Chinese Cloud Ochre (2011)
Tapestry, 245 x 245 cms
Brita Been is an active artist in her native Norway and a respected member of prestigious associations. Her robust tapestries, that can also be used as carpets, are all based on her use of bold colour and repetitive pattern. While seemingly simple in their composition, her combination of both pattern and colour give her dynamic work a sense of movement and energy.
When did you first become interested in textiles?
I think it started at home. During my childhood I was knitting, sewing, embroidering and crocheting. Perhaps this interest of weaving started at my Grandmothers` loom, with traditional rag rug weaving and a glimpse of the threading technique mystery.
Where did you study?
My weaving education started at the Bergen Art and Design school in 1969, since then weaving has been the focus of all my professional work. This was followed by the National College of Art & Design, Bergen 1972 / 73, the National Teacher Training College for Craftsman, dept. shaft loom and tapestry, Oslo 1976 / 79 and Art history, Oslo University 2002
What is your textile career so far?
I taught weaving, form and colour for almost 20 years, weaving rag rugs and fabrics in the 70s and tapestries since 1983. There have been several exhibitions in Norway and abroad, several purchases and private and official commissions. I have been awarded different kinds of Scholarships and an Art Guaranteed Income from the Norwegian government since 1996. Now I work with varying project in my own studio in Porsgrunn.
I am a member of Norwegian Association of Textile Artists, Norwegian Association of Artists and Norwegian Association for Arts and Craft.
How do you describe your work?
In order to describe my own work, I refer to the following excerpt written by art historian and museum director Jorunn Haakestad in 2007:
“Brita Beens` woven textiles are within the (Bauhaus) tradition – both extending and renewing it. The composition of her work has its background in weavings` basic principal, grid construction. From this she constructs and composes patterns in a rhythmical way on the whole surface. The patterns have the mark of eternity, they are without beginning or end…………And it is the simplicity in complexity which is so characteristic of Beens` visual expression. Where the individual work explodes with inner energy and colour splendour, another in the series relieves and balances to unite the opposites. The total expression is both composure and energetic at the same time. The expression becomes motional and static. The textiles become new contemporary statements; and because the repetition is a bearing form element, they are both stabile and traditional.
Many threads from textile histories` treasure chest unite in Brita Beens` energetic contemporary art. Style and tradition cannot be separated from meaning. The handwoven work itself expresses the humane in an otherwise rational and anonymous world.”
My tapestries have also been characterised as straightforward, proud and strong, with a raw and colourful style, daring and dominating, as created for the open room.
How has your work evolved?
Early in the 1970s I worked mostly with a horizontal loom, weaving fabrics and rag rugs, then tapestries in the 1980s. Since then I´ve worked mostly with a vertical loom. In the beginning it was important for me to make tapestries for the floor. Now that is not so important, so my compositions are freer. I often work in series, and patterns have varied from the strong geometrical to the more gentle, organic forms. This depends on my basic idea from the start of the project.
I have never worked narratively or attempted to bind myself to the existing contemporary art discussion. But as one Norwegian art critic commentated: “But this is her strength.”
Another art critic wrote in 2014:
“SKYBRAGD / CHINESE CLOUD represents a clear break with her former work. The tapestries are now freer in pattern-formation. It has released a softer expression and a more complex way of forming pattern. Brita Beens tapestries have always built on a distinct sense of rhythmical repetition. But now the rhythm is free and patterns dance across the tapestries surface.”
Where do you find your inspiration?
My sources of inspiration are many. I see structures and patterns everywhere; in nature, in traditional folk art, art history, architecture, fabric design. My most recent series SKYBRAGD / CHINESE CLOUD was inspired by carved columns and surfaces in marble from China. I take a lot of photos when travelling.
The weaving process itself inspires me. When I am working on a tapestry the next design is in my head. So the joy of working, curiosity and energy are driving me forward.
What is it about pattern that you find so interesting?
Pattern is for me a constant source of inspiration and forms the basis for my compositions. Pattern means movement, repetition, rhythm and liveliness.
Patterns’ integral structure gives me the possibility to create and work within an expression I wish my textiles to have, and that suit my chosen technique and material.
Can you talk us through the process of designing a tapestry?
Mostly I start with photographs of patterns that have fascinated me. Then I concentrate on form, with one element or many, which I find interesting, I examine countless variations of sizes, structures, colour and form. This is what gives the numerous possibilities of expression in series. Disorder becomes an ordered system, the plane is composed and my own patterns emerge. I have always used the same weaving quality, so I seldom weave samples. And the composition / design is decided before I start weaving.
How do you structure your time?
I am quite structured in my way of working, so mostly I dye my yarn in the measured amount for each tapestry. Everything is planned and decided before I start weaving. When it comes to the colours I often dye samples, just to get the exact shade, enabled by using chemical dyes.
Is there a difference between your tapestries and carpets?
Said by an other textile artist:
“As an artist Been is comparatively rare in Norway. Her textiles are easily recognised, both in expression and function. They work well as tapestries, but are executed in such a solid technique, quality and composition, that they are also well suited as carpets. There are few weavers left in Norway that maintain this tradition, and such a demanding production.”
The difference will eventually be visible in the design. Some patterns are more difficult to walk on than others. I always use the same weaving quality which is very suitable for carpets. My work is reversible; the same on both sides, which make them more durable. Finishes are flat-woven with the ends threaded back in.
What prompted you to make scarves?
Geometry, stripes and squares are some of the shaft looms basic principles. Through many years of experience, both as a textile artist and as a teacher, I still have a passion for the twill diaper technique. This is mostly used in the weaving of large tablecloths in natural and bleached linen. With a large quantity of old ”Gloria” yarn (a fine, mercerized cotton yarn) and shiny rayon, I saw the opportunity to weave fine shawles in twill diaper technique, as a change from large, heavy tapestries.
Your studio looks idyllic. What is your ideal day?
My ideal day is to feel that I have been working with something important, whether it is weaving, preparing exhibitions or lectures, designing new works, designing catalogues or dyeing yarn; everything that is a part of being able to weave new tapestries. The paper work is not a favourite, but a necessary.
You have a very successful career can you give any advice to other textile artists.
Follow your own path and show what is important to you. Tell your own story.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The materials I use are natural; linen thread in the warp and wool thread in the weft. I want my textiles to have a rough, strong character, and therefore I use heavy, thick yarn qualities.
My works are woven on a traditional warp-weighted loom and in traditional Norwegian tapestry technique. The weft covers the warp completely, and the patterns form on the surface the way I have designed them. The technique and quality used are suitable for carpets also.