Home The Washington Diplomat May 2007 Austrian Dream Weaver

Austrian Dream Weaver


Franka Lechner’s Tapestries, Paintings Invite Meditation, Contemplation

French novelist Honoré de Balzac famously wrote: “What is art? Nature concentrated.” And for art lovers who care to see that principle applied, there’s a perfect opportunity waiting at the Austrian Embassy.

The current exhibit, “Franka Lechner: Tapestries and Works on Paper,” can transport viewers to an autumn afternoon, a scarlet summer day or a dark blue night. Austrian textile artist, painter and poet Franka Lechner is the curator for her own show, which covers the walls of the embassy’s huge ballroom-like space with color-drenched abstract works that invite viewers to meditate and contemplate. Lechner believes that abstract art has its own special language, and in the case of her tapestries and paintings it seems to be saying, “Slow down. Calm down. You are in nature.”

Lechner, who was born in Vienna in 1944, describes the art of weaving as an energetic, structured and structuring process in which “time plays a considerable role, not merely in the actual activity but in the artist’s awareness.”

“The slowness of weaving,” she said, “seems like an anachronism in our rapidly foreshortening times, but in my view, this choice also represents an opportunity to gain greater inner strength, which in turn generates more energy for work. The severe, rhythmic craft of weaving offers a focus that is meditative in character and also produces a similar effect.”

Lechner’s mother was an ethnologist who eventually became director of the Ethnology Museum in Vienna. As a child, Lechner visited the museum many times, developing a particular fascination with artifacts from Peru and other South American countries. That fascination is readily apparent in her work, particularly the tapestries, which appear as if they could’ve been created by indigenous peoples. It takes Lechner about two months to weave a two square-meter tapestry on a loom that is three meters wide. The vertical yarn in the tapestry is cotton, which is woven with wool. Yarns are specially spun and chemical dyes are specially mixed for her pieces. Every element of the tapestry “passes through my hands,” she explained in an interview during the exhibit’s opening night.

For the Austrian Embassy show, she has chosen predominantly red pieces and other works that feature pink, orange and purple. These powerful hues evoke an autumn mood as well as a feeling of passion and strength. Lechner observed that color is energy, and she wanted colors for the embassy exhibit to “harmonize,” noting that red, although energetic and potent, can also be very contemplative. Her only departure from so much warmth was to place in an extreme corner of the exhibit space a triptych of stunning dark blue paintings that evoke the serenity of an inky blue night. “To me it is very important that there is a balance of quietness, contemplation and energy,” she said.

Lechner was careful to explain that her tapestries are their own unique artistic creations and not an imitation of a painting—although each does begin with its own sketch. Indeed, if she weaves two tapestries from the same sketch, they might wind up looking very different from each other.

In addition to their meditative qualities, Lechner also believes her tapestries are musical. When asked to expand on that theme, she revealed that her life partner is Austrian composer and conductor H.K. Gruber, whom she met at one of her exhibitions. “It’s good when two different types of artists come together and respect each other,” said Lechner, who explained that the mixture of colors in the fibers of her tapestries reminds her of the mixture of tunes in the ear.

The mixed media pieces in the exhibit are equally as captivating as the tapestries. According to Lechner, each one begins with a collage and is then overworked with watercolor, pencil or acrylic. Much layering occurs and the creative process, like that for the tapestries, is a long one. These paintings also have the visual effect of being woven, complementing the tapestries.

In many of the mixed media pieces, Lechner used pages from a book written by her grandfather. She felt this ingredient added a “voyage of time” aspect to the paintings. Regrettably, Lechner didn’t retain copies of all the pages she used, but her grandfather’s writing has been preserved for posterity nonetheless—if only through beautiful collage.

Franka Lechner: Tapestries and Works on Paper through Sept. 21 Cultural Forum of the Austrian Embassy 3524 International Court, NW For more information, please call (202) 895-6714 or visit www.acfdc.org.

About the Author

Rachel Ray is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.