Tilleke Schwarz

Tilleke Schwarz
Ruthin Craft Centre
July 24 – September 8, 2010

Textile graffiti is how the press often coin Dutch artist Tilleke Schwarz’ distinctive style: a bit of a visual rebel in the ordered world of stitch. I have my suspicions that two facts have helped foster her approach. Schwarz attended art school but id not study textiles. And until 2004 she was a full-time civil servant. With no formal textile education her self-taught approach commands a freshness that education often struggles to preserve. This and the fact that her work has been made firstly for her own pleasure while pursuing another career perhaps explains, in part, the distinctiveness of her style.

Much of my past understanding of her work has been based on photographs and interviews with the artist. The latter are not to be underestimated when it comes to understanding this work: a conversation with Schwarz quickly reveals her eye for the oddities of phrase and humour that from the basis of her stitches. But even when armed with extensive photographic documentation and the opportunity for conversation, little can compensate for seeing in person the 24 works the Ruthin Craft Centre has on display. In each of her framed works for the wall, composition looks organic rather than premeditated. Dense areas of pattern, texture and colour contrast with large sections of blank cloth. This is even more pronounced in her most recent works such as Victory (2009) and Free Recovery (2010), which seem to suggest a strengthened commitment to stitch what she wants, where she wants. In each work, two ways of ‘reading’ the image are offered – one based purely on the graphic qualities (colour, texture and mark) of what she creates, the second a literal reading of the text used. At times the two synchronise. Elsewhere they clash spectacularly. Text is combined from the artist’s observations of life and travels, both in response to overheard snippets of conversation as well as signs and printed information. In many cases she shines a light on cultural values that scrutiny reveals to be absurd or even nonsensical. With the exception of very early work, the text is in English, a decision Schwarz confirms was an effort to ensure that her work was accessible to as broad an audience as possible.

British bureaucracy enjoys a recurring presence. Free Recovery, for example, is titled after the British road signs she laughingly observes are ‘so optimistic and full of trust.’ ‘Do you really sit and wait?’ a bemused Schwarz questioned the audience gathered for her recent talk at the Centre. The installation of this exhibition continues the high standards Ruthin has established for the exhibition of craft. A complimentary show on the theme of ‘smile’ is on display nearby and sets the tone of lightness and humour which Schwarz’ embroideries thrive. Throughout, the artist’s skill is admirable. Her chosen content is not only amusing, but also able to sustain prolonged reading. And the work is beautiful.

Embroidery Magazine (Nov./Dec. 2010: 55)