Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

Tapestry in the Galleries: Terri Friedman

So way back in April, I saw a show of tapestries by Terri Friedman at Guerro Gallery in San Francisco. The experience was kind of a “perfect storm,” in that I had only just become acquainted with her work on Instagram, where she mentioned the opening of her show. I just happened to be in San Francisco that weekend, and just the day before I had purchased the Vitamin T book at the DeYoung Museum store and, lo and behold, there she was in the book! – along with Christina Forrer, whose show I had just seen in NY (see previous post). The two of them are the only tapestry weavers to be included in the publication – and I had never heard of either one of them before April 2019. Guess I know less about this field than I thought! I’ve been wanting to write about her ever since. 

Installation view: Hello Uncertainty at the Guerro Gallery, April 2019

Terri is not at all new to the art world, although her turn to weaving is a relatively recent development. She is a mid-career artist who has had success as both a painter and an installation artist. Terri is a faculty member in the sculpture program at the California College for the Arts in Oakland, home of one of the strongest textiles programs in the country.  

Eudaimonia, 2018

The first thing that hits you about Terri’s work is her use of color. If you think Mary Zicafoose’s work vibrates off the wall (see previous post), you should see Terri’s tapestries. Every color is presented at maximum saturation and combined for maximum wattage. You might think that she dyes her own fiber to get the desired vibrancy, but she does not. That’s not to say she doesn’t add color to her weft. She likes to use acrylic paint and textile sprays on cotton warps and piping. Terri refers to her work as “meditations on words and color.”

The second thing you notice about Terri’s work is the profusion of textures. She takes the concept of working in multiple setts to extremes, combining super thick piping with super thin elements as well as mixing in multiple techniques, like flossa, rya, knotting, in combination with other media. In contrast to the soft woven tapestries, she sometimes adds large tear drops of heavily leaded stained glass. Some pieces have woven projections measuring 4-6 inches from the wall, others are relatively flat. When there is text, it is often floats over the weaving, added using supplementary warps. One can see how easily this work could escape the wall entirely and become freestanding sculptural environments.

With all this lag time, I decided to engage with her directly and ask her a few questions about her work. 

ER: When and why did you turn to weaving as your primary means of expression?

TF: I have always loved fiber.  But, have a deep interest in materials in general so I’ve traveled all over the map artistically experimenting with everything.  In 2014 I saw Miro’s huge tapestry in Barcelona at the foundation Miro and decided i needed to weave.  I took a class from Lia Cook and Sasha Duerr at the California college of arts where I teach and fell in love.  The school gave me a loom and I’ve been weaving ever since.

The island where it all works out, 2018

ER: Do you see your current work as an outgrowth of your past work, or a complete break?

TF: I think everything is an outgrowth and yet a complete break. Both. Conceptually an outgrowth and the way I work is an outgrowth.  The method has changed of course. I am new to the craft world and craft language.  Though I believe there is no real divide today.  It feels artificial to me.  craft vs. fine art.  Maybe historically they diverge, but to me it’s the same language.  They are like old tribes holding onto what is familiar. defending their territory. I really just embrace the loom as my web to catch my paintings.  I love traditional craft and art.  

ER: Why do you incorporate stained glass in some of your weavings? How have you solved the technical challenge of mixing these two media?

TF: I am a mixed media artist by nature.  So, ultimately never satisfied with one medium.  I love the very old cathedrals and churches in Europe from Italy to Spain. Gaudi’s cathedral. etc.  The cold stone walls and the bright transparent class bringing in the divine.  I wanted to put some divinity into my work.  Dirty dazzle.  These soft dense fabrics with something ethereal and gem like. 

Looking for what is not wrong, 2018

ER: Do you use a cartoon or do anything kind of design prep before you start weaving? 

TF: Yes, I use design prep.  Not cartooning. I draw/paint the piece completely and graph it out.

An example of Terri’s design work

ER: What do you use for warp and weft? 

TF: Warp is 3/2 perl cotton -thick threads.  multi colored.  I die /stain some of the threads.  Weft I use everything:  wool, cotton, (cotton piping that I paint with acrylic or fabric paints), acrylic, metalic fibers, nylon rope, hemp, etc.

ER: Who are your influences? 

TF: Women like Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lenore Tawney, Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks.  I particularly love Hannah Ryggen’s work. But mainly women painters and sculptors:  Natalie Djurberg, Rachel Harrison,  JoAnne Greenbaum, Keltie Ferris, Nicole Eisenman, Shara Hughes, Sarah Cain, Sister Corita Kent.

ER: Where do you see your work going in the future?

TF: VERY large scaled mural tapestries.  Multi paneled with glass and other materials. 

ER: Is there anything else you want other artist/weavers to know about your work?

TF: Color!  a driving factor.  I love the women painters and I used to paint because I love color as a tool and strategy to make the work relevant and impactful.  I value emotional intelligence and color is a great tool to evoke emotion and take risks.  I speak the language of color fluently.  (: 

Oxytocin, 2018

In Terri’s artist statement, she speaks very clearly about the role of color in her work:

“Weaving color. Yarn as paint. I have boxes of yarns sorted by color and fiber. I welcome the tension between the natural fibers next to mass-produced artificial neon color yarn or even painted cotton piping. I am interested in the sickly sweet, awkward, uncertain, chromatic, theatrical, and ornate because it mirrors the unhinged world we live in. Varying the fibers creates more movement and agitation. 

Fear of color, Chromophobia, is fear of race, sexuality, and life itself. Bright colors are often associated with children, homosexuality, sensuality, the extreme feminine, or drug culture. Psychedelia. Dazzle. Drag. Humor. Sickly Sweet. Color has the power to transcend. Both confrontational and comforting, color mirrors the unraveling. Rainbow Acid zigzags move through the panels. The works are patchworks of words and abstraction, memorials of light coming through loss. Ultimately, all through a filter of optimism.”

You can see Terri’s work in the exhibition Thread at the Long Beach Museum of Art through January 19,  2020.    https://www.lbma.org/exhibitions/

There is so much more to see at www.terrifriedman.com so do make a visit.

All images copyright Terri Friedman and used with permission.

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