Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Anna Von Mertens: Black & White, Shades of Grey


Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, Los Angeles, California
January 29 – February 26, 2005

The Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery is situated in a decidedly un-Hollywood area of Los Angeles, a location somewhat appropriate for this exhibition of five bed size quilts. Each quilt is, not unlike Hollywood, seductive in its beauty. But unlike Hollywood, there is far more depth to these works than first meets the eye. Von Mertens’ textiles explore themes of mapping and navigation: migration routes, growth charts, underwater topographies and black holes all make appearances in earlier work. She explains her decision to hand dye and hand stitch her quilts, “not [as] some kind of martyrdom, [but] because I believe my touch brings an intimacy to my pieces that could not be obtained any other way.”

Here Von Mertens exhibits the diptych “Black and White” opposite her “Gray Area” series. “Black and White” references the danger of seeing the world from a single perspective. The hand top stitched pattern of the black quilt illustrates the energy pattern of a nuclear explosion. Its white counterpart charts the same structure after rotation by the artist in AutoCAD into what, ironically, looks more like a mandala pattern than the recipe for world annihilation. “Gray Area” draws its palette from sunsets over the Pacific Ocean and maps distortions of the ebb and flow of the San Francisco Bay near Von Mertens home. The series explores, “the capacity for cyclical return, letting go, and opposite forces coexisting.” The work can also be seen to give a nod to the art historical, rather than craft history, Von Mertens aligns her work with. Even when viewed as a triptych, each bed contains a vanishing point beyond the confines of the quilt which offer a series of disjointed abstractions that could be seen to echo Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated painting “The Last Supper.”

Von Mertens may not be thrilled with the thought of her work being considered craft or fibre art but the conceptual ideas she marries with her material considerations are central to her work. She is adamant that her work is viewed on the horizontal, evoking the bed and its associations with birth, procreation and death rather than decorative wall hangings. In this exhibition, and others, each work was displayed on a platform close to concrete floor of the gallery. In her words, these quilts “reflect our own subjective ways that we orient ourselves and navigate through life.” One suspects that it may be the contemplative nature of the stitch which Von Mertens devotes so many months to sewing that gives her pause to answer some of the questions posed by life.

Von Mertens “Suggested North Points” is at the University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara from the July 6­- August 28, 2005.

Embroidery Magazine (July/August 2005: 51)