Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Barbara Heller - Tapestry for the 21st Century

Barbara Heller, Tapestry Artist
Taking Wall Art to New Dimensions

"My work reflects my concerns about the world we live in – a world fraught with the results of inequities, beset by senseless violence in the name of a "greater good", people in pain, the degradation of the environment, and our increasing psychological isolation from one another."
(From an artist's statement for a show that appeared at the Elliott Louis Gallery in Vancouver in 2009)


Tapestries and fibre based wall art in general is often stuck with the perception that it's an archaic craft, dating from medieval times and only existing as either museum pieces or reproductions thereof in the present day. Contemporary artists like Vancouver based Barbara Heller, however, take the time honoured craft and transform it into a vital expression of modern concerns.

Tapestry weaving has existed in many cultures throughout the world for centuries. While the term "tapestry" can often imply a variety of techniques from weaving to embroidery, strictly speaking, it refers to a weaving process that uses plain warp threads (i.e. the "vertical" threads on the loom) and a pattern of coloured weft threads (the horizontal) which depict a design of the weaver's choice.


Cover Up Series: Eritrean Refugees, 35" X 25", tapestry

She explored the possiblities of painting and printmaking before becoming a full time tapestry artist in 1980, and her work has been shown extensively throughout North America and beyond since then. Through what is a painstaking proces, Barbara is able to achieve amazingly three dimensional, painterly effects enriched by the texture and vibrant colour of the yarns.

The images she presents are evocative and often haunting, as her depictions of people with their faces covered, and dead birds, an image that has appeared frequently in her work over the years. In another artist's statement, she describes them as "requiems to the spirits of dead birds which represent the animal and human victims of senseless killing."


The Shaman, 50" x 32" wool and linen

If you're in the Vancouver area, she'll be giving a lecture Sunday, March 19, 2011 at the 3rd Annual Fibres West conference. Here's a brief look at Barbara at work:

Art of Craft | Barbara Heller from Resolve Design on Vimeo.

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