Tapestry weaving might have been saddled with a fusty image for quite some time, but it’s enjoying a chic resurgence. Artist Tracey Emin, for example, whose work has often incorporated traditional crafts such as patchwork, asked the West Sussex-based West Dean Tapestry Studio to translate her 2008 painting Black Cat into a tapestry. An installation shedding light on its production is about to be shown in Finding the Unicorn at London gallery The Fleming Collection, alongside the exhibition’s enormous eponymous tapestry – a recreation of one dating from 1495-1506 and woven by the studio for the recently refurbished royal apartments of Stirling Castle in Scotland.
Subtitled Tapestries Mythical and Modern, the exhibition also includes several contemporary tapestries featuring defiantly modern imagery, some of which are for sale. Founded in 1976, West Dean Tapestry Studio has a history of engaging with avant-garde art, having woven tapestries of paintings by Henry Moore, one of which features in the show.
While medieval tapestries were representational, the contemporary weavers exhibiting create near-abstract images: Pat Taylor’s Artemis (second picture, £9,900) shows an indistinct woman’s face that recalls a bleeding ink splotch on blotting paper, while Philip Sanderson’s image Nowhere (third picture, £9,900), based on a photo he took, is of a ghostly tree. Michael Brennand-Wood’s Transformer (first picture, £15,000) is an unruly, near-abstract composition bar its fuzzy-edged Space Invader motifs. “My work subverts the polite status quo of tapestry, which often looks too finished,” he says.
Old or new, these tapestries require immense patience to make. Seeing these labour-intensive confections finally displayed should be as richly rewarding for the weavers as it promises to be riveting for the gallery-goer.