The individual threads found in the hand woven textiles of French artist Côme Touvay are nomads. Gathered from afar and used alongside local wool, linen and even herbs, Touvay weaves eclectic threads into textiles with diverse cultural and personal references.
Since 2016, individual hand woven textiles have been produced from Touvay’s studio in the south west of France. These textiles incorporate locally spun and dyed wool with a variety of threads acquired during the artist’s extensive travel and design work abroad. Travelling threads purchased on trips to Indonesia, Italy, Japan and Brazil, or saved from his days as a weaving student in Paris at ENSCI, where he now teaches, appear throughout his textiles. Today each thread provides a sense of continuity within his eclectic portfolio. Restless curiosity, followed by ongoing research, makes each series in the portfolio individual. Touvay explains that he now understands the textile “as a language, not a product”. His career as a textile designer for the likes of Hermès, Cartier, Rochas and Renault Design has enjoyed considerable recognition, including the awards of Henry van de Velde (2015) and the Grand Prix de la Creation (2006). Today hand weaving remains central to his work, but increasingly his textiles are created as one-off works of art.
Fur caught in palm tree branches seen in Brazil sparked Touvay’s interest in how animal (wool) and plant (linen) fibres could meet in the woven structure. The Sama (2017-2019) series are woven on a linen ground warp with a triangular motif introduced through a supplementary wool warp. Selecting an intentionally “unsophisticated” weaving structure allows pattern possibilities to instead be created through basic geometric shapes and the interaction of fibres that bind together. The triangles and their base of loose cut float threads are intended to test the minimum amount of weaving needed to fix floats to cloth. Touvay likens the triangles to the energy of the evocative Indonesian shadow puppets known as Wayang Kulit – shapes guided by the air in constant motion.
The Sama series are woven and then sewn side-by-side to create a wider finished cloth, a technique that can also be see in west African strip weaving traditions. High contrast palettes are punctuated in the weft by traces of his travelling threads. Pink acrylic purchased in Bandung and green silk from Kyoto act as markers of place and time. Within the woven fabric, threads which have travelled such long journeys to arrive in his studio now continue on future journeys as woven cloth. And the name? The Sama are “nomads of the sea,” Touvay offers, “sailing between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The frontier of the Sama people depends on how far they can sail.” The literal translation of the word means “I am the same”.
The ancient Greeks understood a daemon to be a guiding spirit. Made by instinct rather than planning, Daemones (2019) capture this sensibility in their triple weave structure. Each is made with a combination of fresh herbs placed, nest-like, beside thin metal thread and contrasting light-catching synthetics such as plastic and lurex. Held inside an interior woven tube, each herb “grows from the weave”. The placement of each fine stem may be closer to drawing than weaving, using decision making guided by inspiration Touvay describes as held in his subconscious. Because of their delicate complexity, each three-dimensional weaving is constructed on the loom by hand in the space between the reed and the beam. Once the magic of construction is complete, they create shadow puppets of another kind.
Touvay’s most recent weavings, WAKImonkey (2019-2020), are inspired by the sharp geometries of Andean architecture, the work of celebrated Argentine artist Césare Paternosto and the striking simplicity of an ancient cloth tunic included in the exhibition Southern Geometries, from Mexico to Patagonia at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2018. The recurring monkey figure “is always something of a joke” he offers, appearing as a humorous punctuation in many cultures around the world. The series’ bold geometric patterns are woven on a rough warp of heavy linen string and thickly spun wool weft with the final cloth unwashed to preserve the crispness of material contrast. The striking pink and red colour palette of the first work of the series Lovers (2019) is drawn from a sample Touvay first created nearly thirty years ago as a student. WAKImonkeyBrothers (2019) and Babies (2019) followed and this year Cat (2020) and SumbWaat I & II (2020), Vanity Cats (2020) and Behind the Apple Tree (2020).
The angular geometries of the WAKImonkey series could be mistaken for something electronic – a computer circuit perhaps. If their structures suggest something from the past, their colour palette feels closer to the future. Touvay explains that as a weaving-thinking exercise, he often sets himself the challenge of recreating an archaeological textile, an act he describes as “renewing memory” through “a conversation with the past, which honours the genius of ancient weavers’ knowledge”. In contrast, his choice of palette is purely instinctive. Certain eclectic affinities are apparent: the vibrant red often found in his work suggests medieval time and the flat saturation of tempera paint, while his choice of blue is a colour he also associates with north African textiles. Even with their bold palettes, the front and back of each textile in the WAKImonkey carry equal importance. Each is the inverse colour combination – a fitting structure for textiles that feel both pulled from the past and drawn towards an unknown future.
images homepage & here are courtesy of the artist from the Sama series