Martin Creed at West Dean Tapestry Studio

Now on show at Hauser & Wirth, New York (8th November – 21st December 2013), a work by renowned Scottish artist Martin Creed has a close connection to West Dean. ‘Work No. 1683’ was handwoven by Caron Penney at West Dean Tapestry Studio over an eight-week period in 2013. Creed’s major solo exhibition encompasses new work as well as examples representing his career over the last three decades.

This is not the first time that the West Dean Tapestry Studio has worked with a noted artist in the production of original work. The studio is renowned for its previous collaborations with figures such as Henry Moore, John Piper and Tracey Emin. A great deal of work related to tapestry and textile art practice is currently being produced and explored by contemporary artists, including the use of digital weaving technologies by artists such as Chuck Close and Grayson Perry. Creed’s commission is notable for his use of traditional handweaving techniques and the manner in which those processes inform its conception.

Caron describes ‘Work No. 1683’: “The tapestry is rendered in coloured threads sourced from the Studio’s archive, specifically from the years 1980 to 2013. A connection to indexical measurement and pre-existing systems runs through the work: at 40cm wide, the tapestry’s dimensions correspond to the width of the ‘heddles’, traditionally the width of the weaver’s shoulders. Individual weavers would often work with their own set of heddles, allowing them the freedom to make larger tapestries sitting closely alongside numerous other skilled craftsmen. Each coloured stripe is produced from a length of wool measured against the distance of the weaver’s stretch and the height of the work is dictated by the number of individual stock colours.”

Martin Creed - Work No.1683 (2013) Photo: Ellen Page Wilson

Martin Creed – Work No. 1683, 2013, wool, 40 x 272 x 1 cm / 15 3/4 x 107 1/8 x 3/8 in [Photo: Ellen Page Wilson] © Martin Creed, all rights reserved

Martin Creed was born in Wakefield, England in 1968 and grew up in Glasgow. He lives and works in London and Alicudi, Italy. He has exhibited extensively worldwide and, in 2001, won the Turner Prize. Recent major solo exhibitions include the National Gallery of Canada (2012); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago IL (2012); Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas TX (2011); The Common Guild, Glasgow (2010); Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan (2009); and the Duveen Commission, Tate Britain, London (2008).

The completed tapestry on the loom in West Dean Tapestry Studio, 2013

Caron Penney cutting off 'Work No. 1683' in West Dean Tapestry Studio, 2013

Finding the Unicorn – Tapestries Mythical and Modern

The Unicorn is Found

Last week saw the opening and Private View of ‘Finding the Unicorn – Tapestries Mythical and Modern’, an exhibition at The Fleming Collection, which runs until the first of June 2013. Over a two-day period, representatives of both the Fleming Collection and West Dean College – including Nick Benham, Neil Finch, Katharine Swailes and Caron Penney – installed over thirty pieces for the show, including work by Pat Taylor, Michael Brennand-Wood and Philip Sanderson.

Finding the Unicorn Private View, Fleming Collection, 17 April

The centrepiece of the exhibition, The Unicorn is Found, a large-scale tapestry (measuring 3.3 x 3.43 metres),  is one of a series of woven by the West Dean Tapestry Studio in connection with Historic Scotland’s refurbishment of James V’s Royal Palace at Stirling Castle. This is the first time the tapestry has gone on public display outside Scotland.

Two lectures will be held at The Fleming Collection during the exhibition:

‘The Rebirth of a Palace: Rediscovering the Unicorn Tapestries’ by Peter Buchanan (Project Manager, Historic Scotland) and Caron Penney (Studio Director, West Dean Tapestry Studio) / Monday 29 April, 6.45– 8.00pm [Tickets: £10 (£7.50 for Friends of The Fleming Collection)]

‘The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn: Capturing Beauty’ by Katharine Swailes (Studio Manager, West Dean Tapestry Studio) and Sue Prichard (Curator, Contemporary Textiles, Victoria & Albert Museum) / Monday 13 May, 6.45– 8.00pm [Tickets: £10 (£7.50 for Friends of The Fleming Collection)]

Finding the Unicorn: Tapestires Mythical and Modern / 17 April – 1 June 2013
The Fleming Collection
13 Berkeley Street
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 5.30pm / Admission free

Visiting Artist: Pat Taylor

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.

The Apocalypse Tapestries

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 Taylor

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 Taylor - Artemis (2012)

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.