Breakfast with Atelier Pinton and Beatriz Milhazes at the White Cube Gallery
Always on the lookout for events, a few weeks ago I head onto to Eventbrite to see what's bubbling in the next few weeks in London and come across "White Cube Breakfast and tour of Beatriz Milhazes exhibition with Atelier Pinton". What ensued was one of the best shared creative experiences I have had in a long time, held as part of London Craft Week.
I arrive early morning at the exhibition where Beatriz Milhazes explores a variety of media including painting, installation, sculpture, collage and textile art as part of a unique, major series created especially for the show.
To quote the White Cube curators, Milhazes speaks of her work in such words " I want to have optical movements, disturbing things; such visions that your eyes would be disturbed when you see them. Creating what she has termed a ‘dialogue between symbolism and materiality".
The White cube exhibition was long in the making as Milhazes only produces at most 6 paintings a year and the show comprises of several rooms of art including her very first Tapestry displayed as the central piece.
We are told it is one of the 10 largest in the world and was crafted by Atelier Pinton who have been in existence since 1867 and have worked with artists such as Matisse, Delaunay, Calder to name a few.
the vibrance and love of Brazil meEt the skill of central France. Atelier Pinton is located in the town of Felletin in the Massif Central, a region knowN for its rich history in tapestry.
So what is the story behind the making of this vertiginous work of art and craft? Here I am transcribing my notes taken frenetically whilst Atelier Pinton's master weaver Jacques Bourdeix spoke to us candidly with his soon to be replacement (he is retiring) named Saskia Vandamme. I enjoy the purity of his French (my native tongue) as he recounts the story of how Atelier Pinton developed the work for and with Beatriz Milhazes, a beautiful story of Artistry, Artisanship and Mastery.
First they received a small gouache painting which sketched the idea for the piece. Because of the pure lines Jacques Bourdeix "could see that they were going to do something extraordinary" he says with sparks in his eyes.
The challenge was keeping the tension even throughout the length of the tapestry because the looms are operated by hand at the Atelier. For this they decided to use 5 threads per centimetre, and quite thick ones (a wool and silk blend) which helped control the tension.
To carefully replicate the artwork, the weavers followed an actual size model placed under the loom and wove back to front. Which to me, on its own, seems like the ultimate command of your craft. Every 25 cm they would turn it around and so on for 16 meters. It took several months until they were able to cut the piece off the loom.
The mastery of the process was also reflected in what Jacques Bourdeix decided to do about colour. How do you transcribe the purity and brightness of the colours used by Beatriz Milhazes?
She wanted pure colour but the master weaver said "No it won’t work with pure colour".
Thus began the journey of him explaining to us how he created the bold hues you see in the tapestry and how it is not what you think or see with your naked eye.
The white is actually made of 5 colours and Jacques B. explains a bright, single tone white would have hurt the other colours. This is the kind of creative thinking and research that goes into the work Atelier Pinton does and how they are able to transcribe an artist's vision. Even in the blue of the tapestry there are 3 colours varying from purple blue to ultramarine. 9 colours, each one containing composed variants, make the tapestry come to life. Complex couplings with a simply beautiful result.
Before weaving absolutely all the yarns had to be dyed, the amounts pre-calculated "au centimètre près" (to the centimetre). This meant planning for the exact amount to complete the work which is 15.85 metres long to be exact. This wasn't a case of being able to dye more yarn at a later date as each dye lot is unique being that the entire process is handmade. And because the master weaver chose to mix tones together to create one colour, it was a "tricky" assignment for the dyer, to say the least .
But as JACQUES ROUBEIX later explained to me, with each artist they create a unique process and start from scratch. That is how they have always worked.
The story of the dying process as retold by Jacques B. makes one dream. The yarns were died in the Massif Central where the water is pure and the colours come out as such.
He recalls how Beatriz Milhazes watched as the master dyer mixed colours without a measuring tool, only using his seasoned eye, with tea spoons of pigment and some acid to create the chemical reaction. He has been doing this since 1959 and possesses years of craft that create a heightened sensory intuition. When Beatriz Milhazes witnessed this man above a cauldron and saw the colours changing, the chemical reaction taking place, she exclaimed: 'You are sorcerers!".
The finished tapestry itself is one of a kind as traditionally art tapestries would be replicated 6 or 8 times. The piece was executed by hand by a team of three: a mother and 2 daughters, always the same team, 2 placed on the edges and 1 at the center, always in charge of the same section. "That is how I like to organise the work and how we do it at Atelier Pinton" says Jacques Bourdeix. Further explaining they use a horizontal loom, not vertical like the north of France . Adding they just completed a tapestry for Botero and Amnesty International.
Tapestry is again in high demand as he explains they are receiving orders from luxury companies such as Dior to private clients and the French government.
Lucas Pinton the director wants to go even further and spread tapestry everywhere in the world. And may achieve his goal at the rate of how well his atelier is doing. They have been weaving tapestry for centuries and although the styles change it never goes out of style per say.
With every piece the process is unique, the art has its own needs and the artisans look at it with a fresh eye. It's a pure form of respect, knowledge and creativity.
Sometimes they send samples to the artist for review but try to avoid this step as it is time consuming to create the samples, one taking up to a week of work. Often the artists say, as shared by Jacques Bourdeix over coffee "we trust you, just go ahead and do it".
- Geraldine Wharry
IMAGE GALLERY OF SOME OF BEATRIZ MILHAZES' WORK ON DISPLAY AT THE WHITE CUBE BERMONDSEY UNTIL JULY 1ST 2018