Tapestry Topics
A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today
page 19
Fall 2003 Vol 29 No 4

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Benjamin, who is fairly new to weaving, though an artist for many years, dyed and plied her yarns, creating palettes of rich hues. She shades all the tapestries from one color family to another in the background, and then places a form within that field that is shaded in reverse. The walls of the gallery glow with this movement of color. In fact, the color is so tangible that you are convinced it embodies more than the sensation of sight, but taste and sound also. These weavings sing.

The pieces also play with the sense of transparency, as if a ray of light has fallen on the landscape creating a slice of new tones, or that a sheer ribbon of cloth is blowing in the wind, veiling the ground but allowing it to show through. There is a quality of familiar phenomena in these dreamscapes, but nothing is truly pictorial. This is one of the strengths of Benjamin’s vision—she creates a space in which the viewer enters without fear, but then realizes they have never quite been there before.

Three of the weavings, “Desert Sphere”, “Checkerboard Moon”, and “Solar Trails”, have huge full circles as focal points. “Checkerboard Moon” seemed like the marriage of a Peruvian poncho with the sun at dusk; “Solar Trails” captures the aftermath of the flight of two angels, airplanes, or beams of light over another sunset. A fourth tapestry, “The Path of Transparency”, on display in the window to entice people to come in and see more, has a circular section on each side. Do they represent two circles moving apart, or moving in unison across the plane of the cloth, or perhaps, though doubtful, two circles about to collide? I say doubtful because none of this work is menacing, even though the scale of the circles is powerful within the confines of their space.

The sense of a doorway cut into a landscape, or windows that frame a view from one locality to another is also present in Benjamin’s work. “Passing Through” and “Scheherazade” both use the same convention, a series of nesting rectangles with a vertical swag of light cutting across them. “Passing Through” has the more intense
palette of the two. While I preferred the fluid, softer tones in Scheherazade, both create an invitation to pass from one reality to another—again with a sense of grace, not of menace.

“Song” is a weaving of a different ilk. The dancing figures, reminiscent of shapes found in a Miro painting,
Karen Benjamin, Desert Sphere, 47" x 36", 2003
are quite solid as if entwining on a stage in front of the shaded backdrop. It lacks the delicate dialogue between figure and ground that is present in the other weavings. It seems as if this tapestry belongs in another group of Benjamin’s work; perhaps earlier, or even a recent departure. Since none of the works are dated, this remains conjecture.

Weaving Southwest, Rachel Brown’s well-known gallery, shows the work of contemporary tapestry weavers from New Mexico, as well as handwoven rugs, blankets and pillows of Brown’s design. Equipment and yarn are also for sale, as well as work by the other gallery artists, displayed in rooms behind the front gallery space. It was unfortunate however that Brown’s pillows lined the walls beneath Benjamin’s tapestries, and piles of rugs sat on the floor. Though low enough not to intrude on Benjamin’s work when the viewer was up close, they were distracting when one tried to get an overview of Benjamin’s work.

It was interesting to view the work of Karen Benjamin in light of the other artists represented at the gallery, as well as the field of tapestry at-large. Although some of the work, like Benjamin’s, had illusionary imagery, none of the pieces would be characterized as narrative pictorial imagery, in the great tradition of tapestry work.
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