Miles of Thread and a Giant Needle Weave Indoor Rainbows

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, 2015. Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, courtesy Conduit Gallery. Photo by Ron Blunt

Imagine a rainbow that’s divorced from rain, water, or any kind of natural and uncontrollable events, a rainbow that will linger, flawless and unchanging, for however long you care to watch it. Gabriel Dawe makes these perfect rainbows reality.

The works in Dawe’s Plexus series use scores of miles of embroidery thread to build sculptural rainbows that from a distance can easily be mistaken for the real thing. You can currently see Plexus A1 at the Renwick Gallery as part of its exhibit Wonder. “I was immediately drawn to [Dawe’s] work, the ethereality of it, and the illusion that the material—cotton thread—is anything but that,” says Nicholas R. Bell, Curator-in-Charge at the Renwick. "In the long history of our relationship with textiles, how many creators have successfully changed the way we think about the very nature of the material?"

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, 2015. Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, courtesy Conduit Gallery. Photos by Ron Blunt

For Dawe, the creative process begins with an "intuitive dialogue with the space.” Each piece in the Plexus series is uniquely designed for the space that holds it. "An important aspect of the work consists of creating volume in space,” says Dawe. The columns in the Renwick Gallery presented unique challenges and opportunities. "The columns leave a long and narrow workable area, which made for a challenging space to work in. However, I think the effort really paid off in the end result,” he says.

The process involves that tool most associated with thread work: a needle. "Once I have an idea of what I want to do in a space, it’s just a matter of attaching hooks and stringing them on site, one thread at a time. I use a tool I’ve developed that works as a giant needle that takes the thread up and down. In a space like the Renwick, which is rather big, I also rely on a lift and helpers to be able to reach over such a big span of space,” says Dawe.

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus 29. Image courtesy the artist

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus 30. Image courtesy the artist

Other awe-inspiring works are also on view at the Renwick, including Patrick Dougherty's massive structures of woven sticks and Tara Donovan’s henge-like sculptures made of index cards and other ephemera. But what could capture the show's theme more perfectly than a rainbow?  "When I settled on the concept of “wonder” for the Renwick’s reopening exhibition, [Dawe] was one of the first people I thought of,” says Bell.  "His work floats around the very issues central to the exhibition—a celebration of the museum’s space, a challenge to your perception of what you’re seeing, and finally, an opportunity for exaltation. Who could say no?”

Gabriel Dawe installing Plexus 29. Image courtesy the artist and BYU Museum of Art

For more information on Gabriel Dawe's work, click here

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