January 2017 – THOMAS CRONENBERG
Heimweh & Fernweh: A weaver’s round-the-world journey in tapestry
January 2017 – THOMAS CRONENBERG: “My work centres on issues of identity and memory. I am interested in the individual and his place in society as well as the intersection of the public and the private. And in aspects of belonging or not belonging to society, in what it means to be a part of – or stand apart from – groups, subgroups and identities.
I learned to weave as a child, and came to tapestry very early, inspired by the needlepoint and embroidery my mother and my aunt did; by the tapestries I saw in museums and in palaces and castles in Europe; and by Navajo weaving in the United States, where I spent my formative years.
After spending every summer of my childhood with family in Germany, I moved to Germany to attend university – and stayed. Fascinated with politics and with writing, I studied political science and sociology and then trained and worked as a journalist.
Though my focus was on writing for many years, I never stopped weaving. I later re-focused on tapestry weaving in the1990s. After a long self-taught phase, I took lessons from tapestry weaver Rosemarie Romann-Moeller in Hamburg and went on to study tapestry weaving at West Dean College in West Sussex/UK. This opened my eyes to a lot of contemporary art and helped me focus on my own artistic voice.
The scale of my work changed completely at West Dean. Whereas I had generally done very small, very fine textile work before, I have been working chiefly on large-scale tapestries ever since.
In a series of tapestries that have developed since the late 1990s, I have explored the issue of my personal identity vis-a-vis national as well as gay culture. These include Stoff meines (deutschen) Lebens/Fabric of my (German) life and the TOMMY Series, comprising TOMMY U.S.A., TOMMY deutsch, TOMMY gay and TOMMY (me).
Flags and political symbols as well as Pop Art were the starting point. Drawings and collage and experimental weavings on that theme led to works like Allegiances and Patchwork Identity, based on flags which meld into each other and become something new. In theTOMMY Series, a series of very personal self-portraits, I put my own face to various labels: American, German, gay, me.
All of these works express varying aspects of my identity and how society interacts with a bi- or multicultural person. The work explores how we as people can belong to and embrace multiple identities; how labels can define us, but also be limiting like a straitjacket when they are used too narrowly.
My Heimweh Series is all about strong colour and simple execution (Ausführung). The starting point for these tapestries were sketches of my apartment which I drew while I was away in Britain as a student in 2000. They turned into larger-than-life drawings which eventually became big tapestries (the largest is 185 x 248 cm). I did the cartoons on a 1:1 scale using coloured wax paper which I tore; black oil stick lines complete the images.
The visual language is reduced, but strong colour and graphic lines pack an emotional punch. Just a few lines transform planes and areas of colour into a readable image. The colour brings up the emotional temperature.
In terms of content, the Heimweh Series is about homesickness and longing as well as a sense of belonging. It comprises three completed tapestries: Heimweh (Missing home), Daheim (At home) and Fernweh (At home and longing to travel to far-off places). A fourth tapestry-in-progess. Wehmut (Abschied von Hamburg/Leaving Hamburg), tells of the bittersweet emotions connected with leaving a place which has long been home.
I was honoured to show two of these tapestries, Heimweh and Fernweh with German and Danish colleagues (Ken Denning, Isabelle Dyckerhoff and Gudrun Pagter ) at the 2+2 exhibition at Koldinghus.
I have been involved with European Tapestry Forum (ETF) and the Steering Committee which organizes the ARTAPESTRY shows since 2003, and have found this extremely rewarding. ETF seeks to be a platform for contemporary European tapestry. We have done four touring shows, and are currently organizing ARTAPESTRY5.
Living in Berlin for the past few years, I have re-examined political symbolism and have been inspired by a big black eagle which keeps cropping up in my drawing and weaving. I am fascinated by the role of such imagery in political propaganda in the past, and have been experimenting on the motto “Es is nicht alles Gold, was glänzt”/Not everything that glitters is gold. I imagine a somewhat decaying-decadent woven image, and have been playing with complicated blends featuring somewhat kitschy/tacky gold thread.
Revisiting tapestry through the eyes of a talented and ambitious student who I have been advising these past two years in Berlin has been a special pleasure.
Recently arrived in Australia for a planned a stay of several years, I am currently inspired by exotic birds, massive, majestic trees, a big blue sky and pink clouds at sunset. At the same time, I also miss home… I wonder where all these new visual cues will take my work. I look forward to my loom arriving from Germany.”