"Phase" essay by Valerie Kirk 2011
"Perfectionist" is not a Dirty Word - Tapestries and Works on Paper
Sept 30 - Oct 11, 1999 By K.T. Doyle
"Perfection" is a word that inspires the flawless state many of us desire to achieve, although its usage often reveals negative connotations. Being a perfectionist may refer to the successful attainment of perfection, or the kind of hypercritical zealousness that only leads to disillusionment. Either way, it is a place only visited by some, and even then only briefly.
In his recent exhibition of tapestries and works on paper, "Perfectionist" Is Not A Dirty Word , at Melbourne 's Chapel Gallery, Tim Gresham addresses the critical nature of this term. While the works are not subservient to a conceptual rationale investigating notions of the perfectionist, they are collectively linked through Gresham 's masterful approach to his practice.
As this 'mini-survey' contains work spanning the last five years, a progression in style and focus can be mapped. Gresham is not limited to one particular area of specialization, as he explores realism through commissioned tapestries, figuration through pencil drawings, and abstraction in small tapestries and pastel works on paper. However diverse his subject and style may be, all the works share several commonalties including their initial conception in drawing and photography and an extremely skillful execution.
The large tapestries are predominately commissions, which have been individually designed to meet client needs (a process which undoubtedly influenced Gresham during his time as weaver at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop). At a distance, these works exhibit strong and commanding design, but it is up close that the eye can relish in the exquisite attention to detail of a surface meticulously woven. It is Gresham 's intuitive colour sense and faultless weaving that allow his powerful imagery to be read so clearly. After all, the very nature of the tapestry medium should draw the viewer into the detail of the woven surface whilst simultaneously respecting the integrity of the entire picture plane.
The drawings reflect his sensitive hand and observing eye. They allow an immediacy of expression not found in the weaving process itself. While they are resolved and completed works in their own right, they offer to bridge Gresham 's diverse ways of working in realism and abstraction.
The most interesting selection of works focus on Gresham's more recent departure into abstraction. It is here that he 'perfectly' combines his aesthetic sensibilities with outstanding craftsmanship. By virtuous simplicity of approach and rigorous decision-making in a restricted yet complementary colour palette, Gresham breathes life into work that exhibits the same purity of intention as that found in minimalism. Based on his own photographic archive of images from both the city and the landscape, Gresham has stripped away the complexity of these recognisable locations to create places where the 'form' has precedence. Works such as, "Red" (tapestry) and "The Elusive Object of Desire" (conte on paper), are derived from photographs of London architecture with the emphasis on translating the image into form. His resourceful use of materials has not limited him. It is largely due to these self-imposed boundaries that he has created work resonant with light and vigour. So refreshing are these tapestries, they appear to have been arrived at in a moment of clarity rather than meticulously nurtured over time on the weaver's loom. It is the hand of the expert weaver that can inspire work with freshness, even if it takes many months to create.
One of the most breathtaking tapestries is "Cool Venus". Again, approached with a minimalist intent, Gresham uses only three colours in this larger scaled tapestry to define the smooth and sensuous curves of a female torso. The woven technique of hatching, used to create areas of light and shade, give this form shape, volume, depth and a presence of quiet beauty which can only be found in this sacred realm of simplicity. For it would seem possible to find perfection here in an approach that is simple, minimal and of pure intention... in the work of the 'perfectionist'.
Article from "Craft Culture", a Craft Victoria publication. 2003
A Melbourne weaver takes inspiration from photography
Redbox Studios, a large warehouse nestled in industrial Collingwood, is abuzz with activity. Downstairs fashion designers are preparing a summer range, a young sculptor is working on a large installation, the photographers are setting up for a shoot and the rejuvenated gallery space is being prepared for a new group exhibition. Upstairs a small cluster of artists are sitting around the communal table, drinking coffee and reading yesterdays papers, while others are beavering away in their spaces which are in various states of chaos and creativity.
It is in this unusual honeycomb of artistic endeavour that you will find Tim Gresham. In fact, you will find him here Monday through to Friday as he treats his creative practice as a full time job. A healthy habit he got into while working at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop where he met fellow weaver, sometime collaborator and fellow Redbox resident Robyn Mountcastle, who is in the opposite corner of the warehouse hard at work.
Unlike many of the spaces that surround him, Tim's studio is ordered and cosy (Tim assures me this organisation is just an illusion). His loom dominates the space, with works in progress sitting side by side, while the other wall is lined with scores of black and white photographs (Tim is also a self-taught professional photographer - what he calls his 'bread and butter'). Elegant and finely worked drawings from a past show lean against the wall and two chairs are generously provided, creating a sort of congenial conversation space.
For the last two years Tim has been consumed by the work for the Colin and Cecily Rigg Contemporary Design Award. After responding to an open letter and then invited to put in a detailed proposal, Tim's work was chosen to be among the thirteen finalists for the prestigious show. His three large tapestries now hang in the NGV: Australia at Federation Square. The experience has been a wholly rewarding one and places him (deservedly) amongst the top craftspeople on the textiles scene.
But now, all energy is focussed on Tim's upcoming show at Craft Victoria (March 2004). The new pieces are taking longer than Tim would like (he laughs and blames 'summer'). It can take up to a month to see a small tapestry through to completion. It's too slow for his liking and he chastises himself for moving at a snail's pace. It's impossible to see how he could go any faster, given the detail and refined finish of the work.
Watching Tim weave is mesmerising. He falls into the rhythm of what is happening around him. Across the hall a painter friend is stretching a canvas and the hammer instantly becomes his beat. Later, when a sculptor puts on a CD, the music helps his hand find a groove.
The connection between weaving and photography is not an obvious one until you see the two media side by side, which is Tim's intention for the new show. Stark black and white details of modernist urban structures, building underpasses, concrete facades, the curve of a car park ramp. Composition is all important, so Tim then sketches (still in black and white) to get the balance right. These geometric architectural forms are transferred and reinterpreted in the weaving. Abstracted, distilled and carefully considered, the viewer is left with the suggestion of an architectural form, not a picture perfect representation.
The colour is a much harder thing to explain and Tim's choices seem to be wholly intuitive. There is a steely blue-grey that has become his signature colour, and intense reds, yellows, purples that sit perfectly together. But there have been times that he has started a work on one corner not knowing what colours will appear in the other corner. He is totally unphased by this, trusting that if the composition is right, the colours will naturally occur to him.
Tim is now also experimenting with 'soft focus', both in his photographs and weaving - a kind of bleeding of the lines which gives the work a bewitching 'shimmer' and injects them with a new sense of movement and light.
There has also been a bit of a shift in the order of things. Sometimes the tapestry is now coming before the photographs, both mediums now inspiring the other. Tim is excited at the prospect of having both strands of his practice sitting side by side in the show and is interested to hear viewer's response to it. And of course by the time we see this all come together, he will be already concentrating on a new body of work and a new goal in mind. It will always be exciting and surprising to see where this artist goes next.
Ramona Barry is Administrative Officer at Craft Victoria
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