Drawing inspiration from the classics, illustrator Koen Taselaar creates modernised textile pieces that allow him to scale up his work. “Working with textiles is, for me, a very good way of scaling up my drawings, without losing the tactility of them,” he tells It’s Nice That. “My drawings have always been very dense and full of textures: every part of the paper had to be drawn on. This I can also do with textiles: working with patterns in patterns, because of the different bindings I can use.”
Koen’s work spans a variety of subjects, from illustrative and abstract personal projects to more literal commissions, his Bauhaus centenary piece for the Textile Museum in Tilburg being a notable example.
“Well, that is actually the first tapestry I’ve made," explains Koen. At that time, I was fascinated by the Tapis de Bayeux and thought it would be interesting to make a tapestry that tells the story of Bauhaus,” he recalls. “So I started researching, and looking for the smaller but very visual stories. I read somewhere that Walter Gropius was a big collector of cacti, and thought this would be a good way to show in the timeline when he was involved with the Bauhaus. Or the garlic diet that Johannes Itten prescribed in the first three years of Bauhaus: I imagined the garlic fumes going through the school and decided to weave that in the tapestry.”
For Koen, his previous work as an illustrator led to him approaching projects in a certain way, something that he has had to alter slightly to translate these works into textiles. “I come from a drawing background so I am very used to working with lines. When I started working on the tapestries I quickly discovered that I have to think more in colour blocks,” he explains. “So it is a bit like painting with textiles. I put different contrasting textures and colours next to each other to make up the image.”
Variety is also something Koen considers essential, and when looking at his portfolio it is clear that there are plenty of different aspects at play across his work. Largely this develops from the fact that “the visual language of each tapestry is quite different, I am very interested in experimenting and trying to come up with different visual combinations and subjects,” points out the illustrator. “I always try to force myself to make some on the spot choices regarding different yarns and colours when working on the tapestries. So there is an element of surprise in the final work.”
Koen’s path to where he is now, began at Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, initially in graphic design before he was “discarded” and switched to fine art. Since then he has been rather busy, working in a number of countries across a variety of media: “When I graduated, I travelled around a lot. Drawing was the perfect thing to do for me: I could do it everywhere, on the train, the kitchen table etc. After a while, I got very interested in how to ‘draw’ in different media,” he explains. “This started by making mostly Riso-printed artists books (I‘ve made ten so far, as well as working a lot with ceramics and, for the last year, textiles. I’ve also done several residencies, in Kolkata, Seoul and Jingdezhen.”
His shift towards focusing on textiles seems to be paying off, with an extremely busy calendar of projects to work on right now. “I am just finishing three new tapestries for a solo presentation at Art Rotterdam this month. Next to that, I am working on a new big tapestry together with the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Textile Museum.”
The medium is ultimately something he is embracing, and having gotten to know the historical importance given to tapestries he is appreciating its versatility. “I enjoy the practicality of working with textiles. As the title of the essay by Le Corbusier's Tapestries: Nomadic Murals suggests, it’s a very convenient medium to transport. Tapestries used to be carried around the country to show stories to the people,” he says. “Having worked with heavy ceramics I can really appreciate how practical textiles can be.”
Koen Taselaar: A Slightly Inaccurate But Nonetheless Lightly Entertaining Story About The Bauhaus
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.