Experimentation, dynamism and monumentality: the Thread Art of Annie Verhoeven

Italiano (Italian)

Introduction translated by Alanna Nelson

Annie Verhoeven

Experimentation, research, unprecedented interpretation, technical knowledge, artisan practices and creative skills merge in Annie Verhoeven’s works with a strong personal vision that gives life to works that highlight the close relationship with the aesthetics of bobbin lace. This vision reworks traditional models and stylistic repertoires to open modern viewpoints. Thus Thread Art was born, which the artist herself says: “It is always based on the traditional bobbin technique, but has deviated so much from it that it is no longer recognized as a lace technique, which is why I gave it a new name”

Annie mainly creates large-scale works that constitute a technical and personal challenge since they are entirely made by the hand of the artist alone, works inspired by current issues and in which mathematics is an integral part of the work and this is visible in the balanced relationship between the thread and the open space, in the dimensions and proportions between the various parts of which the work is composed.

Below is the link to the artist’s website:

“Conus Papyrus”, installation, 2004, 80×85 cm, Paper yarn and iron, copyright Annie Verhoeven

Annie, can you tell us something about yourself and your story as an artist, how did you start?

My creative journey started in the family home; my mother, sisters and I would be knitting, sewing or doing embroidery daily. Whenever my sisters needed some alterations in a pattern, they would come to me for help. I would then be calculating and drawing up the alterations to match the required size. I have had an eye for these sort of things from an early age. At school my best subjects were the creative ones but I did not pursue a career in the creative field just yet. Instead I became a maternity assistant. A couple years after starting a family I began to feel the urge to express myself in a creative manner and I wanted to learn something completely new. This led me to start a formal education in the art of bobbin lace making in Nijmwegen and ‘s Hertogenbosch. I loved working with threads and found I had a talent for it. Unfortunately I found the teachings to be very rule-bound and traditional. Using colour, for instance, was out of bounds: bobbing lace was to be made in white thread. The only exception was black, which was used on occasion to make so-called “mourning lace”. But I was seeing all these new kinds of viscose yarns in interesting colours and I wanted to work with those. I did not feel supported at the lace-makers school and felt held back so I quit.

Kimono”, 2005, 120×150 cm, Paper yarn and iron, copyright Annie Verhoeven

The materials have expressive and sensory abilities that can emotionally influence the viewer by conveying specific reactions. In your Thread Art works you use unusual materials such as paper thread, tencel yarn, viscose yarn, wrapping foil and steel. When you project a new work, what are the criteria, the fundamental aspects that guide you in the choice of materials you will choose to make it?

After registering my thread-art workshop as a small independent business, I started getting invited to international trade shows for textile materials, where I would find the newest materials and collected all kinds of samples of new threads. As soon as I got home I would be analysing the different threads and experimenting to see what can be done with the different materials. One has to really know and understand a material to make something out of it and unlockit’s potential, so researching and experimenting with materials is a key element in my work. I enjoy the challenge of working with unconventional materials. It is also often necessary to look beyond traditional materials to achieve the shapes and dimensions I envisioned for a particular piece.
Starting a new project for me usually involves a combination of two key processes: researching materials and reading about certain concepts or themes. For instance, for my work Strategima, I read several books about economics, politics and religion and worked with a new material; Tencel, a wood-based yarn that was awarded a European innovation award in 2000. An important consideration at the start of each new artwork is the manner in which it will ultimately be displayed: I try to make each artwork so it can stand or hang without extra support. If extra support is absolutely necessary, I make it into an integral part of the work.

“Strategima”,2011, 210x80x210 cm, Tencel yarn, Stainless steel,Transparent hose, copyright Annie Verhoeven

Annie, your works are far from traditional, but to make them you use the basics of the classic craft of lace- making. Can you talk about it?

I may have stopped my formal lace-making education, but I did not stop working with lace. I kept on experimenting with different techniques and materials.
A big breakthrough for me was when I started working with mineral stones. My goal was to somehow “expand” the stone. By following the outlines of the piece of stone in the same colour-spectrum as the stone’s edges with handmade bobbin lace, stone and textile came together to form a cohesive image. This presented not only the challenge of working in colour, and matching the colour to the stone, but also meant having to find a way to make the lace follow the highly irregular outline of the stone. Existing lacetechniques proved to be inadequate to deal with these challenges so I developed my own technique which I named “thread-art“. While this is based on traditional lace making, it has deviated from it to such a level that it is no longer recognised as lace making, hence the need for a new name.

In 1999 I started taking classes in lace-design with lace art historian Martine Bruggeman. Learning to see how a design is built up was an important lesson for me. Having insight in how to create a design or pattern enabled me to start expressing myself more and more in my work. At the start my work still relied heavily on modern lace making and stayed more within the parameters of contemporary lace but as I developed more and more as an artist I started letting go more and more of traditions and rules and gradually came closer and closer to my current technique. A key factor in this development was the fact that the shapes and designs I wanted to create could not be realized  with the traditional materials and way of working of lace making. Take for instance the lace making cushion: if I want to make a larger piece, or want to work three-dimensional, the traditional and commercially available cushions won’t work for me. So I work on costum-made cushions. Another example are the bobbins: when working with unconventional threads or yarns, bobbins are not always an option because the material could unravel by wrapping it on a bobbin. In these cases I use plastic fish-shaped tools to wrap my threads on. It is important not to let yourself be limited by what is readily available but be creative in finding solutions and, if need be, make of order your tools and materials to suit your specific needs.

“Touch graph”, 2013, 20×20 cm, Viscose, steel, rubber and perplex, copyright Annie Verhoeven

“Touch graph-detail”, 2013, 20×20 cm, Viscose, steel, rubber and perplex, copyright Annie Verhoeven

 I quote a sentence I read in your biography: “Mathematics plays a major role, both in the work and in the concept”. Can you explain its meaning?

Mathematics are an integral part of my work. It forms the basis of the creative and technical process I use to create my pieces. For instance: I have to calculate the amount of thread used, how many strands I will need and other practical concerns. With each piece these calculations have to take into account the size of the finished piece, the thickness of the tread and the openness of the final surface. However, beyond the practical, maths are also a source of inspiration for me and often are a key element in the concept and visual presentation of my pieces. This is exemplified by my “Conus” series: a series of pieces all based on the mathematical shape of the cone, which for me represents a sturdy base leading on to a point, a stable beginning on which to build and reach new highs. Another example of the role of maths as part of the concepts of my work is the piece “Strategima”, in which I wanted to represent the world: the threads represent the continents and the open parts represent the world seas, and the human population is represented by the tiny human figures incorporated in the piece. Every one of these elements is calculated to mathematically correspond with the thing they represent, so for instance the ratio between the woven parts and open space is calculated to reflect the ratio of land to sea in the world. 

How has your work evolved over the years? Are there important stylistic, aesthetic or conceptual differences between your first works and the most recent ones?

The main evolution of my work has been the transition from tradition lace, through contemporary lace, to my current Thread-art. Unfortunately, even though my current work still has its roots firmly in lace making and I use the principles of lace making, it is no longer recognised as being lace. The main aspect of lace that my work has always retained is its aesthetic value; the transparency, the ethereal quality, the interplay between the threads and the open space. Both stylistically and technically my work is quite removed from contemporary lace.

“Line & Point”, 2014, 18×22 cm,paperthread, steel, rubber and perplex, copyright Annie Verhoeven

Most of your artworks are monumental in size. Can you explain the technical or stylistic motives for this choice?

I am especially drawn to large-scale work because of the technical challengeit brings. Many things that work on a small scale don’t work on a large scale so one has to come up with new solutions. For instance: I want all my pieces to be made in one piece and have no discernable front or back. Large pieces of lace are usually the work of many people, with smaller pieces being joined together to form the final piece. I did not want this. I make all my pieces by myself and work alone.

“Kimono”, 2005, 120×150 cm, Paper yarn and iron, copyright Annie Verhoeven

“Kimono-detail”, 2005, 120×150 cm, Paper yarn and iron, copyright Annie Verhoeven

Among all the works you have done so far, in the field of subjects or concepts that these represent, is there a principle that inspires and founds all your artistic production?

Concept wise, my pieces tend to be inspired by current events. “Strandstoel AK” for instance is about the refugee crisis in Greece, “Hokjesgeest” is ispired by the coming of Trump unto the political stage, the conus “Recessie”refers to the financial crash and the conus “Dejavu” was inspired by the way the artworld falls back on old traditions.

“Déjà vu”, Conus series, 2009, 80×85 cm, Hemp, cotton and carbon, copyright Annie Verhoeven


“Hokjesgeest”, 2018, copyright Annie Verhoeven

How did your work Strategima come about, what does it inspire and what does it talk about?

My work Strategima was made for the biënnale in 2011 in Kortrijk (Belgium), it was not displayed however because the piece did not get finished in time to take the pictures. It is a unique piece on a monumental scale: 210x80x210 cm. The lace pieces are made in one piece, handmade with 2000 threads. The threads are Tencel, 3 kinds of thickness was used. The innovative part of this work is the way the different surfaces are woven together: two pieces have been made to intersect by weaving the surfaces through one another.

The inspiration for this piece are the five continents, woven into one piece.The ratio between the lace and the open space in the work corresponds with the ratio of land and seas in the world. The way the threads are woven together symbolises the unity and balance of the world: all individual threads connect with each other, keep each other balanced and are part of the overall piece. This piece symbolises the unity of the world and its continents, away from politics, culture, globalisation or economics.

The title is the Latin translation of “strategy”. To keep the parts of the world in balance and together, one needs a strategy, just as in a chess game. The game of chess is reflected in the symbols used in the piece: male, to symbolise the king; female, to symbolise the queen; and the tower, to symbolise the land. 

What is the source of your inspiration today?

Sources of inspiration for me at the moment are current affairs, such as the position of women in society. There have been many expositions of female artists in the Netherlands this year, to celebrate 100 years of women having the right to vote, but it does not seem to go much further than that. Other themes currently on my mind are the ongoing refugee crisis, climate change and the environmental crisis of water pollution.

“Crane”, 2019, copyright Annie Verhoeven

What are you working on right now?

Currently I am working on several different projects. For a couple years now I have been looking for a way to produce my Thread Chair as a functional piece. It is a challenge to find a material strong enough to use as a chair. I had been thinking about using carbon but this proved unworkable. I have also been contacting several 3d-printing businesses with initial high hopes but it turned out to be a more complex project than first thought, partly because of the irregular surface that is such a feature of my thread-art work. So this proves to be an ongoing challenge. 

Apart from that, I have been invited to participate in the Paper Biënnale 2020 in Carmey and I have produced and sent in a piece for this. I also hope to create a small piece for a mathematical art symposium Bridges and have some small commissions lined up, so I have enough artistic challenges to look forward to.

Maria Rosaria Roseo

English version Dopo una laurea in giurisprudenza e un’esperienza come coautrice di testi giuridici, ho scelto di dedicarmi all’attività di famiglia, che mi ha permesso di conciliare gli impegni lavorativi con quelli familiari di mamma. Nel 2013, per caso, ho conosciuto il quilting frequentando un corso. La passione per l’arte, soprattutto l’arte contemporanea, mi ha avvicinato sempre di più al settore dell’arte tessile che negli anni è diventata una vera e propria passione. Oggi dedico con entusiasmo parte del mio tempo al progetto di Emanuela D’Amico: ArteMorbida, grazie al quale, posso unire il piacere della scrittura al desiderio di contribuire, insieme a preziose collaborazioni, alla diffusione della conoscenza delle arti tessili e di raccontarne passato e presente attraverso gli occhi di alcuni dei più noti artisti tessili del panorama italiano e internazionale.