Tag: Eduardo Portillo

Process Notes (Part I): Eduardo Portillo and Maria Dávila

This week’s Process Notes offers an intimate view of María Dávila’s and Eduardo Portillo’s artistic approach. In this post, the artists, based in Venezuela, share the wide-ranging journeys they have taken to India, China, and throughout Venezuela to advance their artistic practice and technique. They also give us insight into the ecological and cosmic preoccupations that inspire their work. They first presented these remarks to the 20th European Textile Network Conference, Codes: stories in textiles in February 2023 Lodz, Poland.

María Dávila's and Eduardo Portillo family
María Dávila’s and Eduardo Portillo’s family in the mountains, 2014.

“We live and work as a duo in Mérida, Venezuelan Andes.

We believe that our work purpose is to find and develop ideas from the perspective of textiles. When we find an idea and intend to relate it with textiles our main task is to understand the essence and the implications that gravitate around it, we start from the acknowledgment and admiration of peoples and places where the materials and processes that we use are born.

Our first textile idea was to produce silk in Venezuela, to understand the world of silk we went to study for a long time in China and then in India, upon our return we established a mulberry plantation and created the facilities to produce silk on a vertical integrated model in Mérida. After many years we found the textile fibers from Venezuela and this experience led us to travel our own country, to question our vision of life and to find a new purpose in weaving. At the same time, the fascination for natural dyes and especially for the blue of indigo led us to fantastic places of production of this color in Thailand, India and China, afterwards working with metals and textiles opened up a new three-dimensional world for us.

indigo experimentation
María Dávila experimenting with indigo

We are immersed in the search and discovery of an imagined Cosmos in the Southern towns of Mérida. The transversal axis of all these projects is the journey, the traveler’s surprise at what has never seen before and the acknowledgment of ourselves in the other. The result of all these searches is an accumulation of experiences and thoughts that we intend to materialize in textiles.

A brief of our textile journey
Venezuela is a country located in the north of South America that is overlooking the Caribbean Sea and it is also part of the Andes mountain range.

After many years of work and moved by the results observed with silk, we participated in various experiences in Europe, Asia and North Africa, we worked with social development projects with the Italian cooperation for the Andean countries and we dedicated ourselves to weave a world around silk. However, something was missing, probably the connection with our own country, so we started to travel around Venezuela.

On a trip to the Orinoco river we were inspired by Yekuana’s basketry, great weavers from this region, we developed a body of works that pay homage to the Yekuana cosmology, we talked about the turtle back, the monkey, the bat, the jaguar´s face, the rain and the stars. This work was shown at the exhibition From Silk to Venezuelan Fibers but again, something was missing, without knowing it, we were in search of our own identity.

indigo detail
María Dávila’s and Eduardo Portillo Atardecer (sunset) detail. Photo by Tom Grotta

In a second journey to the Orinoco´s Delta, a new world was opened for us when we understood that after traveling so far through many countries in search of silk, we had not seen what was nearby, what was evident, what is sometimes there which we don’t see, and so we found the Venezuela textile fibers.

Venezuela’s vegetable fibers come from vines, palms, agaves, bromeliads, shrubs and tree barks. They are little known to most Venezuelans but have a great importance to the communities that process them due to the immediacy of their use and their cultural and economic value. They use them for basketries, ropes, hammocks, roofs, ritual objects and many other purposes. Most of these fibers are collected, few are cultivated, each one contains specific information about its origin and the culture of the people who transform them.

indigo tapestries
María Dávila’s and Eduardo Portillo’s Amanecer (sunrise) and Atardecer (sunset) tapestries. Photo by Tom Grotta

We found not only materials that would allow us to broaden the spectrum of our textile ideas, we also found a diversity of people, customs and ways of life that we didn’t think would exist. We were amazed by so much cultural richness. It made us reflect on such an abundance of natural resources. Once we came back in the studio we experimented with them, we tried to understand their textile qualities and to find a way to fuse them with other fibers as silk, wool, linen and cotton, trying to preserve the characteristics of each one and allow their differences — this has helped us to merge the most traditional processes with contemporary textiles.

At the same time, we worked with natural dyes and devoted a special time to the indigo culture. We were looking for blue in our landscape and realized that we can only find it in the sky since we live in the mountains. We decided to merge all our previous projects, the silk, the vegetable fibers, the natural dyes and we created a mosaic of different layers of experiences for a body of works called Azul Indigo that was exhibited in 2012.

We recreated the hours of the day, the sunrise, the noon, the sunset and the night, the night’s shadows, at dawn and others times in which we explored our interest in the blue color depending on the intensity of light according with the hour of the day.”

In two weeks, we’ll share Part II, including the artists’ experiments in bronze and their continuing search for ways to illustrate the imagined Cosmos.

Fiber Art Up and Comers

Paniers-liens III, Séphanie Jacques
carved wood (ash), white willow, hemp rope, red, wool, 21.25” to 43.25” x 15.5” x 17.75”,2011.
Paniers-liens II, Stéphanie Jacques
carved wood (ash), white willow, hemp, rope, red wool, 22” x 17.25” x 17.25”, 2011

Earlier this year, we compared Artsy‘s list of fiber art pioneers and ours (see also Craft in America’s Pioneering Women in Craft). In the years since contemporary fiber first gained international attention, a group of younger artists have continued to experiment. Numerous artists from a decade or two or three later are identified as continuing innovations in this field, including Rosemary Troeckel, Lesley Dill, and Ernesto Neto and more recently, Sophie Narrett and Orly Cogan.

Of the artists that work with browngrotta arts, we’d point to five who continue to redefine the practice. Stéphanie Jacques of Belgium, combines clay, wood, photography, knitting and basketmaking to create works that reveal what is unseen.

Macramé Black Shell n.1, Federica Luzzi, cotton cord, wax, graphite, 13” x 12” x 6.5”, 2008

Federica Luzzi of Italy, uses fiber to illustrate natural phenomena. Her current series of elegant macramés were born of conversations with researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Frascati, Italy about concepts of dark matter, antimatter, nuclear, subnuclear physics and the particle accelerator.

Transición, Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila, alpaca; metallic yarns and silver leaf; moriche palm fiber, silk, 56" x 24.25”, 2018

Transición, Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila, alpaca; metallic yarns and silver leaf; moriche palm fiber, silk, 56″ x 24.25”, 2018

Eduardo Portillo and Maria Dávila from Venezuela take an experimental approach to all aspects of their work — sourcing, technique and materials. The artists spent several years in China and India studying sericulture, or silk farming, and since then their research has taken them worldwide. In Venezuela they established the entire process of silk manufacture: growing mulberry trees on the slopes of the Andes, rearing silkworms, obtaining threads from other locally sourced fibers, coloring them all with natural dyes and designing and weaving innovative textiles. This works include woven “mosaics” from their Indigo series. More recently, the couple has been incorporating copper and bronze into their work, using textiles as inspiration for works that are cast in bronze. The couple was awarded with a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in 2017. Sue Lawty from the UK, has used her prodigious weaving skills to weave lead, and for the last few years, has created assemblages comprised of literally thousands of tiny stones, a pixilated ‘cloth’ of sorts.

Still Crazy…30 Years: The Catalog

Still Crazy...30 Years: The Catalog Cover Naoko Serino and Mary Yagi

Still Crazy…30 Years: The Catalog

It’s big! It’s beautiful (if we do say so ourselves –and we do)! The catalog for our 30th anniversary is now available on our new shopping cart. The catalog — our 46th volume — contains 196 pages (plus the cover), 186 color photographs of work by 83 artists, artist statements, biographies, details and installation shots.

Still Crazy...30 Years: The Catalog

Naoko Serino Spread

Still Crazy...30 Years: The Catalog

Michael Radyk Spread

Still Crazy...30 Years: The Catalog

Lilla Kulka Spread

Still Crazy...30 Years: The Catalog

Jo Barker Spread

The essay, is by Janet Koplos, a longtime editor at Art in America magazine, a contributing editor to Fiberarts, and a guest editor of American Craft. She is the author of Contemporary Japanese Sculpture (Abbeville, 1990) and co-author of Makers: A History of American Studio Craft (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). We have included a few sample spreads here. Each includes a full-page image of a work, a detail shot and an artist’s statement. There is additional artists’ biographical information in the back of the book. Still Crazy After All These Years…30 years in art can be purchased at www.browngrotta.com http://store.browngrotta.
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Influence and Evolution: The Catalog is Now Available

Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture...then and now catalog cover artwork by Federica Luzzi

Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now
catalog cover artwork by Federica Luzzi

Our Spring exhibition Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now explored the impact of artists – Sheila Hicks, Ritzi Jacobi, Lenore Tawney, Ed Rossbach and others – who took textiles off the wall in the 60s and 70s to create three-dimensional fiber sculpture. In Influence and Evolution, we paired early works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Lia Cook, Kay Sekimachi and Françoise Grossen — artists who rebelled against tapestry tradition — with works from a later generation of artists, all born in 1960 or after. Fiber sculpture continues to evolve through this second group of artists, including María Eugenia Dávila and Eduardo Portillo of Venezuela,

Influencers Title page  Influence and Evolution catalog

Influencers Title page Influence and Evolution catalog

Stéphanie Jacques of Belgium, Naoko Serino of Japan and Anda Klancic of Slovenia. In our 160-page color exhibition catalog, Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now, you can see the works in the exhibition. Each artist is represented by at least two works; images of details are included so that readers can experience the works fully. The catalog also includes an insightful essay, Bundling Time and Avant-garde Threadwork by Ezra Shales, PhD, Associate Professor, History of Art Department, Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. Influence and EvolutionShales write in his essay, “poses rich comparisons and asks the mind to sustain historical linkages. We feel the uneven texture of time, luring us into a multiplicity of artistic pasts and an open road of varied fibrous futures. An emphasis on plural possibilities makes this exhibition quite distinct from a tidy biblical story of genesis or masters and apprentices. We witness multiple intra-generational passing of batons as well as many artists changing horses midstream, as well they often do.” The three works in Influence and Evolution by Adela Akers that traverse five decades provide a fascinating view of the artistic progression Shales refers to. The curvilinear, draped forms of Summer and Winter 

Influence and Evolution, Adela Akers spread

(1977; restored 2014), he notes, resemble “both a ruffle and a row of ancient mourners.” Midnight, from 1988, by contrast, is hard-edged, “a monumental window into an alternative architectural space.” And Akers recent work, Silver Waves, completed in 2014, is “an intimate surface with linear imagery” whose horsehair bristles “almost invite a caress if they did not seem to be a defensive adaptation.” Juxtapose Silver Waves with American Michael Radyk’s Swan Point (2013) and and Dutch artist, Marianne Kemp’s Red Fody (2013) that also features horsehair,  and catalog readers are likely to understand  Shales’ query: should we categorize woven forms as a logical temporal narrative or inevitable sequence of linked inquiries? Shales is a guest curator of Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft and Design, Midcentury and

Influence and Evolution, Sheila Hicks spread

Influence and Evolution, Sheila Hicks spread

Today currently at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York which features more than 100 works, by a core cadre of women—including Ruth Asawa, Sheila Hicks, Karen Karnes, Dorothy Liebes, Toshiko Takaezu, Lenore Tawney, and Eva Zeisel—who had impact and influence as designers, artists and teachers, using materials in innovative ways. To order a copy of Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and nowour 43rd catalog, visit browngrotta.com.


Influence and Evolution, Stéphanie Jacques spread