Several weeks ago I got to see a show by Laurie Wohl, a New York fiber artist who has concentrated on liturgical and religious-themed work. Her show at the Patio Gallery in Louisville was a series based on Christian, Jewish and Muslim poetry and spiritual texts. (Sorry that I didn’t visit in time to tell you about it before the show closed.)
She wrote: “For this project, I emphasize particularly the common themes and striking parallels between Arabic and Hebrew texts, similarly rich in a poetry of spiritual love, an extensive poetry of exile, a poetry of nostalgia for Andalusia, and poetry speaking of enemies and reconciliation.”
It’s a daring subject in this era of widespread fear of radical Islam, to seek similarities between that religion and Christianity and Judaism. In fact, viewers might have shared the tiniest start to read Wohl’s categorization as “the Abrahamic religions” — we Judeo-Christians don’t usually think of Islam as our sibling, although it reveres the Old Testament, regards Jesus as a holy man and sprang from the same tradition.
Wohl’s works in this series make extensive use of calligraphy, mostly Hebrew and Arabic scripts, and also repeat the imagery of a veil, through her signature “unweaving” technique. Working with a heavy canvas, she slices either the warp or weft threads around the edge of a shape, then unpicks the weave to leave the other strands loose. Because the weaving process puts a lot of crimp into the strands, when they’re set free over a long distance they’re significantly longer than the woven part of the canvas, so they droop and/or bulge.
Laurie Wohl, Window of Prayers (detail below)
I missed the gallery talk so I didn’t learn how Wohl achieves the sharp raised edges on her letters and shapes.
Laurie Wohl, Babylon (detail)
I could tell that she painted the “unwoven” strands of her canvases and often strung beads on them. Sometimes she sliced the free strands at the top of the shape so they would hang down below the unwoven area.
Laurie Wohl, Elegy for Cordoba (detail below)
(Note how the rods at the bottom droop slightly at the center where more of the weave has been removed.)
Usually she removes the horizontal threads and leaves the vertical, but not always.
Laurie Wohl, Watchwords (detail)
I’m always intrigued by art that uses text or letterforms, and though I read neither Arabic nor Hebrew, I could tell that Wohl’s calligraphy is exquisite. The works have a solemn presence as well as a bright and lively sparkle. The show was well worth a visit.
I’m cross-posting this to my own blog, Art With A Needle. Please stop by and visit me some time!