Interview with Alex Friedman

“Matrix”, 40.5” x 51”, 2008, copyright Alex Friedman

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Alex Friedman – photographer Dana Spaeth

Alex Friedman, an architect and textile artist, has been creating tapestries for about 40 years, she has been the Director of the American Tapestry Alliance and a member of the Textile Arts Council, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. In her early works there are many references to her university education, with tapestries representing hyper-realistic architectural scenes, based on plays of lights and shadows that are reflected on the surfaces, accentuating their structural forms.

In a later phase of her artistic growth, Alex began to explore the possibilities offered by weaving when going beyond the boundaries dictated by the rules of traditional tapestry (made of straight edges and flat surfaces), and this led her to the creation of three-dimensional and sculptural tapestries, the result of a skillful and studied manipulation of weft and warp.

Alex Friedman’s works have been exhibited in numerous international group and solo exhibitions and have received prestigious award sand prizes, her works have also been published in catalogues and books of the sector.

Below is a link to the artist’s website:

https://www.alexfriedmantapestry.com/

“Dynamic Energy”, 19 x 33”, 48 x 85 cm, 2011, copyright Alex Friedman

Alex, can you tell us how your passion for weaving started?

My original focus was to be an architect but after several years of working in architectural design I realized that there were many more constrains in planning, designing and budgeting. I was young, idealistic and I wanted to have more control over my ideas to see them to fruition.

I was persuaded to take an evening class in four harness weaving and after afew lessons,I was hooked! I loved the materials, the colors, the multiple design possibilities and I really liked working with my hands. I spent a couple of years exploring the many possibilities that weaving on a multi-harness loom offers.

When we relocated to New York City in the 70sI learned about an exciting opportunity. Michelle Lester, a painter/weaver, had just been given a huge commission to weave a set of tapestries for the new Pan American Airline jumbo jets and she was hiring four weavers for this 224 piece project.

I brought some of my weavings to my interview and was hired on the spot although at that point, I had never woven a tapestry. That changed quickly and I found I loved all the aspects of this wonderful medium.After we completed the airline project, I wove a number of corporate commissions for her. When we moved again, I really started my own projects and finding great pleasure in exhibiting and working on commissions.

“Macondo”, 72 x 34”, 180 x 87 cm, 2010, copyright Alex Friedman

“Pearly Pod”, 32 x 14”, 81 x 36 cm, copyright Alex Friedman

What is the role of color in your tapestries?

I love color especially rich, saturated colors. As a child I used to dream in color and the joy they bring me continues today. It is often the first inspiration I have in starting a new tapestry. I have a large table in my studio onto which I pile the colored skeins in the color I want to use and slowly an idea comes to me for the design.   If I decide to make a red tapestry, I will fill my table palette with the red skeins and add a few contrast colors to make the reds seem more vibrant.

I use several themes and many new ideas I continue to explore. I sketch out a few design concepts until I am ready to proceed with creating a full-sizecartoon which delineates the design.This cartoon will be attached to the back of my warp and will be my guide as I begin the tapestry. The cartoon itself, is just in black and white because by then I have the planned colors in my head.

As for the choice of materials, do you choose traditional ones, or do you like to experiment?

Typically, I use wool for my larger tapestries because it has the richest color but sometimes, I am intrigued by a different kind of material because of its sheen, color, or its matte properties. The design of the tapestry often determines the materials I will use. I am more apt to use different materials in my small-scale tapestries. I have used silk, polyesters, artificial sinew, muslin [cheesecloth, US], ribbons, and a variety of novelty yarns. With the wool, I generally use three strands for each pass of the weft, and they will be a mix of related colors which I can arrange to get the right color blend.Up close it provides a more interesting surface to look at.

“Contemplation”, 11 x 11”, 28 x 28 cm, 2001, copyright Alex Friedman

“Map: Road to El Dorado”, 9.5 x 9.5”, 24 x 24 cm, 2016, copyright Alex Friedman

Can you tell us about one of your works to which you are most connected?

This changes all the time. Usually the piece I am working on is what I feel most excited about but as the weaving builds up, I get nervous about it and at the end I am feeling a little concerned that it will match myoriginal idea. When I cut it off the loom, I am usually pleased but sometimes it takes a few days or weeks to be sure about it!

Making art is really about resolving design decisions. (Someone once said that artists are unique in that they create problems that they then have to solve.) There are a few pieces that I have designed that have turned into difficult execution problems because of the limitations of working on a grid system. When I figure out the solution, it brings particular satisfaction. In making “Here Today,” for example, I had designed a big number of regular color changes in the ribbon-y areas. It would have taken a long time to weave the blue and white areas. I realized that if I dyed the yarn in blue and white sections it would save time and provide a softer transition between the colors, a detail, that I actually preferred. (work in progress image shows the striped yarn)

“Here Today”, 72 x 54.5” , 180 x 140 cm, 2013, copyright Alex Friedman

Alex, are there stimuli and influences from other cultures and tapestry traditions in your art works?

Kilims, Coptic weavings, Nazca andWariweavings, Kuba cloth, Scythian felts, Ainu embroideries, among many textilesprovide me with inspirations for color, and design in a very general way. I find the very graphic, patterned designs endlessly fascinating. I don’t necessarily use their motifs in my art, but Iwill use patterns and repetitive motifs in an abstracted way.

Another source for my ideas comes frommy regular walkswhere Itake inspiration from the colors and textures of nature.Tree bark, wind on water, rock formations, grasses, are a few of my many resources. Photographing and sketching are my recording methods.

“Map: Tundra Pathways”, 9.5 x 9.5”, 24 x 24 cm, 2017, copyright Alex Friedman

 

“Dreaming of Green”, 61 x 54”, 155 x 137 cm, 2014, copyright Alex Friedman

 

“Terra: Wheat and Grass”, 35 x 27”(each part), 90 x 70 cm (each part), 2012, copyright Alex Friedman

 

Are there any artists or artistic currents from which you are inspired?

There are many contemporary artists I find very exciting, especially artists who are using the aspects of weaving that are unique to the artform such as slits, soumak, eccentric weft, as well as mark making, that is, patterns that are unique to this artform, that would be hard to replicate in any other art medium. I celebrate these aspects and look for them in the textile art of other artists. Social media has made it easy to connect with artists and find interesting examples around the world.

Alex, how have your tapestries changed over the years? Are there important stylistic or aesthetic differences between your early works and your more recent ones?

When I started to weave tapestries, I was very interested in creating pieces with a lot of architectural detail. They were large scale and quite realistic. People often confused pictures of them with photographs. I had a number of commissions and successful sales, but I began to feel that they were not taking full advantage of the possibilities of the tapestry medium. Specifically, tapestry has historically been a rectangular, narrative artform but I felt there was no reason that the textural, organic nature of the materials, could not be exploited and developed.

My abstract tapestries explore the third dimension by using eccentric weft, which creates raised areas, by using open slits, by leaving open areas and by using more textured yarns. My edges, too, are no longer necessarily rectangular. These aspects move tapestry into a more sculptural plane.As a contemporary art-form, they should express all the possibilities of the organic materials from which they are made.This has led to my making series of tapestries that experiment with these possibilities.

Three Graces”, 50 x 59”, 125 x 150 cm, 1992, copyright Alex Friedman

“Beach Stairs”, 72 x 49”, 180 x 125 cm, 1990, copyright Alex Friedman

“Triple Flips”, 9 x 9”, 23 x 23 cm, 2002, copyright Alex Friedman

“Big Soft Flips”, 9 x 9”, 23 x 23 cm, copyright Alex Friedman

What kind of looms do you use? Can you tell us about the “tools of the profession”

I work on two different upright looms. One is a 60 inch/150cm Glimäkrarug loom that I have had for 30 years, the other is an8 foot/250cm Shannock Loom. Since I am normally working close to the surface of the weaving, the vertical aspect of the warp allows me to stand back from my work and check the evolution of my design.

Many tapestry weavers use wooden bobbins to hold the weft yarns, but I much prefer to make a ‘butterfly,’ a weft bundle, of blended yarns. Generally, I use three strands of closely related colors in my bundle.I like to keep my tools to the bare minimum just to keep it simple. (Image provided)

I buy my yarns in skeins already dyed but there are times when I cannot find a specific color and I will then dye several skeins myself. I will often dye a range of yarns so I will have some color options.Also, I dye a specificarrangement of color spacing to achieve a particular need I may have as described earlier.

Work in progress – showing the butterfly bundles of yarn and the striping by the space-dyed yarn, copyright Alex friedman

Skeins of space dyed yarn

What are you working on right now?

Recently I have been very disturbed by climate change issues and my newest tapestries reflect these concerns. My last piece is called “Atmospheric Flow” and it represents the turmoil and energy of the atmospheric river that driven by the jet stream.It dumps torrential amounts of rain that threatens dams, levees, and dangerously overflows into populated areas. Disturbance in nature is certainly a theme I will continue to address.

“Atmospheric Flow”, 36” x 41”, 90 x 105 cm, copyright Alex Friedman

 

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