There was something truly exciting about seeing such an old art with such modern subjects from the minute I stepped into the Contemporary Tapestries Show at Stay ZaZa Art House and Social Gallery, another successful collaboration with the Turner Carroll Gallery.
Once paintings or photographers, these pieces have been turned into rich tapestries. Yet, somehow, the original medium still remains.
In Rupert Garcia's tapestry "La Zochitl" The piece appears to be a simple a painting of a flower. But it, like every other piece in the show (barring one print), is a tapestry.
Alan Magee's "A Vertical Anthology" is divided into three sections; a long blonde braid in the middle, and, at the top, two halves of a masked puppet of sorts against a brick wall. A stamp and postmarks and script writing float throughout. It's a collection of stories; individual slices taken from other stories stacked on one another.
Squeak Carnwath has two abstract tapestries in the show titled "Still Happy" and "Story of Painting." The first is a collection of objects; a double helix, a hand, a bunny, dots (some with letters in them), and squares. In the bottom right of the composition it reads "Guilt free zone."
"Story of Painting," is also a collection. There are blocks and boxes and numbers and handprints and blue tear drop shapes along the bottom. The point is: You might not know the stories of these paintings, but you can see them being told. You can see them unfold.
Three of the tapestries in the show are by Hung Liu: "Rainmaker," "Last Emperor," and "Little Lama." "Rainmaker" is a profile-view of a young girl's head and face with two dragonflies in her hair. A young Asian man in regal garb is the subject of "Last Emperor." The man wears a long strand of pearls around his neck and a bird sits on his shoulder. And in "Little Lama" a young boy wearing a regal headpiece draped in or surrounded by richly colored cloths, one like quilt blocks at the bottom, looks out at the viewer.
So, yes, there's something magical and classical about these Asian inspired pieces.
"Dharmakaya," "Thangka I," and "Tree Thangka I," and "Sacred Pine" by Donald Farnsworth and Era Farnsworth have similar Asian influences. The first with with suns and moon and clouds and waterfalls. The piece is rife with movement and the moon looks as if it's actually glowing.
Sacred gods, one in the center sitting crossed legged, are the focal point of "Thangka I," a piece saturated with rich colors like in a well-loved oriental rug. "Tree Thanga I" calls to mind exquisite rugs as well.
But the Farnsworths' piece with the most power is "Sacred Pine." A solitary tree stands in the center of the tapestry with Chinese characters all around. The mountains in the background are quiet. The piece was inspired by the tsunami in Japan. The tree is one of 70,000 trees that were planted 300 years ago. All but this one were destroyed.
This solitary tree became a symbol of hope, and in an effort to raise money to keep this one tree alive and replant the grove, prints of the tapestry are being sold. Buyers can choose to give a percentage to the effort in Japan or to a local group, in this case Friends of the Katy Trail.
Chuck Close's "Sunflower" is definitely the rock star in the show. The browns and sepia tones lend a softness to the flower's petals, and the piece has remarkable detail for a tapestry. At first glance, you likely wouldn't even know that it was a tapestry.
All of the pieces in the show were crafted on a Jacquard loom in Belgium. The artists create a punch card file as thick as a telephone book from which the image is created. This is "particularly interesting for Close since he uses the binary code in his work and the loom predates the computer usage of that code," explains Tonya Turner Carroll.
One of my favorite pieces in the show is at the Hotel ZaZa itself. It's a tapestry by Alan Magee titled "Confluence," a gathering of stones, smooth river rocks in greys and browns. The detail makes you want to reach out and run your fingers along the curved edges. You can see the markings and lines and wear on the stones.
William Wiley has a piece in the hotel lobby as well. A Medieval looking piece titled "Alchemical Lyon II." A strange lion with stars along his body indicating that he himself might be a constellation is in the center of a piece. All around him are various signs and symbols: A sun and moon and trees on a hill, writing and swirls, plants and a ship, numbers and a box. The piece calls to mind Tarot cards and one can imagine reading ones' own future in the images there.
And behind the desk is a beautiful print of "Lone Pine." Much smaller than the tapestry itself but the print is almost more beautiful, almost more sad, almost more painful as one thinks of that solitary tree all alone after the storm.
Tapestries have long graced the walls of castles and mansions. The patterns and designs are often of family crests and hard-won battles. The subjects may be different now and the styles too. But they are regal still, no matter the subject or the story. Come listen to these, you won't be disappointed by their tales.