Cindy Sherman has become one of the world’s best-known contemporary artists. Since the late 70s she has been photographing herself in a range of guises and personas often inspired by TV, film, magazines and the internet, as well as pulling references from art history. Her characters are multidimensional and often manage to be both compelling and grotesque.
As photographer and model, Sherman also assumes every other role needed to create her images, including stylist, makeup artist, and hairdresser. The attention to detail is exact, and so it makes sense that her latest body of work, on show now at Sprüth Magers’ LA space, is just as involved. The difference this time though is that instead of constructing photographs, Sherman has been working with a new medium: tapestry.
In a show aptly titled Tapestries, this will be Sherman’s first non-photographic foray in over 40 years and sees her debuting a series of large tapestries for the first time in LA as a coherent body of work.
Though it’s a new medium, Sherman explores familiar ground, investigating the construction of identity and the nature of representation. Rather than creating new faces, the tapestries are based on images posted on Sherman’s personal Instagram account. The artist semi-regularly posts pictures of herself there that are heavily manipulated using filters and face-altering apps to create unnerving self-portraits.
While the low res nature of these Instagram pictures make them too poor to print, Sherman has embraced this aesthetic in her woven works. When transposed into textiles, they give off a pixelated texture from the “warps and wefts of the thread”, which is enhanced by the use of saturated colours.
The tapestries, of which nine are on show, were produced in Belgium, a nod to its long history of weaving and tapestry. The works are made of cotton, wool, acrylic and polyester, with each piece showcasing a different character in Sherman’s repertoire. In line with her photographic works, once again the artist’s appearance is completely altered. One tapestry depicts a character looking like an alien clown with pink hair, purple skin and fluttering eyelashes, while another is a blonde, bearded figure looking up to the sky, surrounded by a mountainous sunset.
The backgrounds of these works carry equal weight as the characters, with the digitally manipulated figures warped so much in places that they begin to merge into their surroundings. These vary from plain grey or white to elaborate, distorted landscapes which again have been created using Instagram effects. While Sherman’s photographic portraits are usually exaggerated, in this new body of work her characters are even more distorted, becoming almost ghoulish in appearance.
On a deeper level, by weaving digital tools such as Photoshop and Instagram filters with tapestry – a traditional medium often coded as female – Sherman is pulling from art history, as well as challenging contemporary gender and societal roles.