Lialia Kuchma: Tapestries
Above left: Luke, 2000; 96" x 96".
Above right: Matthew, 2001; 119" x 48".
All works are tapestries woven of wool and cotton. Photos
by the author.
The Chicago Cultural Center is a major art
destination in Chicago's downtown Loop area. Since its conversion
from public library to city-sponsored cultural center in 1973,
it has included many significant fiber art exhibits in its
calendar of events. Lialia Kuchma: Tapestries, on exhibit
November 22-January 25, continued that tradition.
The twelve tapestries in the show represent Kuchma's work
from 1992 through 2003. Most of the pieces are large; they
divide into two basic styles, one full of complex abstract
images and textures and the other highly geometric with bold,
Luke and Matthew, displayed alone on one wall of the
gallery, are two very large, oddly shaped tapestries that
together form a meditation on the Annunciation. Despite its
intense yellow background Kuchma considers this work a quiet
piece, one that reflects on a particular and momentous event
in a young woman's life. The overall shape, which could be
interpreted as a house or church, creates an architectural
structure for all that is happening to the Virgin Mary physically
and spiritually. Luke shows the Holy Spirit descending
to Earth from above. Matthew reads from the top down,
beginning with a roiling depiction of the dark universe from
which the mystery of the Annunciation and virgin birth originates.
Kuchma says that she prefers large-scale work that allows
the viewer to be engulfed. In this work, once a viewer is
acclimated to the irregularity of the shapes and the intensity
of the color, the power of the meditation begins to be experienced.
Fruit, 2002: 70" x 86".
Fruit is another large piece that directly reveals
Kuchma's past as printmaker, calligrapher, and painter. The
bold, black line of the fruit stands in sharp contrast to
the painterly background. Kuchma comments that the edges of
woven black yarn lines remind her of the fuzziness and richness
of etched lines. The deeply shaded background develops from
her technique of using multiple strands of fine wool in each
weft butterfly. Multiple-strand butterflies, which are small
skeins of yarn wrapped around the thumb and little finger,
are the weaver's equivalent of the painter's palette, allowing
for a subtle mixing of colors in the tapestry.
Top: #135, Red, 2003; 42" x 49". Middle:
#124, Yellow, 2002; 42" x 42". Bottom: #122,
2002; 44" x 44".
Three nearly square pieces displayed one above the other
show the other side of her work. The first (the bottom piece)
was done as a respite from one of her complex shaded pieces.
It is basically a color exercise, with colors and shapes altered
within each of nine squares. The piece in the middle is still
gridlike yet contains more movement. The top piece has a much
more restless geometry. In these geometric pieces, Kuchma
prefers unblended colors, or, as she says, "delicious
colors used in an abstract way."
Kuchma was born in the Ukraine and lives in Chicago's Ukrainian
Village neighborhood. Although she does not credit her heritage
as a specific influence in her work, she does cite two factors-her
mother's traditional embroidery using woven fabrics and bright
colored threads, and the stained glass windows and rich iconography
of the Ukrainian church that she has spent many hours viewing-as
possible unconscious forces behind her compelling tapestries.
Kuchma holds a B.F.A. from the University of Illinois, studied
printmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,
and has worked in both painting and photography. She began
weaving tapestries in 1975.
-David L. Johnson
David L. Johnson is a tapestry weaver who also does mixed-media
beadwork. He lives in Chicago.