Entertainment

Tapestries Falling From Grace

Detritus and The Patriot (inset), two tapestries created by Barbara Heller. - Contributed
Detritus and The Patriot (inset), two tapestries created by Barbara Heller.
— image credit: Contributed

One of Canada’s leading tapestry artists opens an exhibition of her work at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery this week.

Falling from Grace features selected works from throughout Barbara Heller’s 40-year career creating tapestries from her studio on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

The exhibition’s title refers to the appearance or suggestion of birds entwined in a landscape of predation, war or environmental destruction. In Heller’s visionary world, the bird acts as her talisman, enabling her to communicate her concerns and preoccupations about the state of the world.  In sharp contrast to the slow and arduous nature of her process, Heller’s visual `stories’ comprise a compelling and often graphic narrative, urging the viewer to act against the sharp rise in the territorial and environmental destruction witnessed by our generation.

Three new tapestries will be shown for the first time in the Maple Ridge exhibition, all of them focusing on the deteriorating environment and its impact on once thriving populations of bird species.

In two of these pieces Heller shows how the overwhelming accumulation of plastics now circulating throughout the world’s oceans represents much more than a blight on the landscape.

The tapestries, Detritus, and Detritus Too, both call attention to the sad plight of young birds that have inadvertently been fed fragments of plastic, with the inevitably tragic result.

Even as Heller takes on these tough subjects, there is a beguiling beauty to the overall impact of her work, which acts as a counterbalance to the horror of each artwork’s central message.  The ability to keep these dueling forces in check is one of Heller’s great achievements as an artist.

“The compelling nature of Heller’s subject matter is only half the story,” says gallery curator Barbara Duncan, who conceived the exhibition. “Much of the interest in the craftsmanship demanded by traditional art forms like tapestry arises from the very nature of the slow, contemplative and repetitive road to its completion.”

Heller works on these pieces for months on end, following a ritual of dedication that has formed the central rhythm of her life for some 40 years.  “Tapestry is a medium that requires nothing short of total immersion in the craft’s materials and structural challenges,” says Duncan.

“And while it is a truism that our generation is increasingly swept up in speed and instantaneous gratification, there is also a new appreciation for slow, process-driven activities.  I’m hoping that, in viewing this exhibition, our audiences will see how mindfulness and sustainability go hand in hand.”

The Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Arts Council, with funding provided by the Vancouver Foundation, is publishing a 40-page catalogue to accompany the exhibition.

• An opening reception for the exhibition will take place on Saturday, May 10 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Falling From Grace is at the gallery until July 26.

 

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