Lilian Tyrrell’s 1992 exhibition, A New World Order, is comprised of a series of large-scale woven tapestries called “Disaster Blankets.” Tyrrell derives her subject matter from images of current events she finds in newspapers and magazines. She says of the Disaster Blanket series, “the familiar warm decorative qualities of the fabric are contradicted by the violent subject matter, which forms the content and message I hope the viewer will receive.” Tyrrell is intent on relaying allegorical messages warning about the dangers of war and the ravages of time misspent.
The Disaster Blankets
I started weaving this series of tapestries in 1986. In most ways they are a natural continuation of the storytelling imagery I had been using in previous works, mostly based on the Ohio landscape.
I had found myself increasingly interested in capturing the dramatic power nature displays in violent storms, forest fires and whirling tornadoes. Many of these drawings had also begun to include shadowy figures lurking behind objects in the landscape.
I was just completing a large commissioned landscape (Long Sky, 22 x 10 ft.), which had taken almost two years to weave, and I was certainly ready to create some quicker works with brighter colors than the greens, blues and greys I had been using so much.
By accident one day, I spent some time watching the controlled burning of a building by the local fire brigade. The bright flashes of flames contrasting with the dark silhouettes of still-standing beams, together with the firemen (often enveloped in swirling smoke and glowing embers), created an exciting image in my mind that eventually became the first Disaster Blanket, titled “Suspicious fire.”
As the series has developed, I have become more involved with the political content of these tapestries and most of my ideas now originate with images borrowed from newspapers or magazines. These images are usually so changed and combined during the process of developing the final “weavable” design that they are often unrecognizable.
Although I enjoy creating tapestries, it is a very slow, painstakingly drawn out process in which even the smaller work takes months to complete.
In order to keep my work fresh and my ideas and concepts growing, I find it useful to develop many drawings of possible tapestry designs. Most of these are never actually woven, but they provide a reasonably fast way of exploring my concerns, and sometimes I am quite surprised at the way directions become apparent and develop.
Although I really do want the work to be visually beautiful to look at, in the Disaster Blanket series, the familiar and warm decorative qualities of the fabric are contradicted by the violent subject matter, which forms the content and message I hope the viewer will receive.
–Lilian Tyrrell, 1992