Tranquility (2020) is a wool tapestry by artist and sculptor Catharina van de Ven. Working in collaboration with Karen Zeedijk who tufted the work at the renowned TextielLab in Tilburg, Netherlands, this ‘simple’ design—a circle within a circle within a bordered square field—recalls a quote by poet Charles Bukowski. ‘An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.’ Tranquility is a complex concept expressed with ‘simple’ geometric shapes and realised using a seemingly ‘simple’ technique—gun tufting.
‘The dome is a shape that triggers me all the time,’ says van de Ven. Tranquility is mesmeric. Its shapes and varied pile height (the inner circle is a low profile dome that rises above the single uniform pile height of the surrounding fields) are transformed into a mesmerising viewer experience through colour and technique. Van de Ven’s colour choices for Tranquility express chromostereopsis—the optical illusion of perceived depth created through colour choice. A visual sleight of hand, chromostereopsis is usually expressed in pairs of red-blue or red-green, but it is also highly effective in red-grey colour configurations as van de Ven chose for Tranquility. The tapestry’s central dome has an almost vibrational luminosity.
Referring again to Bukowski, the art of making something look simple isn’t easy. Van de Ven says tufting becomes sculptural when ‘you vary the pile height’. Trained as a fashion designer before she turned to sculpting, van de Ven has always been drawn to textiles. She describes tufting as ‘a difficult technique’ that requires ‘many years’ for proficiency which is why she prefers to collaborate with an expert. ‘Karen and I are a good team,’ she says, and together ‘we had to figure out how to make a perfect woollen dome.’ A recurring motif in her work, domes are an appreciably ‘female’ shape that express van de Ven’s ‘feminist approach’ and ‘female identity’.
Tranquility’s central dome required an alternative tufting technique. The inner circle is a low profile dome (visible only in profile) and was achieved with graduated fibre lengths. A pneumatic tufting gun ‘shoots’ short yarn fibres into a stretched textile base. Karen Zeedijk—the tufter—explains. ‘To hand tuft a perfect dome the amount of yarn should be evenly distributed. If you tuft in circles you can control that.’
Tranquility’s central dome was tufted concentrically using a series of gun needles whose length corresponded with shorter pile heights on the perimeter and longer pile heights as the centre of the circle—4.5 cm in height—was reached. The outer circle that encloses the dome was tufted in vertical lines of low pile, a choice that enhances and contrasts with the dome and adds considerably to the tapestry’s meditative and tranquil qualities.
Tranquility is a new project. ‘I have more works in this new series, but only [this] tapestry,’ says van de Ven. ‘I don’t know yet what will follow and how the series will evolve. The dome, however, is a shape that triggers me all the time. So who knows?’
Tranquility is currently on view at Priveekollektie Contemporary Art | Design, Heusden, Netherlands