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November/December 2003


Drawing with Horsehair

The artist. Photo: Ron Z˙lstra.

In every work by Dutch fiber artist Marian Bijlenga, many small and similar--but never identical--elements are stitched into a web of invisible nylon thread to create a harmonious whole. Whether a thousand small dots radiating out from a corner point or two hundred curved lines suggesting watery swirls, her work is characterized by repetitive, lacelike elements that float, touching neither each other nor the wall from which they are suspended. The result is serene, orderly, and contemplative work that beautifully expresses Bijlenga's vision of the natural world.

"I see my work as drawing," says Bijlenga. "I like patterns, and when you work with lines and dots, you see lines and dots everywhere." While her early work often alluded to alphabets and calligraphy, she now takes her inspiration from nature: white fungal dots on tree trunks, the curve of eucalyptus leaves, swirling water eddies. She also recently completed a series of portraits, a departure from her usual abstractions.

Many of her works convey three-dimensionality using a limited pallette of shapes and colors. All hang precisely one straight-pin's length from the wall and are never hung behind glass, in order to enhance their transparency and shadows, which she considers integral. Some recent works use two colors of dot--one being the "shadow color" of the other--as well as the wall shadows, to create additional depth.

Untitled (with detail),2000; dyed horsehair, coton; 57 by 57 inches. Courtesy of gallerymateria, Scottsdale, Ariz.

In the years following her graduation from the Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam, Bijlenga used glue-stiffened thread as her primary material. However, she found this technique wasn't strong or stable enough, so she began experimenting with horsehair. Using this method, she machine-stitches the hair into long cords or sews it between two layers of fabric to create round shapes. She then pins, traces, and sews the small elements to water-soluble fabric, which is finally washed away. This technique gives her the transparency and strength she requires.

Bijlenga's works range in size from diminutive one-foot-square pieces, which sell well in space-conscious Japan, to works more than eight feet in length, which American collectors favor. She prefers the latter, which allow her to "work longer on the piece and let it grow until it is the right size." Each work spends many months on her studio wall as she adds elements or reconfigures the composition.

At the end of each year, Bijlenga creates a small, spiral-bound album of her work, shows, and sources of inspiration during that year, as a personal record. These books show a great continuity of technique and theme over two decades, which has no doubt helped her entry into the world of highly collectible fiber artists. She has won many awards in recent years, including the Excellence Award at the 1999 International Textile Competition in Japan and the Biennale Prize at the Second International Tapestry Art Biennale 2002 in Beijing. Her work has earned praise from Jack Lenor Larsen, who wrote the introduction to her self-titled book in the Telos Art Publishing Portfolio series, and she recently had a solo show at Tecera Gallery in Palo Alto, California. gallerymateria of Scottsdale, Arizona, staged a solo exhibit of her work last November and will show her work at SOFA Chicago expo October 16-19.

--Christina Conklin

Christina Conklin is a textile artist and freelance writer currently living in Amsterdam.

This profile first appeared in:

Nov/Dec 2003

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