THREADS, NEEDLES AND FABRICS IN THE WORK OF 4 WOMEN ARTISTS

It is not the first time that we talk about the use of alternative plastic techniques to let imagination and creativity run. This is the case with threads and embroidery, which transform on this occasion into a refined form of artistic production far from its immediate use in the world of sewing. All these pieces require infinite patience and give an example of tenacity, of love for things well done, of dedication, devotion and the search for new narrative discourses that deviate from expected in the field of visual arts.

Detail of the artwork by Cayne Zavaglia (image from www.caycezavaglia.com)

Undoubtedly, sewing is a task linked to women since time immemorial. A quick search in any compendium of art history throws many works in which women appear sewing, most of the time by hand, in customary scenes. These images compose an imaginary fueled by ideas such as care, attention, dedication, until they become concepts almost inseparable of femininity. Today, many women artists (because that is still the case, the female creators are the ones who opt for these techniques) use these resources with an intentional value, to allow re-readings on this type of work and give a second life to threads and needles beyond the servilism traditionally associated with these domestic tasks. At the same time, some people do an exercise of abstraction to build a more subtle message and contribute to the empowerment of women by showing the potential of these techniques in the field of artistic creation or by hiding a story that demands attention in the visitor, invaded by an infinity of visual proposals.

Louise Bourgeois, “Maman”, 1999 (image from www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus)

Louise Bourgeois started sculpting spiders as a tribute to her mother, to whom she was very close. She ran a workshop for sewing and repairing tapestries, a reconstruction work in which Bourgeois began when she was barely 12 years old. This figure represents the working and dedicated personality of her mother, because spiders can re-weave their own net, to build threads that reinforce it, to overcome adversity and continue their meticulous work with transparent silk.

Artwork by Cayne Zavaglia (image from www.caycezavaglia.com)

Although Louise Bourgeois opted for sculpture, numerous artists pick up the sewing materials to create their works. In an exercise of skill and artifice, Cayce Zavaglia (Indiana, 1971) is able to create these incredible portraits using canvas and coloured wool threads. The result is a work that simulates the small touches of a brush on a neutral fabric, to give all the depth, volume and texture of a real painting. With constant colour transitions and changes of direction in the stitches, her pieces are proof of the expressive capacity of these materials, with surprising versatility.

Ghada Amer, "Snowhite without the dwarves", 2008 (image from www.letraslibres.com)

In other cases, the use of the needle and thimble seeks to convey a message that transcends and breaks the moulds established on social roles and the tasks entrusted to each gender. The artist Ghada Amer (El Cairo, 1963) decided to close a personal wound caused by her experience when she was rejected in a painting course in which the teacher only selected men, with a work that ridicules the vision that the male gender has spread about women. She found her inspiration in the stereotyped female representation he found in erotic and fashion magazines and animated children's films. The result is a work embroidered with coloured threads in a reinterpretation of pop art transformed on canvas that excludes the man from the scene and shows women-shapes responsible for their own pleasure.

Raquel Rodrigo, “Arquicostura” (photo © Julián Jiménez, via www.harpersbazaar.com)

In another way, the work of Raquel Rodrigo (Valencia, 1985) is developed through her project "Arquicostura". Her purpose is to embroider the walls of stores with cross-stitch compositions and make everyday life more beautiful for everyone. She has interventions in Valencia, Fanzara (Castellón), Salamanca, Zaragoza, Buñol (Valencia), Madrid, Bristol, London, Milan and Qatar. It is also a way to rescue domestic art that all women used to decorate their homes. Taking it to the streets and offering the world this job means putting it into value and appreciating it for what it really is.

Kumi Yamashita, Left: “Constellation - Mana, nº2”, Right: “Constellation - Sachi”, 2013 (image from kumiyamashita.com)

Finally, we highlight the work of the Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita (Takasaki, 1968), who makes amazing portraits with a hybrid technique that intertwines a monochrome thread on a plot of nails to create the shapes, shadows and depth of the faces portraited. Although this is not the only discipline that she works at, the impact of these works has earned her broad recognition worldwide.

 

Buying the first work of art always instils respect. A difficult feeling to define that mixes vertigo with adrenaline. But over uncertainty and caution, a pleasurable sense of connection, understanding, and desire prevails. That work that, once seen, stays in the mind, reappears in the memory several times a day and seems to tell you that it is willing to be part of your home, is the perfect candidate to make the decision.

In the first steps, many collectors do point out that one does not start from an established plan, but rather that one acquires pieces based on taste and the connection one feels with them until, after time, they realise that the volume of works that accumulates can be labelled as a "collection". For example, this is how Alicia Aza explains it:

“I was not aware that I was collecting until many years later when a third party named me as a collector and talked about my collection. In 2005, I became aware of what collecting means and decided to articulate a collection with an identity of criteria and formats”.

Marcos Martín Blanco, co-founder, with his wife Elena Rueda, of the MER Collection, shares this same opinion:

“Collecting has been a passion, driven by a visceral state that encourages you to do so. The collection, in terms of acquisitions, has not been particularly complicated because, let's face it: it is easy to buy because they are all beautiful things and you have some clear idea of where you want to go, but at first those preferences were not so clear. It is with the time that a criterion is being formed”.

It is not always this way, of course, but for the buyer who starts out on this path, the personal connection that entails the first piece is essential. There it is the germ of a lasting relationship that is not limited to a simple aesthetic question but is an open window to knowledge, to exploration, to a world that is often unknown to us and awakens our fascination. The seed of that connection is purely sentimental, and it is precisely this impulse that determines the first acquisitions. The first piece is never forgotten.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Ana Maqueda

Exceeding the usual recommendations made by advisers and agents, rare is the occasion when the art lover decides to buy by pure investment. These paths usually open later, when the volume of pieces is large enough. In addition, there are those who are a bit against this classic concept of the traditional collector, approached from an eccentric, elitist and little accessible vision. On the contrary, art buyers are, above all, art lovers, sentient beings and permeable to creative stimulus who, at a given moment, decide to deepen the relationship they already have with art to take a piece home.

It is not that hard to overcome that small psychological barrier that turns the visitor into a buyer if one approaches the matter from a more personal and intimate perspective than from social consideration. Small-format works, graphic work or serial photography are of great help for this, whose price range, generally more affordable, allows a closer comparison to the daily basis expenses. In this way, the purchase of art falls within the range of feasible activities and becomes something close and possible.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Marc Cisneros

At that moment, a different relationship with art begins, based on pure experience and coexistence with the acquired piece. Perhaps it can be seen as an act of daring, but on many occasions, it is more a matter of necessity and transformation. Collectors also agree that the acquisition of an artwork is an exercise on personal analysis and opening up to a new field of knowledge that was previously alien to us. Alicia Aza explains that the reason she acquired her first piece of video art, by Sergio Prego, is because she did not understand it and because she saw it as a challenge and an opportunity to self-improve. This open window to knowledge creates new connections and bonds with creators, as one of the most fascinating parts of the process. Candela Álvarez Soldevilla explains that

"I think the most interesting thing in the art world is talking to artists. They are people with a special sensitivity to listen and understand.”

And Alicia Aza also says:

"I can share the satisfaction of being able to count on many artists in my circle of close friends today, and that is a long way to go."

Thus, with works that seem acceptable within the horizon of expenses that each one considers affordable, it is easy to find a piece that catches us. Since then, our home also evolves into a space in which art has a permanent place and presence, and there is no doubt that this transforms us inside.

Art Madrid'20, photo by Henar Herguera

Jaime Sordo, owner of Los Bragales collection and founder of the 9915 Contemporary Art Collectors Association, has always defined his relationship with art as a true passion and a vital necessity. For buyers who start on this path, he has the following recommendation:

“It is an essential condition that they feel the need to live with their passion to enjoy the works. Another very important aspect is that before making decisions for purchases, they are informed, so it is necessary to read specialised newspapers and books, visit exhibitions and museums and a lot of contact with galleries, which is an important and very specific source of information of the artists they represent. Finally, the presence in national and international art fairs. All this generates information and training.”

Indeed, fairs have become a good place for discovery because they condense a wide offer and allow diverse and global contact in a concentrated way. For this reason, many new generation buyers start in the context of an event such as Art Madrid, whose closeness and quality constitute a unique opportunity to meet, soak up and feed the passion for art.

(*) quotes taken from various interviews published in public media between 2013 and 2019.