Erin M. Riley is the tapestry and textile artist who sources contemporary imagery from the Internet to explore the millennial fascination for young women of the “selfie.” Instead of taking inspirations from images of pastoral landscapes and decorative designs she uses this traditional technique in a new innovative way representing the culture of today. From May 7, 2015 to June 6, 2015 Joshua Liner Gallery presents Darkness Lies Ahead, a solo exhibition of new hand-woven tapestries by the Brooklyn-based artist. This will be the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery and will display the largest work from the artist to date, with tapestries over eight feet wide.
Born in 1985 in Massachusetts Riley received her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2007 and her MFA from Tyler School of Art in 2009. The artist mainly weaves imagery collected from the Internet, and more recently photographs she has taken of herself using hand-dyed wool on a floor loom. Her work is based on social media images as well as factual experiences that focus on objects and short lived moments. Riley’s work offers a visual dialogue that aims to reconsider the values of a contemporary women, their social circles and their attitudes towards sex and sexuality through intimate glimpses into their lives.
Early on in her career, Riley received criticism that her work is purely voyeuristic and misogynistic. In an attempt to change people’s perceptions she started to investigate her own self-portraits. Riley contacted old boyfriends for photographs she’d sent them while they were together and gradually accumulated a supply of imagery of her own body to explore. “In a way, I was allowing a woman’s vulnerable moments to stand in for mine so I finally decided to use my body as well… it proved that I was committed and that I was just like these girls,” explains Riley.
“I grew up on the Internet, so for me nudity is very normal… I stumbled upon a Twitter account that was nothing but images of a girl in her underwear in the bathroom mirror. I was fascinated by the way my generation was searching to connect and remind each other that we exist moment by moment.” Says Riley about her most recent work. This series depicts young women in a brief instant capturing an image of their mirrored body with an iPhone. The selfie discloses a fraction of the woman’s identity and serves as a reminder of the human need to exist and connect. “So much of our interactions as young people are spent online. The selfie for me was a reminder that we are flesh.” Says Riley.
Juxtaposed with these intimate nude pieces, Riley explores scenes of car accidents and highways with off-road veering skid marks collectively known as The History Pieces. “These works explore the residue of trauma, the scars that we all have from death, life, and the moments in between.” Says Riley. History 33 reveals a brightly lit road, the darkness of the night ahead, Swerving tire marks abruptly interrupt the center of the image, metaphorically signifying the bumps and bruises of life, relationships, and the trauma that accompanies it. “I am attracted to the skid marks particularly because they are temporary, eventually disappearing for me, so much of my interactions with men have been turning points, either adding or taking away from my well being.” Says Riley.
Using a Macomber floor loom, the time spent weaving each piece can take between forty and eighty hours, depending on size. The laborious, time-consuming process of weaving allows a chance for meditation and contemplation. The artist reflects on this time as a sort of liberation.
The yarn for Riley’s work is sourced from various discontinued mills around the country. Before a single thread is woven, the artist will wash, strip, and hand dye every string herself. Riley avoids examining her work until its completion, moving directly to the next piece. This prevents her from focusing on mistakes and the subsequent disappointment. “Working every single day on a piece, you only see the things you wish you could change. It’s nice to be able to step back and just see it for what it is.” The very nature of the medium used makes it nearly impossible to unravel. This could also be seen as a metaphor for much of life’s regret.