Art & Culture

Meet the artist turning sexual experiences into tapestries

The Brooklyn based creative you need to know...

Erin M. Riley’s tapestries depicting sexual experiences, flashes of confrontation or disaster and personal routine are unique in an age of on-demand intimate imagery. The hours of craft that Erin’s work demands provoke deeper scrutiny of the kind of images that have been normalised in a hyper-sexualised world and command the viewer to look beyond the surface of the image and its composition. Deeper consideration promotes the concept that the images we consume are not simply collections of bare skin, clothes, personal belongings or descriptions of events; they are actually documents of the human experience, however banal, contrived or casual.

In further contrast to readily available imagery, the tapestries focus largely on the female experience, offering a vital contrast to the worlds of television, news, film, porn and advertising that remain firmly entrenched in the tropes of the male gaze.

See a selection of Erin’s work and read her words below. Follow her on Instagram here.

Hey Erin, who are the characters in your tapestries? Do they represent anyone in your life or are they more universal than that?

When I first started sourcing my images from the internet I was finding characters who had a particular intimacy to their photographs, revealing their spaces, their bodies and having a raw character to them. They had an alluring quality, a soft confidence that was at once questioning and validating. I realized I was using them in place of my own body and finally made the leap to use my own and this has allowed me to see my characters as extensions of myself. Sexual beings who want might crave attention and validation but who also are solid in their body and so much more complex.

You depict a lot of sexual experiences in your work, do you feel those experiences are generally reflected well in art?

My art has always been an outlet for truth as I see it. I also in my personal life have always been pretty abrasive when it comes to standing up for and confronting my reality. Art is an outlet to express, my work is an ongoing exercise that will probably challenge me until I die, but I am working hard to reflect the thoughts and experiences that I have. As for art, in general, does it reflect my experiences of sexuality? Not typically.

You’ve spoken before about some of the images you choose to recreate being misinterpreted, what makes you select an image to weave?

Art is always being interpreted, we have no control over how people see the works because people come from incredibly diverse backgrounds. I am always sure about an image when I chose to weave it but considering the medium, translation can sometimes be flawed. I am often surprised by an interpretation because I am coming from a personal perspective when someone sees my work as violent, offensive, etc. I have to self reflect and analyze my intentions. Its a constant push-pull of confidence, self-evaluation and reaching out to have uncomfortable conversations with closed-minded or differently minded folks.

How do you feel applying a traditional craft alters the images you do choose?

Tapestry is unexpected, for me, it is an extension of my body, how I chose to make colour, line and form. Using tapestry to broach serious or complex issues allows the viewer to know that I commit. They are stuck wondering why I care so much about talking about masturbation or sexting, death, drugs, etc and subsequently why they have pushed that content to the backs of their minds or never thought about it at all.

Are there any other artists whose interpretation of the sexual experience you admire?

Yes! Hannah Hill is someone doing incredible work, Tamara Santibañez, Betty Tompkins, Shona McAndrew!

Follow Erin M. Riley on Instagram here.

29 October 2019