Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

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.’’

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