Last week the Visual Arts department welcomed back a long-standing associate of West Dean College, Pat Taylor, to give a presentation on her work and to conduct tutorials with students across all disciplines. Before retiring in 2011, Pat had worked at West Dean for over 30 years, both in the Professional Tapestry Studio and as Programme Leader of the Visual Arts Programmes, as well as spending time as a Research Associate based in the Old Dairy studios. Pat’s overview of her practice charted a development through initial influences and departure points – the overlaid textures of Sigmar Polke, the graphic linear style of Michael Craig-Martin – all the way to her current tapestries, some of which are to be included in the exhibition at the Fleming Collection‘s Finding the Unicorn: Tapestries Mythical and Modern between 17 April and 1 June 2013.
Pat emphasised her fascination for combining simplicity and complexity in her work, highlighting a bold use of colour and detailed line. She made frequent reference to weaving being a form of handwriting, the beads building up into an idiosyncratic form of script, as well as a uniquely textured surface. Again, a first departure point was described, this time the fourteenth century Apocalypse Tapestries housed at Château d’Angers in France. Yet Pat’s work has passed through a number of different styles and media, from manufactured boxes containing various hoarded objects and curiosities in the manner of Joseph Cornell, to unique artist’s books, refitted as static objects disrupted by the addition of threads woven through pages, or by artefacts stored within incisions. The arrangements of objects could emphasise the decorative qualities of everyday objects, echo the display of curiosities (talked about in relation to the Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons), or touch on the subtle variations in colour and saturation that would be a continual feature of her tapestry work.
Pat’s infectious enthusiasm for tapestry making described an activity that combines planned procedure with an immediate, intuitive activity of the hands, the actual weaving action akin to a form of drawing within established constraints. The process is rhythmical, meditative, seeing the artist work so closely to the loom as to risk falling into, if it were not for the awareness of how any underlying guide of a cartoon is always in negotiation with spontaneous mark-making.
Pat’s involvement with West Dean’s Professional Tapestry Studio included work on commissioned projects, such as for Portcullis House in Westminster, as well as collaborations with prominent artists John Piper, John Aitken and Howard Hodgkin. During her presentation, Pat focused on the 18-month collaborative project, weaving a tapestry from Henry Moore’s drawing The Three Fates (1946). Woven by Pat and Fiona Abercrombie in the early 1980s, the tapestry was again exhibited in 2008 as part of ‘The Fabric of Myth’ exhibition at Compton Verney. As always with large-scale tapestries, the project involved numerous stages of work including background research, cartoon production, sampling, dyeing, and weaving – all processes that take time, demand choices and acts of translation that integrate the deconstruction of an image with its creative re-imagining in another medium. The completed tapestry is still on display in the Aisled Barn, Perry Green, Hertfordshire, as part of the Henry Moore Foundation.