Coraza en Dos Colores, 1973. Ararat Regional Art Gallery Collection. Purchased with the assistance of an Australia Council Crafts Board Grant and the Ararat Gallery Social Committee, 1976. On display, Big Time: Large Scale Fibre Art exhibition, Ararat Regional Art Gallery, Victoria, until June 16.
WHEN Olga de Amaral visited Australia in 1975 she already was renowned internationally for her monumental woven fibre wall hangings that hung in the foyers of many North American office blocks. She also had been included in a groundbreaking exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. So it took some chutzpah for a tiny, newly opened regional gallery in Victoria, with very few resources, to attempt to acquire a work by de Amaral.
In 1975 the Ararat Regional Art Gallery decided to commit seriously to specialising in fibre art and so, through numerous fundraising activities and with the help of an Australia Council Crafts Board grant, the gallery purchased one of de Amaral’s wall hangings.
Coraza en Dos Colores is so large it isn’t often on display. However, it is on show at the gallery until June 16 as part of an exhibition, Big Time: Large Scale Fibre Art.
When I visit the gallery I am struck by the work’s commanding presence, almost overwhelmed by its mass and volume. The interwoven ropes and horsehair, combined with the pink handspun wool, create a wild, rather impenetrable, woven abstract landscape.
Gallery director Anthony Camm explains that its purchase was a bold statement. ‘‘ It was expensive and the gallery had to work really hard to buy it,’’ he says. ‘‘ Yet now it is one of the key works in our collection and a destination piece. It is the sort of work you can say, ‘ This is what started it all.’ It gave us the confidence to pursue this area of collecting fibre art, not only in Australia but also internationally, with a degree of authority.’’
Born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1932, de Amaral was influential in turning twodimensional textile craft into a threedimensional, abstract, sculptural art form. Initially she studied architectural drafting and design because, according to her, she has ‘‘ the mind of an engineer’’. She then moved to the US to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where she ‘‘ discovered my whole life through yarn’’.
Scale is important to de Amaral and, from her studio in Bogota, she creates her so-called ‘‘ woven walls’’, which reflect the Andean landscape, colonial architecture and colours of her homeland. She also combines her preColombian heritage with the strong native weaving traditions of Colombia. She is represented in more than 40 museums worldwide, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 2005 she was selected as an artist visionary by the Museum of Art and Design in New York.
According to Camm, Coraza en Dos Colores is impressive and monumental, yet this is balanced and subdued by its subtle shifts of colour.
‘‘ Pink, yellow and mauve tones blend into shaded stripes paired with velvety brown natural horsehair,’’ he says. ‘‘ The bands of colour are prefabricated pieces of fabric made into strips and rolls that are then manipulated further into the warp and weft sequence of making cloth. These interwoven strips are constructed from pink handspun wool and strips of woven horsehair, natural and handdyed. The weaving is then layered and intertwined with orange sisal ropes.’’
Coraza en Dos Colores certainly invites closer inspection, which becomes a visceral experience. ‘‘ The plaid pattern inherent to the complex surface flickers with movement as the viewer considers each colour, woven strip and intricate detail of the stranded fibre,’’ Camm says. ‘‘ In bold contrast, the orange sisal ropes that have been handbound act at once as an earthly umbilicus, a supportive mesh, an entanglement and as a focal guide.’’