Inspired to Stitch – Hannalie Taute


Inspired to Stitch, Exploring The Creative Journey with Olisa Corcoran

Venus devouring her children, 2014. Cotton thread, batting and rubber.
Venus devouring her children, 2014. Cotton thread, batting and rubber.

Hannalie Taute is an astonishing creative force. The South African artist depicts fairy tales in rubber and thread. She stitches unnerving self-portraits. She builds sculptured figures without faces.

Sleep or swim, 2016.  Mixed media, found objects, textile, cotton thread and rubber.
Sleep or swim, 2016. Mixed media, found objects, textile, cotton thread and rubber.

Taute has worked with rubber, which she sources from discarded inner tubes from local businesses, since 2011. The process is labor intensive. The tubes are sliced, washed, polished and then stitched into canvases. She then embroiders her imagery into the rubber by hand, without thimble or any studio assistants. Found objects (doilies, photographs) find their way into the pieces.

Who needs courage?  2014. Cotton thread, oil paint, found objects, wool, wood and rubber.
Langraat is raadop, 2014. Cotton thread, oil paint, found objects, wool, wood and rubber.

Her work with rubber is groundbreaking, but I’m equally in awe of her imagery. Her figures are raw, strong, pitiless. To me they perfectly embody 21st Century feminist strength. She poses her subject’s bodies in extreme positions, as if they are pushing against the rubber world around them. Her figures are the tormented and the tormentors at the same time.

Skull, 2016.
Skull, 2016.

What follows is a conversation we had over email, as Taute prepared for her most recent solo show, The Grimm Needle, which will open at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery in Pretoria on Sept. 22, 2016.

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She needs more practice, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.
She needs more practice, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.

I’m particularly interested in how the materials an artist employs influence her artwork. To me, the tension between rubber and embroidery creates a wonderful friction in your work. The softness of the thread contrasts with the toughness of the rubber and generates an unusual energy, especially in your faces. (For example, “Self-portrait After Maggie Laubser,” 2016.) Has the use of rubber influenced you choices about subject matter and composition? If so, how has it?

I do not believe that the use of rubber had any influence on my subject matter, or not consciously anyway. I think the medium has an influence on my technique though. Initially I made objects out of rubber (inner tubes) without any embroidery on it. Eventually when I started to embroider on the rubber, I had to go and get a book about embroidery since I’ve never done it before.

Self-portrait after Maggie Laubser, 2016. Cotton thread, batting and rubber.
Self-portrait after Maggie Laubser, 2016. Cotton thread, batting and rubber.

You might notice that my stitching is quite crude and that I use a thicker cotton, except in the Maggie Laubser piece you refer to. I received all those wonderful colours in lovely DCM embroidery floss from a friend as a gift, at the same time I was given the brief for the 100th anniversary of a very well-known Afrikaans magazine: Huisgenoot, and we had to revisit masters of South African art. I could re-interpret any Maggie Laubser piece, but decided to do her well known Self-portrait (1928), and try and do my face like she would do hers, by using the colours and posture she did with oil paint.

Father I killed my monkey, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.
Father I killed my monkey, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.

I wanted to challenge myself and see if I can ‘paint’ with thread.

Test-Tube, 2016. Mixed media, textile, cotton thread and rubber.
Test-Tube, 2016. Mixed media, textile, cotton thread and rubber.

Initially I also wanted to make my ‘canvas’ the same size as hers, but due to time limit, I used a tractor size inner tube and cut the whole ‘canvas’ from the one side in one piece, instead of cutting up the inner tube in smaller pieces and stitch those together to form a quilt-like canvas like I sometimes do. I framed it with a vintage frame, but painted ‘blue’ because Maggie was known as a ‘colourist’.

A Monumental Moment, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.
A Monumental Moment, 2015. Cotton thread and rubber.

Speaking of your subject matter, much of your imagery has a fairy tale, dream-like quality. The same female figure (she resembles you) reappears frequently, usually alone, in fraught circumstances. (For example, “In the days when Bertha spun,” 2015.) Who is this figure? Can you tell us the fairy tale or story behind one of stitched these scenes?

In the days when Bertha spun, 2015. Cotton and golden thread on rubber.
In the days when Bertha spun, 2015. Cotton and golden thread on rubber.

You are correct in your observations. I am mostly inspired by Fairy Tales, Myths, legends- I love stories and words. Some artists have models they work from. I use myself as reference. In the work “In the days when Bertha spun” was made during a time when my two boys were fascinated by spiders (we used to have two as ‘pets’). I also received a small book from a friend and in it was this beautiful image of a spiders web I saw lovely gold thread at a shop.

Who Needs Courage, 2014.
Who Needs Courage, 2014.

So While I was working on the piece I also stumbled upon the story of Bertha, who was a mythical figure known as special patroness of female industry. She is known in many different names, but in France when they refer to the golden age they say: In the days when Bertha spun. So I thought that the gold spider’s web fit in nicely with the reference to the golden age and myself as the industrious female climbing up this web that Bertha spun.

Rubber Dress, 2014.
Rubber Dress, 2014.

Your fantastic garments and costumes have the same energetic, provocative aesthetic as your sculptures and two-dimensional pieces. What role does performance art play in your creative life?

Thank you. I am flattered that you refer to it as ‘performance art’, when in effect I like dressing up, daydreaming about things to wear and I also ,since child-hood, like to play-pretend.

Photo by Anli Botha.
Photo by Anli Botha.

One can probably say that by thinking up ‘outfits’ made in the medium I employ in my artwork, I give myself the liberty and creative freedom to pretend that life and art is a two way mirror. When I was at art school, we got the advice to eat, sleep, everything art….and that is what I try to do.

Wat jy saai sal jy maai, 2015.  Mixed media, textile, cotton thread and rubber.
Wat jy saai sal jy maai, 2015. Mixed media, textile, cotton thread and rubber.

In terms of your process translating imagery into your art, how do you organize your projects/ideas? Do you keep a sketchbook, journal or clip file?

Yes, I have sketchbooks dating back to 1998 and revisit them from time to time. Currently I have a variety of ‘sketchbooks/journals: raging from A3 size, sketchbook in which I do my planning for a work, to smaller ones – from A5 where I write down thoughts, quotes and make lists.

Back to the future, 2014. Cotton thread, textile, and rubber.
Back to the future, 2014.
Cotton thread, textile, and rubber.
Your wish is my demand, 2016 . Photograph, cotton thread and rubber.
Your wish is my demand, 2016 . Photograph, cotton thread and rubber.

Finally, what are you currently working on or what new projects are you excited about in the near future?

My work will be included in a couple of group exhibitions until the end of the year. I have a solo exhibition: “The Grimm Needle” opening on the 22nd of September at Fried Contemporary, Pretoria, South Africa. I am also working towards a small solo show early next year- it will be my first international exhibition! More details to follow closer to the time.

Last but not least, I have entered for the Museum Rijswijk Textile Biennial 2017. Please hold thumbs!

Rubber, rubber on the wall, who is the toughest of them all? 2014. Cotton thread, batting and rubber, wood .
Rubber, rubber on the wall, who is the toughest of them all? 2014.
Cotton thread, batting and rubber, wood .

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It was a pleasure to interview Taute. Despite the fierceness of her imagery, she was so warm and kind with her responses. Afrikaans is her first language. I encourage you to watch this video interview to hear the voice and language she hears when she creates.

Portrait of Hannalie Taute, by Robert Hamblin.
Portrait of Hannalie Taute, by Robert Hamblin.

Spend a good long time on her fantastic website. And follow her on Instagram for ongoing insight into her wildly creative life.

Hannalie Taute is an awe-inspiring soul.


Olisa
Olisa Corcoran is a stitch artist and blogger living in Durham, NC. She speaks fluent Nuyorican and always keeps her dial turned to 11.
Olisa

@OlisaCorcoran

Stitch artist. Writer about contemporary embroidery. Feminist. Nuyorican.
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