Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Marie-Laure Ilie


Marie-Laure Ilie

“Mixed-media embodiments” is how French fiber artist Marie-Laure Ilie describes her work. Materially, Ilie employs a variety of techniques and media, but thematically her inspiration is drawn from one consistent source: the “ambivalent sense of both permanence and deterioration found in classical statues.” Her interest in Greek sculpture stems from childhood. Latin and Greek were part of the school curriculum, but perhaps even more indelible were black and white photographs of Greek sculptures pictured in the schoolbooks. During a visit to Rome in the early nineties these early memories were fortuitously brought back to life when Ilie found herself “in a room full of statues, which were human size without heads, all with draped robes. Standing in the middle of all these bodies, I felt they were ready to do something. Despite their lack of heads they were expressing something, they were full of a certain kind of life and that really impressed me.”

Before Ilie visited Rome she was painting large abstract compositions on fabric. But the journey came at a moment when she was searching for a new direction for her work and seeing Greek statues in the flesh, so to speak, “was like a new horizon opening to me.” If one initially suspects a strong feminist bent to the headless torsos and dresses, often pierced or cut, that populate much of her work, Ilie is quick to correct. “I’m sympathetic to feminism,” she explains, “and being a woman I’m not going to go against that type of opinion. But the historical fact is that these robes were worn by the women, not the men.” Rather than feminism it is the translation of cloth the Greek’s captured in stone into images of cloth suspended on cloth that Ilie has returned to time and again in works such as “Delusion”, “Femme Fatale”, “O Femme” and “Astrid, Where are You?”

The Greek myths also make regular appearances in the titles and explanations of these works. “They are not behaving like out of reach people at all,” Ilie remarks of the gods and goddesses central to these myths. “I always think, in terms of how Greek mythology has evolved, that it is all human psychology.  It is a set of stories based on human concerns that are universal.” When I ask her if she fears misinterpretation or confusion from viewers less familiar with the classics, she is unconcerned. “I’ve found that many people are familiar with mythology, but I don’t try to impose any one response.” In fact, if viewers appreciate her work for its aesthetic rather than conceptual concerns, she still believes the work has been successful. “I don’t try to be highbrow,” she explains. “I’m very down to earth in terms of what I am trying to make people see. I like the fact that all these gods and goddesses have a human symbol attached to them. I find that very comforting.”

Like the myths, many of the topics Ilie addresses in her work can be understood as universal. For instance, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” with its central image of a clock and black and white colour scheme refers to the passing of time. The title, which translates as “thus passes the glory of the world”, exemplifies an ironic sense of humour evident in many of Ilie’s titles. And the masks? “Even though time is passing there is a permanence in human kind,” Ilie explains. “But also people become nameless, incognito, like getting lost in a crowd.” But in addition to the seductive folds of draped robes, T Shirts float throughout many of her recent pieces. “I introduced the shape of the T Shirt to give it some connection with modern times,” Ilie elaborates, concluding that two thousand years from now “the T Shirt is going to be a classical piece of garment – like the ancient Greek robes.”

In her most recent work Ilie designs on her computer, sending digital files to New York where the fabric is printed. She also prints her smaller works onto transfer paper using a home laser printer. She is of two minds about which is the speedier technique. A file such as the one used to print “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” is a giant 431 megabytes. In both cases, a considerable amount of time is spent painting and touching up the fabric after printing. But the two techniques offer different results.  Commercial printing allows the dye to sink through the fabric creating an image in both sides, a valuable asset in work that is often comprised of several layers of sheer fabric and intended to be viewed in the round. In contrast, the transfer printing she is able to control from her own computer leaves only a deposit on the top of the fabric, but has the benefit of being easier to produce in stages. But much like her pragmatic approach to interpretations of her work, she concludes, “In the end I think if it works, it works!”

Embroidery magazine (May/June 2006: 22-24)

image: Marie-Laure Ilie “Draping Folds”