Josep Grau-Garriga @ Michel Soskine Inc. Madrid / 13 Sept -24 Nov, 2018

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Josep Grau-Garriga / Cada Día, 1992, Tapestry, 300 x 180cm, Image courtesy of Michel Soskine Inc.

An odd fact at the heart of painting is that it retains such a widely unquestioned status above so many other forms of visual art despite its debt to, and sometimes yearning for, certain qualities of those other media. In commentary, the infinite contortions of the painted surface are routinely spoken about in the borrowed vocabulary of other media. A painting’s presence as object might become so determinant to the way it is interpreted that it is spoken of as being sculptural. And in describing the interaction of motifs on a painting’s surface, such as Piet Mondrian’s experiments with lattices of coloured adhesive tape in his late New York paintings, we might understandably think of tapestry and opt for the word weave. Of course, the term painterly is equally applied across other media when describing a certain trace of fluidity in motif, surface texture, or colour. I would argue however, that what is painterly in painting is that which is evocative to us of the physicality of many other media.

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Josep Grau-Garriga / Textures Fan Mar, 1977, Tapestry, 220 x 225cm, Image courtesy of Michel Soskine Inc.

Tapestry, by virtue of its relative flatness and the range of pictorial possibility available to it, is perhaps more prone than many other art forms to direct comparison with painting. Whilst there is nothing odd today about tapestry occupying the gallery wall, as a stand-alone art form in Europe it has not always been viewed as a medium independent of and equal to painting. The Catalan artist Josep Grau-Garriga (1929, Catalonia – 2011, Angers) speculated that the very practicality of tapestry, in that it is relatively light and easy to roll for transportation, inspired the shift in painting studios around the 14th century from painting on wooden panels to painting directly onto prepared fabric. Whether or not this transition in painting was as straightforward in origin as the artist describes, painting did go on to experience many other transformations across the centuries, whilst the art of tapestry largely remained the remit of artisans until as late as the early 20th century – a factor which served to insulate it from harsh, transformative creative forces.

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Josep Grau-Garriga / Personatge Blau, 1992, Tapestry, 200 x 80cm, Image courtesy of Michel Soskine Inc.

Whilst artists such as Joan Miró and Antoni Tàpies – also Catalan incidentally – used fabric and rope with great inventiveness, they did not go down the same route as Grau-Garriga of allowing the material to speak for the entire piece. In their work, fabric typically remained either a support for paint or simply another component within a sort of assemblage involving the two as distinct elements. Grau-Garriga made the transition from painting to tapestry during the late 1950s, during which period he met the artist Jean Lurçat – a key figure in the resurgence of interest in the art form in Europe amongst artists. By the time of their meeting in 1957 Grau-Garriga had already started an involvement with the Casa Aymat – a former carpet manufacturer in Catalonia and now a creative space. In France, the artist would consolidate his skills and make artistic connections.

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Josep Grau-Garriga / De L’Afrique També, 1998, Tapestry, 200 x 113 x 35cm, Image courtesy of Michel Soskine Inc.

Artists who come to a new medium with an established practice in another tend to see that second medium as a means towards expanding on the possibilities of the first. Grau-Garriga’s stated aim however, was to address the tradition of tapestry as a craft in the service of painting – a medium to be manipulated to order by an artisan rather than being worked on directly by the artist. To really address this, and to begin to push the medium in new directions, there could be no half measures. In approaching the art of tapestry from the premise of equal status to painting in its articulation of texture, motif, colour and meaning, Josep Grau-Garriga contributed towards an important and continuing realignment of many art forms traditionally thought of as craft within the shadow of painting.

Josep Grau-Garriga on tapestry (French)

Josep Grau-Garriga at Michel Soskine Inc, Madrid

200 words #25 / Yann Gerstberger

DSC_8776.jpgYann Gerstberger / Sex Messenger, 2018, 280 cm x 250 cm, 110,2 inches x 98,4 inches, Coton, linoleum, colle néoprène, pigments naturels (grana cochenille) photo Hugard & Vanoverschelde. Courtesy Sorry we’re Closed Gallery

The word painterly often gets thrown around without thought for the scope of its significance. When applied to the weave of a tapestry or an area of glaze on a ceramic pot, its very use implies the primacy of painting above crafts. One irony however, is that the thing which is considered painterly in painting is that moment when its very nature as a material – pigment suspended in a medium – is most evident. In that moment, I feel we are in fact appreciating painting as craft. So, it should seem strange for an observer to lend the term to other art forms when in truth, a painting is sometimes most painterly when it reminds us of other media.

In Yann Gerstberger’s large scale tapestries, the heft of the weave and the complexity of fantastical, crude, exotic motifs as they seem about to bleed into each other, may well bring to mind a heavily-worked painted surface. The exaggerated flatness of tapestry weave – in Gerstberger’s case market sourced fabrics and hand-dyed mop-head strands glued to a vinyl surface – is enhanced by the tightly-packed and carefully balanced imagery, the arrangement of which leaves not a single area of visual slackness.

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Studio view – Image courtesy Sorry we’re Closed Gallery

Yann Gerstberger at Sorry We’re Closed Gallery

200 words #23 / Channing Hansen

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Channing Hansen, 9-Manifold, 2017, 42 x 48 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Marc Selwyn Fine Art. (see below for full list of materials used to create 9-Manifold)

The idea of a painting as something akin to a weave is one which facilitates several convenient associations. Apart from the literal weave of canvas, there is the interplay between layers, the superimposition of glazes, an infinity of textures and tonalities, and an equally unlimited scope for the arrangement of marks and painted motifs, arrangements often made stronger through varying degrees of separation than proximity. And this is to say nothing of illusory depth.

Channing Hansen arrived at his current preoccupation with knitting and weaving via an involvement in latter-day Fluxus and an interest in physics, fluid dynamics, and surgery theory. Employing a profound knowledge of fibres such as wool, alpaca, silk, and mohair, and an almost scientific dedication to sourcing and recording the provenance of the material he uses, Hansen creates irresistible, painterly weaves which he mounts on wooden stretchers. There are occasional gaps in the weave, and collisions of colour which may appear random, abstract. Hansen’s weaves however are largely determined by pre-applied computer algorithms, which dictate colour choice, pattern, and stitch.

George Maciunas would doubtless approve of this artist’s approach to the creative process – “Like a mathematical solution such a composition contains: beauty in the method alone.”*

*Taken from a Fluxus manifesto written by George Maciunas for the concert ‘Après John Cage’, Wiesbaden, 1962.

Channing Hansen / Fluid Dynamics at Marc Selwyn Fine Art

(Materials used in 9-Manifold: Bluefaced Leicester, California Variegated Mutant (Hattie), California Variegated Mutant (Hope), California Variegated Mutant (Petra), California Variegated Mutant (Pine), Dorset Horn, Exmoor Blueface, Romedale (January), Romedale (Patty), Romney (Martin), Romney (McKenna), Romney (Nevaeh), Romney (Noble), Romney (O’Connor), Romney (Osiris), Romney (Princess), and Shetland (Freya) fibers; silk noils, and Tussah silk fibers; gold, holographic polymers, pearl dust, and photoluminescent recycled polyester; banana cellulose, bamboo, bamboo carbon fiber, rose cellulose , SeaCell , legume cellulose, and Sequoioideae Redwood)

200 words #17 / Richard Tuttle

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The Critical Edge I, 2015 fabric, wood, nails, hand-sewn brown thread, graphite; four black MDF panels and four fabric elements 36″ x 12′ 1″ x 3″ (91.4 cm x 368.3 cm x 7.6 cm) © Richard Tuttle, courtesy The Pace Gallery

I use the word minimal when I talk about Richard Tuttle’s work. But this is just a lazy reflex of mine to nominate an artwork according to the quantity of materials used, or evident labour involved in its making. Tuttle’s work deals in poetic economy, commanding the space around it with very little. His assemblages of lo-fi craft materials such as scraps of paper and fabric, string and nails, are sometimes loud agglomerations of unstraight lines and rough edges; not minimal at all but rather concentrated.

Fabric has never been an incidental medium in Tuttle’s work. However, in the current exhibition at Pace London, the artist presents fabric less as a component amongst others, as has been its function in much of Tuttle’s assemblage, but more directly, as the sole component. It celebrates fabric as a medium in itself through subtle detailing, in folds, stitching, and frills. What look like razor sharp seams when seen from a distance reveal the same handmade quality of the artist’s other work.

Tuttle’s fabrics, theatrically presented on black panels, are allowed their natural tendency to fall or fold in certain ways. They acknowledge, through lush detailing and colour combinations, fabric’s rich heritage as clothing.

Richard Tuttle at Pace London

(The next feature article to appear on the website, following an interview with the artist Sean Penlington, will be about Richard Tuttle’s current show at Modern Art, London.)

Richard Tuttle at Modern Art, London