Left wanting: Tamlin Blake’s paper tapestries

Angel in process: A detail of Tamlin Blake's An Angel Fragment. Photograph courtesy Tamlin Blake's blog:

Angel in process: A detail of Tamlin Blake’s An Angel Fragment, in the process of being woven. Photograph courtesy Tamlin Blake’s blog:

There’s a fine and lovely ringing and rumbling set up in the blending, piece by quintessential piece of colour and texture in Tamlin Blake’s latest body of experimental works on show at Circa in Rosebank. And while, according to the exhibition’s press release, there’s a conceptual resonance set up between this body of work and a series of medieval tapestries, the exhibition leaves you wanting more.

Blake is working with the curious idea of rendering tapestry with recycled paper, and the result is often sculptural, resonating with the subtleties evocable in bas-relief, but capable of holding so much depth and focus and colour and light, it can be delicious in its dizzying power.

The work An Angel Fragment is a glorious case in point, where Blake uses stitch styles like brush strokes in a manner which sucks you in, but also demonstrates that the success of works rendered in this curious technique – almost like drawings made with a typewriter or a sewing machine – relies heavily on two legs: the novelty of the technique must marry the compositional strength of the work for the whole experience to sing. This piece resonates with the base simplicity in children’s book illustration, but offers a vortex-like core, which keeps drawing your eye and your heart back to it.

This is not achieved completely in all 12 of Blake’s works, however, leaving the whole experience of visiting the show a little underwhelming. After you catch your breath in the presence of the first piece you encounter in this elegant oval gallery, Second Trumpet, which features the extraordinary face of a young girl staring you right in the eye, you move onto the next … and the next … and there you find an element of turgidity which forces the powerful image to be pinned under the weight of the heavy arabesques that operate as background. This negotiating between foreground and background, sometimes compromises the foreground or has both elements of a parallel tonality, cutting and losing contrast, in several of Blake’s pieces. It’s like a musical performance in which the singer’s voice is drowned by the orchestra.

And then there’s the matter of legibility. A series of works rendered on circular pieces of Perspex, suspended from the ceiling are interesting in concept, but not all are as successful in actuality: Sometimes the relationship between the front and the back of the piece bruise the clarity of the image, and sometimes too many clusters of pieces of similar colour muddy the works’ poetry; while beautiful lines and narratives are cast, they are not always resolved satisfyingly.

But it is Blake’s aspersion and aspirations to the medieval tradition of tapestry that gives this exhibition wings and speaks of its promise. The traditions of those tapestries translated into contemporary South African terms promise gestures of a monumental nature that dwarf the visitor in its sense of awe evoked and its size. That doesn’t happen here.

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