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Summer 2004

Lialia Kuchma: Tapestries

Above left: Luke, 2000; 96" x 96". Above right: Matthew, 2001; 119" x 48". All works are tapestries woven of wool and cotton. Photos by the author.

The Chicago Cultural Center is a major art destination in Chicago's downtown Loop area. Since its conversion from public library to city-sponsored cultural center in 1973, it has included many significant fiber art exhibits in its calendar of events. Lialia Kuchma: Tapestries, on exhibit November 22-January 25, continued that tradition.

The twelve tapestries in the show represent Kuchma's work from 1992 through 2003. Most of the pieces are large; they divide into two basic styles, one full of complex abstract images and textures and the other highly geometric with bold, unblended colors.

Luke and Matthew, displayed alone on one wall of the gallery, are two very large, oddly shaped tapestries that together form a meditation on the Annunciation. Despite its intense yellow background Kuchma considers this work a quiet piece, one that reflects on a particular and momentous event in a young woman's life. The overall shape, which could be interpreted as a house or church, creates an architectural structure for all that is happening to the Virgin Mary physically and spiritually. Luke shows the Holy Spirit descending to Earth from above. Matthew reads from the top down, beginning with a roiling depiction of the dark universe from which the mystery of the Annunciation and virgin birth originates. Kuchma says that she prefers large-scale work that allows the viewer to be engulfed. In this work, once a viewer is acclimated to the irregularity of the shapes and the intensity of the color, the power of the meditation begins to be experienced.

Fruit, 2002: 70" x 86".

Fruit is another large piece that directly reveals Kuchma's past as printmaker, calligrapher, and painter. The bold, black line of the fruit stands in sharp contrast to the painterly background. Kuchma comments that the edges of woven black yarn lines remind her of the fuzziness and richness of etched lines. The deeply shaded background develops from her technique of using multiple strands of fine wool in each weft butterfly. Multiple-strand butterflies, which are small skeins of yarn wrapped around the thumb and little finger, are the weaver's equivalent of the painter's palette, allowing for a subtle mixing of colors in the tapestry.

Top: #135, Red, 2003; 42" x 49". Middle: #124, Yellow, 2002; 42" x 42". Bottom: #122, 2002; 44" x 44".

Three nearly square pieces displayed one above the other show the other side of her work. The first (the bottom piece) was done as a respite from one of her complex shaded pieces. It is basically a color exercise, with colors and shapes altered within each of nine squares. The piece in the middle is still gridlike yet contains more movement. The top piece has a much more restless geometry. In these geometric pieces, Kuchma prefers unblended colors, or, as she says, "delicious colors used in an abstract way."

Kuchma was born in the Ukraine and lives in Chicago's Ukrainian Village neighborhood. Although she does not credit her heritage as a specific influence in her work, she does cite two factors-her mother's traditional embroidery using woven fabrics and bright colored threads, and the stained glass windows and rich iconography of the Ukrainian church that she has spent many hours viewing-as possible unconscious forces behind her compelling tapestries. Kuchma holds a B.F.A. from the University of Illinois, studied printmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and has worked in both painting and photography. She began weaving tapestries in 1975.

-David L. Johnson
David L. Johnson is a tapestry weaver who also does mixed-media beadwork. He lives in Chicago.

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Summer 2004



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