Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

For Weavers Only: More Erin Riley Tapestries

In my last post, I focused on the themes and content of Erin Riley’s work as recently exhibited at PPOW Gallery.  For this post, I just want to share “weaving porn.” Not weaving (verb) pornography (noun) – although Erin has done that – but “weaving porn” as in what turns us weavers on: glorious close ups of tapestries!

Erin’s technical mastery of realistic detail can be mind blowing. For example, check out this huge still life “Jesus Calling,” a memento mori of sorts for the opioid epidemic.

Jesus Calling, 2020, wool, cotton, 66 x 100 inches

Her sett is chunky (6 e.p.i) and her weft is thick and yet she deftly replicates the texture of plastic and reflections in a metal using only wool. She does not mix in other fibers like rayon or linen in her weft bundles. The illusion of slickness or sheen on these items is achieved only with color and value. 

Jesus Calling, detail

Jesus Calling, detail

Jesus Calling, detail

Similarly, the work “Skylark” depicts an arrangement of objects that tell a story about life altered by trauma.  This one shows a landscape of items left behind on the side of the road next to evidence of a car accident.  The items include snapshots, a cassette tape, a CD and CD player, a bra, a used condom, lots of plastic garbage bags, and miscellaneous litter.

Skylark, 2020, wool, cotton, 68 x 100 inches

I love the tire tracks especially. Simple lines and value shifts create the transparent impression of the tires over the asphalt.

Skylark, detail

The story remains a mystery. The Buick Skylark, portable CD players, and cassette players in cars all reference the ‘90’s. Perhaps there is a personal connection? Is Erin one of the little girls in the photos? The idea that recklessness, in life and in relationships, has a lasting impact on those left behind is my take away. 

Skylark, detail

Skylark, detail

Her fascination with illusion continues in a series of work that replicates domestic violence flyers from the 70’s. The look and feel of these old, faded and crumpled flyers is strongly conveyed, but her method for achieving these tromp l’oeille effects will surprise you.

S.O.S., 2020, wool, cotton, 51 x 48 inches

Celebrate, 2020, wool, cotton, 58 x 48 inches

The creases in the tapestries looked so dimensional I looked closely for eccentric wefts to no avail. The yarn has a bleached look in the highlights. The grime was not a woven effect. I was stumped, so I asked Erin about how she made these works look worn and aged. She confided to me that she actually folded, boiled, and thioxxed these tapestries after the weaving! The creases are impressions of actual creases. The fading is a selective subtraction of color. The “dirt” on the flyers is caused by the black dye in the weft bleeding and smudging randomly.  

S.O.S., detail

So risky, right? But very effective. It would never dawn on me to do such a thing!  Let this be a lesson for us all: the making doesn’t have to end with the weaving. A well-considered risk will likely reap unforeseen rewards.

I was so inspired by seeing this work, and I hope these blog posts serve as inspiration for you as well. This exhibition both challenged me and delighted me. 

Now it’s time for me to get back to work.  If only I could be as productive as Erin……*sigh*

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