Jon Eric Riis, Thinking with treads
Tapestries of Today on the Edge
Two well-known Parisian galleries of the Carré Rive Gauche are joining together to present the tapestries of the American artist, Jon Eric Riis, never before shown in France. Myrna Myers Gallery, established on the rue de Beaune thirtyfour years ago, specializes in Asian art. She has organized many thematic exhibitions, the most important accompanied by scholarly catalogues, which trace her enthusiasms ranging from blue and white ceramics through archaic jades and the costumes of China. Naturally, her gallery will be showing the works of Jon Eric Riis inspired by Tibet, Japan and China. The Gallery Chevalier, for many generations experts in ancient tapestries, has recently begun to feature contemporary creations as well, and are delighted to be able to introduce to the French public the incredible talent of Jon Eric Riis. They will present more than a dozen works, including a number made especially for this show.
The works in tapestry of Jon Eric Riis can be found in the most prestigious museum collections in America:
- Metropolitan Museum, New York
- Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio
- American Museum of Art and Design, New York
- Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum,
- Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
- Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina
- Atlanta Museum of Art and Design, Georgia
- Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana
Since 1996, Jon Eric Riis participated in more than fifty exhibitions across the globe, in the United States, Canada, Peru, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland and Korea.
Now at last, he will be in Paris in 2011.
Between tradition and modernity
Jon Eric Riis is an artist who expresses his interrogations and inspirations through the medium of tapestry. Extremely talented, he studied weaving in the prestigious art schools of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan before leaving on his first trip to India as a Fulbright scholar; other voyages would follow because the textile traditions of the world interested the young artist. By the 1960’s, Jon Eric Riis began his artistic career creating tapestries for private and public commissions and for exhibitions. Riis does his own cartoons and weaves everything by hand himself on a vertical loom (high warp). His is almost an obsessive implication in every step of the fabrication of his works. He utilises a cotton warp with often five threads per centimetre, and is very fond of mixing silk and metallic threads in his compositions. He uses very subtle gradations of color to sharpen his stunning images. He himself embellishes the works with embroideries of pearls, crystal or coral. The tapestry technique and certain sources of inspiration certainly link the work of Jon Eric Riis to an ancestral and universal textile tradition. But this artist uses decidedly unconventional iconography to approach contemporary themes in a very individual way that is completely new.
Works open to multiple interpretations, polemics and politics.
The works of this artist abound in references to myths, beliefs and ideals of past cultures. He creates a costume type, a sort of short coat with a slightly flaring body and long wide sleeves, not intended to wear. A central opening shows a glimpse of an eventual interior décor. The artist knows the importance of clothing in different cultures and in different periods. He plays with the displayed and hidden aspects of the coat, opposing the exterior and the interior, as he surprises us with the revelation of a hidden message, as for example in the provocative work «Freedom’s Price» – picture A. This coat shows camouflage outside and opens on an old fashioned sampler stitched with the words «Home Sweet Home» against a pool of blood which drips down to the hem of the coat. This important piece of 2005 is a stark denunciation of the entrance of the United States into the conflict in Iraq. Jon Eric Riis draws on his knowledge of Asia for the iconography of other striking works inspired by Tibet, Japan or China. In Asia, clothing may show one’s place in society or even one’s religion; a sort of wearable symbolic world, always conveying meaning.
The coat strewn with skulls and floating pairs of eyes, the «Pearl Skull Coat» 2007 – picture B, seems to be a disturbing vision of death. And yet, we have before us images from the iconography of tantric Buddhism of Tibet, a land fertile with inspiration for Jon Eric Riis. There, skulls, skeletons and body parts are not symbols of physical destruction, but rather metaphors for the destruction of the egoistical self, an essential step on the way to salvation. In this light, the truth of the image is recalling the possibility of the rebirth of the soul, a message of optimism. Perhaps that is why the skulls are woven of gold threads and gleam like treasures against a background of pearls in the spiraling clouds of a heavenly realm. These tapestries thus have deep roots in tradition, but challenge the modern sensibility to interpret them. The virtuosity of the technique and the rich embellishment surprise and stimulate the imagination. These tapestries propose new directions for this art form because they aim further than reproducing a neutral woven image. Jon Eric Riis uses ornamentation in provocative ways in works which grow from the questions he raises about issues at the heart of modern society. Weaving tapestry is an art of patience associated with the past, far from «quick art», but in the hands of Jon Eric Riis, it is an art of our time, and really, «on the edge». He is without doubt one of the artists exploring the new frontiers of tapestry.
Born in the United States in 1945
Formation in fine arts:
- 1967 : Bachelor of Fine Arts, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
- 1969 : Master of Fine Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
- 1970 : Fulbright Grant, Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan, India
- 1971 : Teaches art and technique of textiles at the University of Illinois.
- 1989 : One of founders of the Museum of Art and Design, Atlanta, Georgia.
Since 1969, Jon Eric Riis has been regularly awarded prizes and special mention for his participation in different textile manifestations.
17, quai Voltaire 75007 Paris
Information: Céline Letessier & Amélie-Margot Chevalier
Tel: +33 (0) 18.104.22.168.68
Galerie Myrna Myers
11, rue de Beaune 75007 Paris
Information: Myrna Myers
Tel: +33 (0) 22.214.171.124.08