*Feathured photo: People With The Yellow Ear 9 and 10 with the artist.
People with the yellow ear #9: this man is composed 33% Kenian 33% Sicilian 34% Canadian. Big Embroidery 150 x 120 cm. People with the yellow ear #10: 33% Iranian 33% Spanish 34% Mozambican. Big Embroidery 150 x 120 cm, copyright Preta Wolzak
Preta Wolzak, a Dutch artist born in 1976, studied monumental design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, the city where she currently lives and works. Numerous professional experiences have seen her engaged as a furniture designer, stylist for photographers, illustrator for websites and editorial products, and jewelry creator. In 2014 Wolzak finally decided to devote herself exclusively to her own art.
The message, the narrative, are the indispensable elements of her research. The theme of the tourist exploitation of the Poles in the Arctic Charade series, gender discrimination, a topic addressed in the Fighting Women series, are just one example of how the artist, through large canvases embroidered with vibrant yarns, wool, nylon, silk, sequins and paint, addresses topical social and political issues, with a seemingly light vein, a lively atmosphere, which becomes the medium for conveying sometimes difficult ideas and concepts.
What was your educational background? When did you first become interested in the textile medium and why?
I studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Autonomous department. Eight years ago I decided to stop taking commissions for applied work, and to concentrate on my art. I started combining painting, drawing and photography, and I started to use threads. As a child, over my bed I had a big canvas of a greengrocer. It was composed of small patches of felt and cotton. That, and my love for haberdashery shops (the English word is phenomenal!), that are like candy stores to my eyes, sparked my interest for using textile in art.
What is the goal you pursue through your art, the themes you address through your works? Is it important to you that your work tells a story?
I am a storyteller. The work is defined by the stories behind it. That is my guideline; the pace, the message. What I want to convey will not immediately be clear to everyone. The series of works Arctic Charade deals with tourism. I deeply oppose tourism to the Poles. The Poles preserve the balance of our Earth, and they are shaking under the impact of mining and climate change. To be a tourist and have a cruise ship take you to the Poles – just don’t!! My happy acrobats represent tourism; everything seems delightful. The world as a giant amusement park. That is how mass-tourism manifests itself.
Are there critical issues, important difficulties that you face as an artist?
A difficult question. My work is inherently slow. It comes into being. It starts with research. Then I will compose an image digitally, explore forms and colors, and work out the dimensions. As soon as my sketch has been materialized on canvas, I can start choosing my materials. Working on, and embroidering such a large canvas is very time-consuming. Everything is done by hand. “A medieval monk in the 23rd century.” The old in a new form. I avoid mainstream techniques like cross-stitching and embroidering, but I try to create depth with threads, through direction and radiance. But the critical issue in my work is time. Automated techniques like weaving or tufting mean loss of texture, color or looseness. Time is essential to the artistic value of my work, but the time it takes to create the work is considerable. Researching and combining materials to invent my own techniques is key, and it is an essential part of my work.
Is there a work or series that marked a turning point in your professional development? Can you talk about it?
I think it was in the making of my work Children of St. Kilda (2013) that it dawned upon me that I could get my message across with photography and drawing, and that I could go next level with textile and thread. I realized at that moment that this would be my choice of materials. In the Thirties of the last century there was an outbreak of the flue on the remote island St. Kilda (Hirta) in the Outer Hebrides. It was hardly accessible due to harsh weather conditions and tempestuous tides. Instead of helping the population with medicine and communication, the British government evacuated everyone. There were plans to convert the island into a naval base, which in the end did not happen. This ended 2000 years of unique autarchic habitation. It was an exceptional culture and craftsmanship with the best tweed in the world. This triggered my tribute to the inhabitants of St. Kilda, and the use of textiles enabled me to show them my respect.
The series People With The Yellow Ear is one of your recent works. What is the underlying theme of this portrait series?
At the start of the COVID period, there were these horrific events between the US police and George Floyd, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests. Why can’t we see that there is only one race: the human race. This is a quote by Rosa Parks. I thought it was repulsive that in 2020 we were still fighting Racism. So I started to compose portraits of mixed ethnicities, for example 33% Scottish; 33% Azerbaijani; 34% Fuegian. There are smaller (40x30cm) and larger (150x120cm) portraits. They all have one Yellow Ear, and a vertical yellow line in their face, because they are all my family. They inhabit the Isle of Chuckacaba, where Empathy is the new politics.
How have your works changed over time, from early works to the present?
I’m constantly doing research into materials and techniques. And I’m always experimenting; can I make my own passementerie, can I use other base media than leather or canvas? I like to make use of errors or failures, for example holes in knitting. At the moment I’m under the spell of cords and bark. And I’m going back to painting and then pulling threads through the canvas. My techniques evolve while working. My toolbox of techniques is increasingly feeling like a painters palet, and the way I work on my canvases resembles the way a painter works.
The bi-personal exhibition: Preta Wolzak and Pieter W. Postma: Twice As Nice And Nowhere To Hide was held from 4 June to 17 July. Tell us about this exhibition, how this project came about. How do your works dialogue with Pieter’s?
The duo exhibition with Pieter W Postma came about because we are both story-tellers, with a focus on social issues. And we are both working with a wide range of materials like leather, wood, textile, and metal. I think it is important to connect with other artists. The art world is densely populated with individualists, but connecting to other works of art and the person behind them, makes you stronger.
At the moment I’m spending most of my time doing research for my new series on scientists. Scientists who did not get proper credit for their work during their lifetime, due to all kinds of obstruction and injustice. But who were in fact geniuses. People like Srinivasa Ramanujan and Alan Turing. Some were discarded for being black, or gay. But the subject might change, because I’m now also looking at the heroes of Truth, i.e. the founders of Bellincat. Apart from several art fairs that I plan to participate in, like Art The Hague and PAN Amsterdam, I’m looking forward to being part of a group show of textile art in the new Dutch museum MOYA, in October 2022.