An imminent renaissance: textile art in the digital age



As digital technology spreads across industries, it seems counterintuitive that labor-intensive ‘slow’ art – like hand-weaving – is experiencing a renaissance among artists, collectors and artists. the owners.

Yet, as Christine Lalumia, executive director of Contemporary Applied Arts gallery, observes: “Intricate textile art is nourishing in our fast-paced lives – an antidote to the constant bombardment of jerky images and short messages.

The irony is that the precursor of the computer was the programmable loom designed by Joseph Marie Charles, the son of a French master weaver known as Monsieur Jacquard. Patented in 1805, his innovative punch card system was adapted by Charles Babbage for his “difference engines” – the first computing machines.

“Weaving is really another form of digital design: the intersection of a [vertical] chain and [horizontal] the weft imitates a pixel, ”explains Ptolemy Mann, a London-based weaver.

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This loom-computer relationship is celebrated by Channing Hansen, an artist based in Los Angeles. After washing, dyeing, blending and spun wool, he follows a computer-generated pattern to create large-scale knitted works of art. Shapes, colors and fibers are dictated by an algorithm, creating unpredictable results.

“Fiber art” has attracted collectors in the United States since the 1970s but less so in the United Kingdom. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in London in 1997, Mann was one of the few to pursue an artistic practice.

“Everyone got into industry and product manufacturing. It was very difficult to survive without consulting or making rugs, ”she says. The process itself is part of the reason why. “Hand weaving requires unparalleled levels of patience, even by most standards of craft practice,” says Mann.

Other obstacles existed. “For years no art gallery showed my work because they didn’t know how to sell textiles.

Channing Hansen's mixed fiber artwork ranges from $ 20,000 to $ 50,000.  Copyright Channing Hansen.  Courtesy of the artist and the Stephen Friedman Gallery.  Photo by Robert Wedemeyer

Mixed fiber artwork by Channing Hansen © Courtesy of Channing Hansen and the Stephen Friedman Gallery

In the UK, the focus remains on functional textiles. “As a genre, textile art is always underestimated and underrated, although that is gradually changing,” says Mann.

“A huge change happened when [London gallery] The Tate Modern hosted the Anni Albers exhibition last year. It sent a very different message than if it had been at the Design Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum. Showing the “art” done on a loom put the weaving in context and gave it artistic validity. It really boosted inquiries.

Floating Lines, a hand-dyed and woven artwork by Ptolemy Mann.  His works range from £ 1,500 to £ 10,000 depending on size and complexity (

“Floating Lines” by Ptolemy Mann

The distinctions between “craft” and “art” are slowly evaporating. “Textiles act as a bridge between disciplines,” explains Maria Wettergren, owner of a gallery in Paris. “Collectors love the personal, sensual and artisanal qualities of textile art. Its slow pace is felt as a calming counterbalance to the frenzy of modern life.

Likewise, weavers are passionate about creating “art”. “I feel like I’m painting with thread,” says Margo Selby, a weaver in Whitstable, in the south-east of England. “I like the clarity and the discipline. Each of my hand-woven artwork is constructed from approximately 5,000 threads; the design is very mathematical.

Hand-woven cotton and silk framed artwork by Margo Selby, £ 1,950 each (

Artwork by Margo Selby

“I see the return to manual labor as a reaction against uniformity and digitization,” says Tamara Corm, Senior Director (London and Europe) at Pace Gallery. “People want to feel the presence of the artist’s thought and reflection. Imperfections and errors are part of the progress of the work.

Artist Brent Wadden describes his large-scale geometric abstracts as “paintings” despite hand-weaving with pre-used yarns, cottons and wool. The exchange of oils for yarn was a defining moment for the artist based in Berlin and Vancouver. A first solo exhibition at Pace London in 2016 has sold; collectors bought 80 percent of last winter’s show.

Brent Wadden's # 53 lineup is made from hand-woven fibers, wool, cotton and acrylic on canvas.  Brent Wadden's work ranges from $ 20,000 to $ 100,000 at the Pace Gallery (  Photo credit: copyright Brent Wadden.  Courtesy of the Pace Gallery.

“Alignment # 53” by Brent Wadden © Courtesy of the Pace Gallery

“Wadden’s shift to labor-intensive methods places him among a group of artists who have resisted technology in favor of more physical and artisanal media,” Corm explains. This physicality relates to the process and the images materially embodied in the web.

“Wanting to make my own canvas led me to weaving,” explains Heather Cook, an artist from Los Angeles. “I usually paint the threads before weaving, so the paint is in the structure of the artwork instead of resting on the surface.”

It’s the “bugs,” she says, “where I made a mistake in setting up the loom that I’m interested in. They become markers of time and of the hand.

Detail of large-scale hand-woven cotton yarn and acrylic shadow weave artwork by Heather Cook, starting at $ 8,000 (

‘Shadow Weave’ by Heather Cook

New York artist Ethan Cook hand-weaves strips of dyed cotton and linen on a loom and sews colorful panels in geometric patterns, then stretches each stitched piece onto a wooden backing like a painter’s canvas.

“I wanted to remove the physical barrier of the paint and see what was left,” he says. “What fascinates me the most is the union of color and material.

Contemporary materials such as recycled plastics and reflective threads are also tempting. Danish artist Astrid Krogh hand-weaves optical fibers on a loom, connecting them to light monitors. The appearance of the artwork changes as the colors pass through the fibers. But they retain a connection to historic textiles, as Krogh is influenced by Goblin tapestries and ancient kilim rugs.

Will textile art survive the digital age? “What can hamper production for those who make pictorial weavings is the complexity of the processes and the lack of appreciation for such details,” explains gallery owner Rhonda Brown of Browngrotta Arts.

She defends these intricacies in an annual exhibit at her home in Wilton, Connecticut. The 2019 show includes Ulla-Maija Vikman. The Finnish artist paints directly on the threads then spins, dyes and winds the work thread by thread.

Neha Puri Dhir, based in Gujarat, is also on the bill, specializing in Shibori stitch resistance, which involves intricate stitching, multiple levels of dyeing, relief and finally unstitched to give the work its subtle perforations.

Fire Fox, a painted viscose and linen textile artwork by Ulla-Maija Vikman, $ 8,200, from Browngrotta arts (

“Fire Fox” by Ulla-Maija Vikman © Courtesy of Browngrotta Arts

Not all viewers reward such work with prolonged attention. “The manufacturing process needs to be better understood,” says Lalumia. “The lack of accessible and rigorous technical education is a concern. If there is no appreciation, there is no demand.

Still, Heather Cook is optimistic: “Unlike today’s quickly outdated computers, the process used by my loom is the same as in 3000 BC. With this kind of story, the weaving will always be there.

Zazen, a durable dyed silk artwork by Neha Puri Dhir, $ 6,800 from Browngrotta arts (

‘Zazen’k by Neha Puri Dhir © Courtesy of Browngrotta Arts

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