It is tempting to look for the inspirations informing the weavings of Olga de Amaral — such tangible things as landscapes, textiles, and other types of tapestries. But de Amaral’s work, linen pieces that shimmer with gold or silver leaf, is a world of its own. Comparisons can be made to basketry and the weaving traditions in the artist’s native Colombia. But de Amaral is not working in a specific tradition, although she has noted inspirations in the past such as a pre-Columbian gold mantle she saw in a museum in Peru. Nor does she plan her designs, which incorporate geometric patterns, preferring a more organic, spontaneous approach. “When I do them I’m not thinking about all those things,” de Amaral told Pasatiempo. “I don’t think about patterns or how I do it. For me what’s important is the emotion and the idea behind it. When you get a pencil in your hand and start drawing, you are not thinking.”
De Amaral’s recent body of work, Pozos Azules (Blue Wells), is on exhibit at Bellas Artes, where she has been showing her tapestries since 1986. Pozos Azules retains the gold leaf and gold paint that have become her signatures. An installation called Field of Stelae hangs in the London office of BGC Partners, Inc. The stelae are arranged to take advantage of available light, and the metallic surfaces, gold on one side and silver on the other, shimmer and change as the light changes. For Pozos Azules, de Amaral fashioned two-toned weavings, interplays of blue and gold. Each piece is a diptych with a thin gap between each panel of the work that takes on depth while the surfaces of the panels change, depending not just on the light but on the position of the viewer. The title of the series is a reference to water and its dazzling, reflective qualities. “For me, it’s the mystery of water when it’s in a pond and the way it moves. What intrigues me is the way that the water, when it comes from the middle and is limited by a circle, forms a fantastic and mysterious pattern.” Pozos Azules’ mix of blue and gold captures a feeling of light dancing on the surface of water. “For me, that’s the sun, which is just light, and it’s as mysterious as the water. I feel the colors. When I did the first one, it was magic to keep doing them because each one is different, like [each body of] water is.” In addition to Pozos Azules, de Amaral shows work from a similar series in red and gold called Soles Rojos (Red Suns) and an early work from 1976 that was recently acquired by Bellas Artes from a corporate collection.
Though many of her pieces are monochromatic, some of her work is enhanced by underpainting in colors that peek through here and there, adding more dimensionality to the pieces. “The process to me is a very magical situation. I am very aware that the back of the artwork guards some kind of secret, so I paint the back of the tapestries.”
Circular and rectangular configurations feature in each work, but there are variations between them. Pozo Azul 10, for instance, is dominated by circular forms (half circles on each panel), and the rift in the center keeps the forms from lining up with precision. Concentric lines emanate outward from the center to the edges. Circles in Pozo Azul 3, by contrast, are framed by a series of concentric lines in a rectangular pattern.
A 2003 lecture-presentation, “The House of My Imagination,” which de Amaral gave at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was a rare opportunity to see her process including working with a number of skilled assistants who have been with her for many years. “The communal process impregnates each bundle of strands with the spirit of each of these women’s lives; each element acquires a unique patina, as does the knob on the door to a frequented room,” she writes in the lecture’s accompanying catalog. “This team of weavers, this place, is my strongest and deepest connection with my country. To me, they embody Colombia.”
De Amaral and her assistants coat the woven threads with gesso by hand to fill in the gaps of the weavings. Strands of fiber are also coated by hand using ground pigments. Despite the layers of paint and gold leaf, the warp and weft are retained and clearly visible in the finished pieces. The tapestries are designed to hang in front of the wall rather than hanging flush, creating a space around them that gives them sculptural presence and a lightness as they appear to float just in front of the walls.
The tremulous light effects are sometimes achieved through paint rather than gold leaf. Paint is integral, but so are the raw linen and cotton threads that react differently in weaving, with linen providing a structural tension for the more pliable cotton. “It’s like a canvas for a painter,” De Amaral said. “It’s my own canvas.” ◀
▼ Olga de Amaral: Pozos Azules
▼ Through Sept. 28
▼ Bellas Artes, 653 Canyon Road, 983-2745