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The exhibit “THE EMBELLISHED TEXTILE” of handwoven tapestries and coats by USA artist JON ERIC RIIS

2010 September 3 @ 17:00 - 2010 October 23 @ 12:00

The exhibit was supported by the American center of the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania and Kedainiai District Municipality.

Atlanta (Georgia, USA) resident and a globally recognized master of tapestry Jon Eric Riis is presenting a collection of works from the last decade under the title “The Embellished Textile” (“Papuosta tekstile“). The artist, whose works have been purchased by the different museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Columbia Museum of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, American Museum of Arts and Design, etc.), spends long hours weaving the creations that are deservedly called masterpieces. The elements of his weaving techniques go back to Ancient Peru, Old Kingdom of Egypt, and later – to the time of prosperity of Early Christianity – Alexandria. This technique encompasses the garment units woven at that time: bars and medallions, the ornaments of which were employed to describe the social status and religious beliefs of garment wearers. In the Middle Ages such a principle was used to weave the first monumental wall tapestries (gobelins), beautifying the spacious chamber halls, banquet halls, tents of military leaders, churches and cities, where they used to be lowered over the balconies during the holidays. The above-mentioned works were highly valued for the time consumption and expensive materials – silk, threads of gold and silver used in the process of weaving; the series consisting of tens of square meters used to have been woven (mainly in monasteries) for decades. Tapestries, the golden age of which was associated with the activity of the royal factories in the Baroque era, had remained the symbol of prestige until the nineteenth century, when the industrial revolution changed the pace of life, character and values of Western Europe: with the help of machines everything could be made and obtained much faster. It is still possible to observe the prosperity of the “quick art” nowadays. However, although this acceleration factor is conceivable in paintings, which are much more abstractive when compared with the ones produced in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, this cannot be employed in the classic textiles – the weaving of tapestries. Consequently, there are very few contemporary artists who has appointed their creative path to this genre (at the moment in Lithuania only a small number of artists specialize in the classic tapestry weaving technique, namely: Vita Geluniene, Kristina Cyziute, Agniete Janusaite, Feliksas Jakubauskas (the latter can be characterized by the use of more copyrighted techniques – texture and twill weaving).

Jon Eric Riis has been creating since the late sixties, when he started his activity as an independent artist. He has been weaving tapestries for exhibitions, public buildings and private interiors. In the context of classical tapestries his works can be distinguished by their narrative, form, as well as their technological interpretation. The artist states that his choice of the tapestry genre was by no means accidental. This means of artistic expression is closely related to identity, which is explored by Jon Eric Riis in his works: “I am investigating human identity, life and existence. Moreover, I am also interested in the beauty of forms, taking myths and references to textile history as the starting point for my creations.” For this reason the characters of the ancient civilizations and the antiquity mythology, as well as the interpretations of textile history, can be observed in his tapestries. The artist is particularly interested in the philosophy of life. This can be clearly observed from the stylistics of the works – Jon Eric Riis openly cites the style of Japanese block printing or Chinese watercolor, mannerism of Indian scriptures, statical character of Egyptian frescos and Tibetan ritual objects. However, he breaks the easily identifiable cultural codes and places them as an irregular mosaic; the artist also raises questions and employs the fragments as symbols for his works. While weaving Jon Eric Riis uses metallic threads, crystal and pearl beads providing the composition with maximum of splendor. In the tapestries the waxy wings of Icarus convincingly melts touched by the crystal sun (“Icarus II”, 2003), and the silhouette of a man in the Roman contra-post shimmers with gold – here the monumental is combined with the decorative (“The Golden boy”, 2000). Frogs, insects, details or organs of human figure are integrated in the vortices of black and white pearls.

The artist’s calling card has become an unusual form of his tapestries. For more than a decade he has been using double weaving for the works presented in the form a jacket (short coat) with different inner and outer sides. His creations are exhibited slightly detached seeking the viewer to see both sides of it. Jon Eric Riis is characterized by his ability to create emotional tension in presenting the opposition between the decorative outer side of a jacket and the controversial inner side of it. In more than one work a jacket becomes the image of a naked human body – looking at the “buttoned up” jacket one is able to notice the torso of a man or a woman, and looking inside – the intestine organs of human body. Very often the above-mentioned jackets are complemented – four, five or more works from a single series are put on one another. For example, the series named “Tiger Jackets” reveals eight creations, the outside of which has the same interchangeable pattern of tigers (i.e. white tigers on a black background or black tigers – on a white one), but the inside of the series reveals different figures of running, struggling and attacking tigers created in the model of Chinese watercolor.

In Lithuania the works of Jon Eric Riis are going to be exhibited for a second time. He was invited as a curator presenting the textile collection of the United States in Kaunas Biennial TEXTILE’05. Next to such modern textile legends as Lia Cook, Michael James, Gyongy Laky, Juncos Sato Pollack, Fran Reed, and Cynthia Schira, whose works covered a wide range of technologies, Jon Eric Riis also presented one of his jackets – “The Cost of Freedom” (2005), reflecting a bloody war – the American topicality relevant in the past (and nowadays). The inner side of the jacket imitating the camouflage uniform of a soldier contains the bloody American proverb “Home Sweet Home”. Crystal beads – the link to the artificial sentimentality – reinforce the pacifist position of the artist even more.

The weaving method of a small tapestry, also used by Jon Eric Riis, makes it possible to create a hyperrealist effect. It is deliberately employed to create mythological citations or to imitate the stylistics of arts and cultural signs of the old civilizations. However, the reality is by no means the purpose of the artist. He secretly decorates the Roman figure of a young man with a tattoo, bandages the hand of Hindu goddess, reveals the portraits of black and white men using framing. According to the words of Jon Eric Riis, his reality is created “decorating” it with beads, pearls, gold, fantasy, and the interest in man.

Dr. Virginija Vitkiene