Lenore Tawney: To Weave is to Paint

Thanks to Alison Jacques Gallery, I got to learn about such an amazing yet underrated artist whose textile works have taken a step further than those of Anni Albers (in my mind of course). A few years ago when I was at Albers’ retrospective at the Tate, I thought to myself, at the end of the show, that Albers’ collection of ancient textiles are far more fascinating than her strictly abstract ones with a deliberation in reduction, to which I do pay my respect and understanding, given her surroundings and Bauhaus influences. (Anni’s jewelry pieces made of screws and bolts are works of genius tho, the playfulness of which is not really seen in her textile work) 

The thought of weaving a little bird or a flower has probably never crossed Anni Albers’ mind but in Tawney’s case, she embraces both abstraction and representation, as both are the language of textile art in history. How can one solely love the geometrical form without also adoring the flower from which it derives? Tawney’s experiments on weaving is very inspiring in that she adapted the vertical Chinese painting scroll format to make her image, using threads as brushstrokes, leaving areas unwoven, much like thin rice paper that allows air and light to breathe through. Unlike Paul Klee who likes to take the line for a walk, Tawney enables the lines to assume the freedom to become something else: the paint, a color field, a layer of skin, a sense of gravity. The pieces that resemble Japanese kimonos possesses a totemic effect. A formal authority is asserted by their horizontality and geometric repetition. 

As Agnes Martin’s lifelong bestie, Lenore Tawney shows similar affinities to spirituality and its abstract visual configurations, but what sets her apart from her friend and many other contemporaries is her prominent pursuit of spirituality, which is reflected in her works that evoke images of mandala, Sri yantra, Hindu cosmology etc. I have not done enough research about her spiritual quest and journey but one can easily detect her curiosity in Shiva-lingam and the cosmic egg (Hiranyagarbha). I hope to come back to her at some point in the future.