Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Jo Barker


Jo Barker
Scottish Gallery
January 7 – 31, 2009

Tapestry weaving is far from an immediate process. The methodical pace of its production makes the energetic surfaces of Jo Barker’s newest works all the more refreshing. Five tapestries woven in 2008 are on display; each providing a sense of spontaneity and looseness of mark that belies the realities of their construction.

Barker uses collage and Photoshop to develop her compositions, resulting in unexpected combinations of colour, mark and scale. Resonance, for example, suggests a hand has scribbled across the woven surface, while the sharp fuchsia lines that run in a diagonal across Drift create a dense and precise vein of colour. These cutting marks are set against a watery half ring that occupies the top of the composition and a series of dots that move across the opposite diagonal, dribbling their colour across the work’s surface. In the chartreuse-coloured New Green, dots and lines of colour shimmer like a peacock’s feather.

Barker’s unusual eye for colour is evident not only in her large bold gestures, but also tiny combinations easily overlooked at a glance. A large part of the almost square Vermillion Glow is a densely coloured section of blood orange, ringed in dots similar to those seen in Resonance. The left-hand third of the tapestry is woven in inky blacks with a number of deep blue lines providing us with a glimpse of larger orbits. Separating these two distinct sections are two thin lines of mint and grey that divide the entire composition vertically to provide an unexpected transition between the two sections of the composition.

The final inclusion in this exhibition is the diminutive Rose Haze. Measuring 17.5 by 18.5 cm the work feels more like a study than a miniature tapestry, perhaps because elements of its colour and composition appear in Resonance and Vermillion Glow. The inclusion of a work on such a different scale is a little disconcerting when viewed with the group. Barker’s larger tapestries command a presence and conviction that is lacking in this small study, although it presence may provide viewers with some insight into the sampling used to create larger scale work.

Throughout this exhibition, Barker’s skill as a weaver is dangerously easy to overlook. This fact is a bit of backhanded compliment: in reality the execution of her ideas is so skilful that it provides no distractions. While techniques of making are far from tapestry’s raison d’être, the sheer intensity of time and concentration tapestry demands is well worth remembering when faced with surfaces that feel so fresh and immediate.

A 24-page colour catalogue of the exhibition, Jo Barker: Tapestries, (ISBN 978-0-9561099-0-3) is available from the Scottish Gallery. Email or 0131 558 1200. Cost £10.

Embroidery Magazine (March/April 2009: 54)