The articulation of opposites was an important conceptual aspect of Libby Kowalski’s weaving during this period. These pieces are a juxtaposition of delicate cotton and linen yarns woven into bold, highly designed images. Cloth and form intensify each other’s properties as images arise out of the black and white warps.
The woven structure of double cloth consists of two layers of fabric interlaced as one. Vertical warp yarns in white woven with horizontal white wefts in one layer, black on black yarns in the other layer. During the weaving process, each layer is brought to the surface by a meticulous hand manipulated process, creating the woven structure of the cloth at the same time as the imagery.
Detail of double cloth weaving
This body of work represents a confluence of remembered pattern shapes from Kowalski’s youth compounded with recollections of sharply defined highlights and shadows in urban architecture as well as her interest in Russian Constructivism with its flat planes and shapes. These works demonstrate a graphic imagery which oscillates between implied two and three-dimensional space overlapped with flat pattern, purposefully causing spatial conflict.
Libby’s process always started with the small drawings she created on what was then the latest technology – the MacPaint draw program on the Apple Macintosh 128K – thereby balancing the newest digital tools of the time with her personal visual exploration. A binary language of shapes pulled in and out of areas of tension and relief.
Drawing/printout from Macintosh computer
During this period, the garment district in NYC was showing very heavy laces, devores, and leno fabrics. Libby found their nearly three-dimensional characteristics fascinating. They were elegant though often oddly colored.
By then, Libby had a studio in Manhattan and was designing textiles for commercial purposes. She was intrigued as to how these fabrics were created, where their repeats were and how they might look, devoid of color, as the starting point for new work.
She asked, “I wonder what would happen, if…..?”
Detail of scoring in mixed-media painting
Libby received a grant, so she could explore these questions. She stretched the fabrics, spraying them with gesso, then gilding these odd laces and devore fabrics. She used their new identities as a base on which to create images, encapsulating various media between coats of varnish – sometimes up to fifteen or twenty layers.
The evolution from flexible textile to rigid painted plane in sculptural relief expanded her prospects to create new allover surfaces in numerous colorations. Her inspirations were the 17th century Baroque palaces she had visited in France a few years before. The sumptuousness of these places, layered with rich materials, intricate patterns and textures were the opposite of the sparse visual spaces of her earlier weavings.
KOVA Textiles was founded in 2004. As a design studio/manufacturer specializing in unique luxury window shading fabrics created from vinyl-coated polyester and polymer alloy yarns, Libby quickly discovered that mills sometimes produce damaged, unsaleable, fabrics.
Her current works draw attention to the repurposing of these flawed fabrics. She investigates various techniques as she explores the use of KOVA textiles’ unique qualities as art materials.
One physical aspect of the coated yarn led to experimentation with capillary motion. Liquid dyes will flow up the narrow spaces inside the vinyl coating. The resulting art works have the appearance of traditional ikat dye techniques with a contemporary twist – the dye is on the inside of the yarn rather than the outside.
Capillary action in the core of the yarn
The flexible yet firm quality of other KOVA fabrics also inspired sculptural forms that are untethered from the wall, allowing Libby to venture for the first time into the realm of fully three-dimensional works. She continues to seek new ways of repurposing these semi-rigid textiles.
Textile hand cut according to pattern shape