Since I was lucky enough to hook up with Mary Lane, Executive Director of the American Tapestry Alliance, on my trip, I tagged along on her planned visit to tapestry artist Erin Riley. We took the subway from Manhattan to Erin’s lower level studio in a residential area of Brooklyn. The studio held everything a young struggling artist needs: looms, yarn, a bed, a bathroom, and a shared kitchen upstairs. It was comfortable, and a serendipitous find for Erin. Hopefully her Brooklyn friends aren’t reading this, since she said that many would be envious of her space if they knew about it.
Erin Riley has gained an enormous amount of deserved attention in the past year, especially focusing on her series of images of sexting selfies. My favorite piece about her is a segment of the radio show, To the Best of Our Knowledge. She speaks thoughtfully about her art: about the young women she depicts and their imagined lives, and about choosing to depict herself as well. Links to many more articles about her pieces are found on her website.
I was interested in her work methods and how she manages to keep up her prolific pace of tapestry weaving. She is a very dedicated weaver. This fall she worked many fourteen-hour days, preparing for a show opening in February at the Soze Gallery in Los Angeles. She uses two horizontal floor looms; her old Macomber traveled around the country with her when she participated in several residencies. Doesn’t she suffer physically from such long days of weaving? “I do suffer from exhaustion,” Erin said, “and then I just go to bed for two days.” She also has pain in one wrist on occasion, but it has been mostly alleviated by changing her tapestry beater to one that is slightly lighter and of a different shape.
Erin’s work is profiled in the latest issue of Playboy(!), not a traditional venue for articles about tapestry. Erin said she thought the idea seemed a little silly, but was impressed by the author sent to interview her. “She brought art history books, and she had done a lot of research.”
Behind one of the looms in her studio is an evocative painting of a lonely road with skid marks, one of almost forty she has woven of accident scenes. They sell very well; in galleries they have sold more frequently than the images of young women. Erin said that buyers like them, and that they are easier to live with on a daily basis than her often-distrubing sexting images.
I showed these photos to my husband, who said, “I don’t know why people wouldn’t like the sexting images. That one is nice.” I told him that not all of them were as beautiful as the one shown at the top of this post. For example, “Spit Up, which you can find on her website “Works” page: I feel it is brave to weave the image, and it depicts a reality that is uncomfortable to contemplate (the young woman took a photo of it, and then chose to post it online?), but I think I’d rather have a lonely skid mark tapestry on my wall.
Erin has been weaving full-time for only four years. I look forward to seeing her talent develop for decades.