For more than six decades, Olga de Amaral has blurred the lines between fiber art and fine art, carefully coloring, knotting, collaging, and alchemizing threads and textiles into paintings, sculptures, and majestic installations that play with texture and light.
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1932, de Amaral studied architectural drafting at the Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca in her hometown before being introduced to fiber as a medium in 1954, when she apprenticed with Finnish-American designer and textile connoisseur Marianne Strengell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. Since then, de Amaral has developed an oeuvre considered among the most important examples of post-war Latin American abstraction. In 1973, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship; she participated in the 1986 Venice Biennale; and her works are in the permanent collections of institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Tate Collection in London. And now, at 90 years old, de Amaral’s creations are as current as ever.
In Bruma R (2014), one of the most show-stopping pieces in the Lisson Gallery exhibition, the artist uses acrylic, gesso, and cotton on wood to assemble delicate skeins of painted thread that hang vertically from a rectangular frame, creating a soft triangular prism containing a red and black geometric form that changes with the viewer’s perspective. Bruma T (2014) follows a similar dynamic structure, although it contains a mustard-colored circle with a black border that also shifts according to where spectators are standing.
A master of the loom, Amaral is certain she owes everything to the simplicity and infinite possibilities of thread. “Thread is like a pencil,” she says. “I am amazed by the process of coloring thread. Painting thread is so elemental, and yet without being able to do this, I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”