Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1976 – 1985)
Art Essay

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
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1986 - 1995)
The Australian Tapestry Workshop (1996 - 2004)

The Australian Tapestry Workshop, which was formerly known as the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, had its beginning in 1976. It quickly established itself as a world leading tapestry workshop, and in its first year of inception produced such iconic works as Guy Stuart’s Lattice.

Artist and Title: Guy Stuart – Lattice (1976). Weavers: Merrill Dumbrell, Sara Lindsay.
Size: 1.64 x 0.75 meters.
Collection: National Gallery of Australia.

The work was commissioned by the artists’ aunt, Lurline Stewart, in a gesture of support for the artists’ and ATW. It was the first commissioned tapestry by the ATW. The workshop own palette of yarn (in a wool finer that previously available) made it possible for the weavers to mix colors on the bobbin for the first time.

Since then the ATW has steadily increased in reputation worldwide (see previous post - ATW). They now can assert that:
Using the same techniques employed in Europe since the 15th century, the ATW's skilled weavers work with artists from Australia and overseas to produce tapestries that are known for their vibrancy, technical accomplishment and inventive interpretation.

Since its inception, the Workshop's philosophy has been to employ weavers trained as artists to enable close collaboration with the artists whose work they are interpreting. Many notable Australian and international artists have collaborated with the Workshop's weavers over the years including Arthur Boyd, Jon Cattapan, John Olsen, Jorn Utzon, David Noonan and Sally Smart.

To date, the Workshop has created more than 400 tapestries ranging from palm-size to monumental. They are woven using the finest Australian wool, which is dyed onsite forming a unique palette of 370 colors these works hang in significant public and private collections around the world. The ATW is one of Australia's largest producers of public art, and every year, millions of people see an ATW tapestry!

Weavers, from left to right: Chris Cochius, Sue Batten, Milena Paplinska and Cheryl Thornton at work. Weaver Milly Formby in background.

They have an artist in residency program, tours of the premises, an on-line shop and a circle of support ranging from “The Tapestry Foundation” (its landlord as well as a strong advocate and marketing force) to “The Circle of Friends” (with an active committee and a lively group of volunteers known as the Busy Bees) to “Voluntary Guides” (that showcase and explain the workshop to visitors). ATW has open days and annual lectures etc.

Artist in Residence Paul Yore (2013).
Photograph Courtesy of Jeremy Weihrauch.

There is a wonderful book by Sue Walker – Artists’ Tapestries from Australia (1976 – 2005), The Beagle Press, Sydney (2007) – a must buy for your library. Most of the images below have been procured from this book.

Artists’ Tapestries from ATW – 1976 to 1985
The tapestry Try Tapes was a Richard Larter artwork that was difficult to translate into a tapestry due to the tiny dots used in the original painting. Larter agreed to paint a design specifically for the medium of tapestry, substituting the fine painted lines for the dots he originally used to give the composition its form and structure.

The tapestry was hung on public view in the ATW foyer - prior to becoming the first tapestry to be acquired by a public collection (Art Gallery of Western Australia).

Artist and Title: Richard Larter – Try Tapes (1976).
Weavers: Marie Cook, Cresside Collette, Merrill Dumbrell, Sara Lindsay, Liz Nettleton, Cheryl Thorton.
Size: 3 x 1.6 meters.
Collection: Collection of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Canadian artist Alan Weinstein had won a prestigious public art award. He was searching worldwide for workshops or master weavers capable of weaving a suite of four large tapestries to hang on a vast red carpet wall in Regina’s multi-million dollar arts center. Eight weavers took part, working a total of 550 weaving days and using 50 kg of wool. The work was completed within seven months.

Artist and Title: Alan Weinstein – The Musicians (one of the a suite of four tapestries) (1977).
Weavers: Merrill Dumbrill, Sara Lindsay, Irja West, Liz Nettleton.
Size: 1.68 x 1.68 meters.
Collection: Saskatchewan, Center of Arts, Canada.

By 1978 the weavers at the ATW were confident they could weave more complex and monumental forms. Hence they embarked on interpreting and weaving an existing Roger Kemp artwork. The painting finished abruptly at the top edge of the painted work, resulting in an ultimate moment of trust that occurred between the painter and the interpreter/weaver Merrill Dumbrell, when Merrill was required to invent the final section of the tapestry, which she did in a manner that delighted the artist.

Artist and Title: Roger Kemp – Images (1978).
Weavers: Merrill Dumbrill, Iain Young, Sue Hick.
Size: 2.35 x 3.08 meters.
Collection: National Gallery of Victoria.

John Coburn’s acclaimed curtains for the Sydney Opera House were important in drawing the public’s attention to the art of tapestry. His reputation as a tapestry designer for French workshops was well known prior to his collaboration with the ATW. The Performers was a good introduction to Coburn’s work to the ATW, which led to many future collaborations over the next twenty-five years or so. It was purchased by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs for the Australian High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand, where it became the first ATW tapestry to hang in a Federal Government building. Coburn’s distinct imagery is loosely based on natural forms and heraldic in appearance.

Artist and Title: John Coburn – The Performers (1978).
Weavers: Sue Hick.
Size: 1.46 x 2.13 meters.
Collection: Australian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand.

In 1979 for his first commission Jan Senbergs decided to prepare a single state print that would include passages of grid like markings and patterns that typified his work at that time. Several solutions needed to be found in order to reproduce the printed marks and tonal gradations in a tapestry. Nevertheless, difficulties were overcome and so when the tapestry West Melbourne was birthed it was remarkable in that it oozed monumental power.

Artist and Title: Jan Senbergs – West Melbourne (1979).
Art Advisor: Georges Mora.
Weavers: Merrill Dumbrill.
Size: 1.67 x 2.43 meters.
Collection: National Australia Bank.

The National Bank of Australia commissioned the ATW to produce a number of tapestries from various artists in the late 1970s (see above) and early 1980s. In 1980, the fourth in the Bank’s series was Mirka Mora’s Curlews in the Garden. Mirka’s rich and detailed embroideries gave her an excellent introduction to the wealth of possibilities in tapestry, although the intricacies obtained with a needle were found harder to achieve in weaving.

Artist and Title: Mirka Mora’s– Curlews in the Garden (1980).
Art Advisor: Georges Mora.
Weavers: Sara Lindsay, Irja West, Cheryl Thorton, Ilona Fornalski.
Size: 1.77 x 2.44 meters.
Collection: National Australia Bank.

Dale Hickey was selected as the fifth artist in the Bank’s series. Since he was not familiar with the production of tapestries and so unsure of which work would be suitable for the medium, he brought a portfolio of his work for further investigation of suitability etc. The finished tapestry - Cottlesbridge Landscape - attracted much attention since it had a stained glass like appearance.

Artist and Title: Dale Hickey – Cottlesbridge Landscape (1981).
Art Advisor: Georges Mora.
Weavers: Sue Batten, Pam Koyce.
Size: 2.13 x 1.77 meters.
Collection: National Australia Bank.

Several important tapestries were woven in 1982, but one of the most lively in terms of artist-weaver interactions was when Roy Churcher spent nine weeks in the workshop as the first of three artists-in-residence funded by the Australian Council. His extensive knowledge of color theory together with his energetic painting style added a dimension of excitement during his residency. Churcher’s tapestry - A Moment in the Great Game (based on Australian Rules Football) - was one of several from nine ATW tapestries that went to overseas collections within a short time span. It was enthusiastically acquired for private collection some years later, during the visit of a group of museum associates from the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Artist and Title: Roy Churcher – A Moment in the Great Game (1982).
Weavers: Merrill Dumbrell, Merrin Eirth, Alan Holland.
Size: 1.85 x 2.73 meters.
Collection: Private Collection USA.

By 1983 almost every tapestry project at the ATW was massive. Michael John’s vast Untitled was created for the entry into Harry Seidler’s new Waverly City Council building (Melbourne, Australia). This piece attracted enormous controversy in the local community when it was first proposed by Georges Mora to be commissioned by Council.

Artist and Title: Michael Johnson – Untitled (1983).
Art Advisor: Georges Mora.
Weavers: Andrea May, Sue Carstairs, Irja West.
Size: 4 x 2.8 meters.
Collection: Waverley City Council, Melbourne.

The Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) differed from the rest of this gallery in being a more formal public space, with a strong architectural presence. Roger Kemp was eventually commissioned to design three tapestries. Kemp had strong views about the relationship between French’s stained glass ceiling and his tapestries; that is, he thought that his tapestries should belong to the wall and not compete with the ceiling. All three tapestries were based on Kemp’s paintings: Evolving Forms, Piano Movement and Organic Form.

Roger Kemp’s tapestries and the stained glass ceiling based on French’s artwork.

Artist and Title: Roger Kemp – Evolving Forms (1984).
Art Advisor: Georges Mora.
Weavers: Leonie Bessant, Pam Joyce, Irja West, Iain Young.
Size: 5 x 5.5 meters.
Collection: National Gallery of Victoria.

In 1985 the State Bank of NSW (Australia) commissioned two tapestries Mountains and The Sea as part of a refurbishment of a stylish interior fit-out for its executive floor. Both works were presented to the weavers as drawings on paper. Interpreting the subtle texture of Colin Lanceley's drawings and the rainbow-like strips and curves across the surface of the works was a challenge for the weavers who succeeded in bringing it to life in a tapestry medium.

Artist and Title: Colin Laceley – And the sea (1985).
Weavers: Joan Baxter, Chris Cochius.
Size: 2.69 x 1.86 meters.
Collection: State Bank of NSW (now Wales).

This now concludes a snapshot of the first decade in the Australian Tapestry Workshop (formerly known as the Victorian Tapestry Workshop).


MulticoloredPieces said...

Wonderful article and amazing work. Bravo!
best from Tunisia,

Art Quill Studio said...

Thanks for your kind comment Nadia. I'm pleased that you like the work that the Australian Tapestry Workshop creates - they are a very special, talented and dedicated group of people !