SHIMMER The Contemporary Tapestries of Jon Eric Riis

Sumter County Gallery of Art Presents –

Shimmer: The Contemporary Tapestries of Jon Eric Riis


The Sumter County Gallery of Art is proud to present the contemporary tapestry works of Jon Eric Riis. Riis holds a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for his studies in India. Riis was also an original founder of the Museum of Design Atlanta.

 Executive Director, Karen Watson states that the gallery is excited to be presenting such a large and varied exhibition of Riis’s work. She says it began in 2009 when Jon Eric Riis’ work was featured in the exhibition Tradition/Innovation: American Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art that was at the Sumter County Gallery of Art in September of 2009. Riis was also a presenter for “Talking Threads: A Quilt & Fiber Arts Symposium” in conjunction with the Tradition/Innovation exhibition. Watson remembers Riis as being warm and gracious and enthusiastic about The Sumter County Gallery of Art and how well the exhibition and symposium had been organized and presented. The gallery immediately approached Jon Eric about a possible show and he was very receptive to the idea, Watson says.

 Considered by many to be the nation’s leading contemporary tapestry artist, Jon Eric Riis from Atlanta, Georgia has perhaps more than any other artist taken the ancient craft of hand-woven tapestry to the level of important contemporary fine art. Often imbuing his subject matter with highly critical social and cultural ideas, such as the Iraq war, Riis’ provocative art is as important for its content as it is for its stunning execution and unmatched technical prowess. The meticulous works are supremely crafted, astonishing in visual effect and profound in concept. Riis’s work is informed by his research into the historical textiles of Pre-Columbian Peru, Imperial China, and Russian ecclesiastical vestments. Many of the tapestries in the Sumter exhibition are in the form of a “universal coat,” or religious Buddhist vestments. This form offers many opportunities for reflection on the human condition. Riis states, “clothing is our “second skin”. A coat can be interpreted as a container for all of Humanity’s positive and negative attributes, protection, warmth and. I play with the hidden aspects of this, contrasting the exterior with the interior.” Watson sees the jacket as a “story board”, illustrating a narrative on the outside of the coat that, when opened reveals a startling conclusion – often addressing contemporary socio-political content within the hidden, equally detailed interior of each piece which is often at odds with the viewer’s expectations.

 Rebecca A.T. Stevens of The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. states: “Whether questioning race relations, religious obsession, folk tales, or cultural symbols, Riis uses myth and historical textiles to investigate contemporary issues of beauty and personal identity” and “uses these references to remind the viewer of the continuity of humankind’s struggles and accomplishments.” “His works are luxurious and intriguing, yet the subject matter is often unsettling and unexpected. He has certainly pushed traditional tapestry into the 21st century one thread at a time.”

The art of tapestry weaving was practiced by ancient peoples from Egypt to Peru. Tapestry weaving emerged in Europe as an important art form in the Middle Ages, when large tapestries served practical and aesthetic functions such as insulating hangings and moveable interior decorations. In Asia, tapestries were generally used for smaller accessories, functional objects and fine apparel. Riis’s work has been influenced by Russian ecclesiastical textiles, Russian icons and imperial court costumes from the Qing dynasty in China (1644-1911). In 2006 Riis had the opportunity to spend time in Eastern Tibet and many of the works in this exhibition reference this experience.

 Riis states: I try to link my work to the ancestral and universal textile tradition, using historical iconography to address contemporary themes. Much of my work abounds in references to myths, beliefs and the material culture of the past. I want my work to take on an aura of the sacred and ceremonial and above all the luxurious and sensual. I often embellish my tapestries with precious materials such as gold and silk thread, freshwater pearls, crystal, turquoise and coral beads. I attempt to push the tapestry genre, as I investigate issues of identity, life and the human condition. I am also interested in the notions of beauty using myths and historic textiles as points of departure.

 As a fiber artist, Jon Eric has exhibited his hand-woven tapestries throughout Europe and Asia. His tapestry work can be found in numerous private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Museum of Art and Design in New York, the High Museum, Atlanta and The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Museum of Art. Jon Eric Riis was recently selected as 2011 USA Windgate Fellow.

 This large solo exhibition by such a world renowned tapestry artist was made possible by a generous contribution from Jewish Charities of Sumter and the efforts of Mr. Robert Moses as well as additional support from Covenant Place, A & P Recycling Company and Susan James at Broadstone Manor and the efforts of the Sumter County Gallery of Art Board of Directors.   



Opening Reception, Thursday, February 16th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm

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