Frank Stella had a bright pink flash on his running shoe. A splash from a painting perhaps“? The badge of a painter. Holding the cigar he never seems to be without (unlit on this occasion — gallery rules) he posed patiently for a group ofsnapping photographers. unruffled by the attention. Behind him hung the star turns of the show. The Had Gadya tapestries— designed by Stella and made by the Edinburgh Tapestry Company at the Dovecot Studios. For 20 months the looms at Dovecot had been running off Stellas
at the rate ofone every eight weeks.
i In that time Joanna Soroka. the
artistic director and six weavers have . succeeded in pulling off what can
only be described as a triumph. ‘ln Simple English it just could not have been done any better‘ says Stella of
f the finished interpretation of his I work. It would be hard to disagree.
The collaboration which has been
, so successful and has resulted in the : exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art. was engineered by a third party
in 1984. The patron. Pepsico (maker
ofthe other fizzy cola). like many modern companies. has become an
important link in the chain which
supports artists in their work. The
company headquarters in Purchase.
New York are surrounded by
sculptures ofthe 20th century set in specially landscaped parkland. It is probably the largest collection of
‘ outdoor sculpture in America. Insidethe buildingthereisanempty
wall. ninety feet long in what they
, call the leisure area. David Kendall.
the chairman. had already decided
' that a tapestry was what was needed
for it when he approached Stella.
‘something of an elite‘
The artist recalls. ‘David Kendall
described what he wanted and I went
to look at the space. [said that
frankly it was very difficult and I would call in six weeks if I had an idea. It seemed sort of hopeless.‘ At the eleventh hour Stella did call back. He thought ‘A series of episodes or pieces like narration might make sense of that long. endless wall. I had illustrations for Had Gadya which I‘d already made into lithographs. I went back to the original studies because they were slightly less developed and didn’t have so much colour or texture — there is a limit to what you can do in
: weaving.‘ Eleven tapestries now
planned for Pepsico. David Kendall followed the project to Scotland.
With an international reputation for fine work. the Edinburgh
: Tapestry were chosen to weave
Stella‘s idea. Belonging to something ofan elite. their experience stretches back seventy-four years to 1912. when two master weavers were employed from William Morris‘s studio at Merton Abbey. At that time events from Scottish history were woven for the Bute family. founders of the company. In recent years the studios have diversified. David Hockney. Graham Sutherland and Eduardo Paolozzi have all had works
recreated in yarn and work has
Edinburgh‘s Gallery of Modern Art is showing a series of tapestries commissioned by Pepsr Cola. Alice Bain meets the artist. Frank Stella.
Top: Artist Frank Stella. Below: commissioned tapestries.
recently begun on large non-tapestry textile sculpture. Esso at Mossmorran are to be furnished with a set ofgiant-sized wall kites and the Eastgate shopping mall in lnverness will soon be hanging with sails. seagulls and oystercatchers.
But for Joanna Soroka tapestry is still a very special medium. It has no paper. no clay. no material to build on. The threads themselves create the object literallyout ofthin air. '()nce it‘s finished. it’s finished and cannot be changed like a painting or a sculpture. It's more of an object than any other work of art .‘ she says. Because ofthat finality ofproduct. the colours and design ofa tapestry must be carefully planned in advance
' of its making. There‘s no chance to
erase or conceal. Frank Stella’s work
‘Dog/Cat‘ and ‘Water/Fire', two of the
was particularly hard to follow. The collage of paper is painted with loose. open brushstrokes. solid blocks of colour and occasionally. airbrush. Black and white cones thrusting into the illusory space and
other irregular shapes. are
sometimes secured to the background with sellotapc. All this could be considered problematic. In the Stella tapestries they become
' magical achievements. The small
pieces ofSellotape become opaque and a thin pencil line across the radius of a circle translates as a faint ridge in the texture ofthe tapestry.
Stella points out the hard outlines.
"The best they could do with those is that jaggered rendition but in a way. it makes it more interesting. It‘s not
so mechanical and it works. it’s quite
beautiful.’ More than an exercise in copying, the tapestries are to Stella‘s work what the performance of a : piece of music is to the composer. Interpretation by virtuosi adds fresh life and vigour to the original.
Frank Stella has been painting abstracts in New York for nearly 30 years. When he emerged from Princeton University in the late Fifties, abstract expressionists like Wilhelm de Kooning and Franz Kline had already been challenged by the new rising stars. Rauschenberg rubbed out a de Kooning drawing in a dual act of homage and defiance and Jasper Johns had painted a series of flags and targets which in 1958 shocked and divided the critics. With abstract
; expressionism making history. the
path was clear for new blood. Pop art plucked its imagery from the mass-media of an over-hyped. super-affluent America. Comic-strips and billboards. TV and even the humble hamburger became source and material. Stella belonged to a cooler. more intellectual branch ofthe new art.
Early in his career. he produced abstract. monochrome paintings on a large scale. But by 1968. colour had ﬂooded in and his concern for shape and form was matched by concern for colour. Geometric shapes were filled with the brightest of pigments. often ﬂuorescent. Though the geometry has been relaxed and the gesture more painterly. Stella‘s Had Gadya retains the rich palette and the precision and tension of his earlier work. ‘I guess I like to put things together in a very tightly-knit way’. he says. Tapestry relates well. Cotton. wool and even synthetic fluorescent yarns match Stellas' unusual colour schemes. Subtle moss green and vivacious pink alike give vibrancy to shape. Stella had asked the weavers to make the colour as bright as possible. So successful were they in this that they have out-brightened the originals (three ofwhich are on display for comparison and cross-reference ).
The story of the tapestries naturally begins and ends with the Had Gadya itself. a Hebrew song which builds to a climax of liberation from death and perhaps life too. The purchase ofone small goat. like the hole in the bucket or the woman who swallowed a fly. leads to an inevitable chain ofevents. The hungry cat cats the goat. the dog bites the cat and the stick beats the dog. Sung during the Jewish Feast of the Passover which celebrates the deliverance of the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. it was fitting that the ceremony at Dovecot when
the final tapestry was cut from the loom. occurred over the feast day.
These are the tapestries. made by the weavers. designed by Stella. that will fill the gap at Purchase.
Had Gadya - An Exhibition of Tapestries designed by Frank Stella, is at the Gallery ofModern A rt. Edinburgh, until Sun lJune.
The List 3() May — 12 June 5