretation: Irene Creedon.
Weavers: Irene Creedon, Irja West, Merethe Tingstad, Anne Kemp, Chris Cochius, Iain Young, Merryn Jones, Barbara Mauro.
Size: 11.5 x 6.4 meters.

Michael Johnson lived in London from 1960 to 1967, and worked as a studio assistant for sculptors Brian Wall, Michael Kidner and Anthony Caro during that time. He participated in many group exhibitions in London from 1962, and held his first solo exhibition in Sydney in 1967. He moved to the USA in 1969. A survey exhibition of his artwork was held at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1989.

Johnson’s interest in the richness of nomadic rugs underpins his tapestry explorations. In 1988 he designed two tapestries, Warm and Cool, for the Commercial Building in Melbourne’s city centre.

Title: Warm.
Designer: Michael Johnson.
Interpretation: Sara Lindsay.
Weavers: Sara Lindsay, and Irene Creedon.
Size: 2.13 x 2.44 meters.

Roger Kemp (1908-1987) experimented with modern, then abstract art. He travelled to London in 1970 and set up a studio there, which grew to monumental size (e.g. his largest painting was some 17 meters long).

Kemp was commissioned to design three tapestries for the National Gallery of Victoria, to be hung in the Great Hall in order to act as a counter point to the stained glass ceiling that was designed by Leonard French.

Suite Of Three (From Left To Right).
Title: Evolving Forms.
Designer: Roger Kemp.
Interpretation: Leonie Bessant.
Weavers: Leonie Bessant, Pam Joyce, Irja West, Iain Young.
Size: 5 x 5.5 meters.

Title: Piano Movement.
Designer: Roger Kemp.
Interpretation: Cheryl Thornton.
Weavers: Cheryl Thornton, Peta Meredith, Irja West, Hannah Rother.
Size: 5 x 5.5 meters.

Title: Organic Form.
Designer: Roger Kemp.
Interpretation: Cheryl Thornton.
Weavers: Cheryl Thornton, Robyn Mountcastle, Grazyna Bleja, Merrill Dumbrell, Ann Sutton.
Size: 5 x 5.5 meters.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996) was a tribal elder in the Alyawarre Community at Utopia. She became involved in batik as a result of an artistic initiative in the 1970s. She only became involved in painting as a medium in 1988, but quickly acquired national and international recognition for her unique style.

In 1996 she was commissioned by a private collector to design a tapestry about her dreaming – which encapsulates the mythical, spiritual and geographical images of her tribal land.

Designer: Emily Kame Kngwarreye.
Interpretation: Grazyna Bleja.
Weavers: Milena Paplinska, and Grazyna Bleja.
Size: 1.11 x 1.13 meters.

Alun Leach-Jones was born in the UK and migrated to Australia as an adult. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally and his artwork is included in most Australian public collections and has been acquired by the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

Leach-Jones work is abstract and symbolic. He has designed a number of tapestries, which are held in various collections. In 1998 he was commissioned to create a small tapestry for Schiaparelli Paris, which he designed in close collaboration with Irene Creedon.

Title: The Schiaparelli Project.
Designer: Alun Leach-Jones.
Interpretation: Irene Creedon.
Weaver: Irene Creedon.
Size: 1 x 1 meters.

John Olsen is one of Australia’s leading artists. His work has been collected by numerous State, National and Regional galleries. He became renowned in the early 1960s for his “You Beaut Country” series of paintings, which depicted the Australian landscape.

Olsen became interested in tapestries when he designed for tapestry workshops in Portugal and France. In 1997 he was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a tapestry to be hung on the entrance hall at York Park.

Title: Rising Suns Over Australia Felix.
Designer: John Olsen.
Interpretation: Grazyna Bleja.
Weavers: Grazyna Bleja, Merrill Dumbrell, Claudia Lo Priore, Georgina Barker, and Milena Paplinska.
Size: 4 x 7.77 meters.

Martin Sharp was one of the original contributors to the Oz magazine, which attained legendary status in Australia and then later in England in the 1960s. He became a leading exponent of the Pop Art movement in England, where his many paintings acquired a cult following.

He has been commissioned to design a number of tapestries. In 1987 the State Library of NSW commissioned him to design the following tapestry.

Title: Oz?
Designer: Martin Sharp.
Interpretation: Jos Windle.
Weavers: Hannah Rother, Tim Gresham, Pam Ingram, and Jos Windle.
Size: 3 x 6 meters.

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