Renwart 1

Thomas Renwart

July 1, 2021

The flow­ers into tex­tiles came some­where out of a naive child­ish roman­tic mem­o­ry,” Ren­wart says. He recalls sewing bags of dried laven­der picked from his par­ents’ gar­den in Ghent, Bel­gium, when he was 12. His grand­moth­er taught him how to cross stitch around the same time. His ear­ly child­hood inter­ests car­ried into adult­hood, lead­ing him to get his master’s in tex­tiles at LUCA School of Arts.

Since grad­u­at­ing in 2019, he’s secured gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion and mul­ti­ple solo and group shows, tap­ping into a renais­sance in tapes­try design. Now 25 years old and work­ing under the alias Les Mon­seigneurs, he har­vests flow­ers from his own gar­den and picks wild flow­ers —espe­cial­ly poi­so­nous ones — from local forests. I like tox­ic flow­ers in a way,” he says, because beau­ty is toxic.”

Start­ing in the medieval era, Euro­pean tapes­tries, made from heavy wool, were used to keep drafty cas­tles warm. Handweavers employed silks to cre­ate art­ful effects such as high­lights or lumi­nos­i­ty, con­trast­ing the dark­ly col­ored wool threads. Today, light­weight tapes­tries have under­gone a resur­gence as easy-to-install alter­na­tives to framed art. Renwart’s pieces strad­dle the old and new tapes­try forms: in keep­ing with tra­di­tion, he explores a motif across a set of tapes­tries designed for spe­cif­ic sites. But he’s evolved his approach to include unex­pect­ed nat­ur­al mate­ri­als, includ­ing linen, rub­ber, and paper, which he com­bines on jacquard looms before enlist­ing local tex­tile mills to make the fin­ished pieces.

It’s always a play with yes­ter­day and today, the past and the present,” Ren­wart says of his col­lab­o­ra­tion with tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ers. I always want to chal­lenge weav­ing mills, but they’ll also chal­lenge me because they have their machines, and I have to adapt my weaves to their machines — and then the oth­er way around. Every­body learns in a way. That’s what I think is one of the most beau­ti­ful things about tex­tiles — it’s an open school. Every­body is always learn­ing and adapt­ing. New mate­ri­als, new meth­ods, new sto­ries come up, and I think you’re nev­er fin­ished learning.” 

By work­ing with local mills, he also hopes to bring atten­tion to a strug­gling indus­try. In Bel­gium, they have a lot of trou­ble sur­viv­ing, and this shows that it’s still pos­si­ble to do things here and cre­ate a unique sto­ry with­out hav­ing to go abroad or ignore our tradition.” 

Although Renwart’s works always fea­ture nat­ur­al objects, they start with a sort of poem. I embroi­der tiny lit­tle words or tiny lit­tle things — lit­tle secrets,” he says. I think most of the time peo­ple don’t real­ly notice them.” He writes in French, because of the language’s poten­tial for lay­ers and dou­ble mean­ing, and he explores the rela­tion­ship between sim­i­lar words such as songe (“dream”) and men­songe (“lie”). Only three let­ters set them apart,” he says. In French, you feel that the dream is a lie, and a lie can be a dream.” At the time of this inter­view, he was embroi­der­ing a lit­tle secret” about a daf­fodil gar­den that you can only vis­it when you don’t have any voice­mails. It’s a place that you vis­it when you feel lone­ly, or when there’s soli­tude around you,” he says. I like to play with cre­at­ing some­thing that exists between myth and reality.”

I try to build a world around the word or text — it’s a quest for an atmos­phere.”
- Thomas Ren­wart

Once he decides on the text, he set­tles on the sub­ject mat­ter — whether it be flower, but­ter­fly, or drag­on­fly. Then he embarks on a long process of design­ing the weave, devel­op­ing dif­fer­ent ways of cre­at­ing gra­di­ents in the col­ors and exper­i­ment­ing with mate­r­i­al com­bi­na­tions. I try to build a world around the word or text — it’s a quest for an atmos­phere,” he says.

In cre­at­ing an atmos­phere, he also con­sid­ers the space in which his pieces will be installed. For a show through his gallery, Bruthaus­gallery, Ren­wart took advan­tage of the nat­ur­al light from large win­dows and sky­lights in an old fac­to­ry to change the per­cep­tion of his moth-themed tapes­tries. Depend­ing on the time of day, the front side or the back­side of a tapes­try would be vis­i­ble — again, play­ing with per­cep­tion, myth and real­i­ty, light and dark.

Ren­wart hopes that view­ers of his work for­get every­thing”
in a moment of silence: Silence isn’t a neg­a­tive; it’s also a pos­i­tive thing. Silence is a har­mo­ny. So, I hope that, per­haps, peo­ple can just feel at peace, just for a few minutes.”

Belin­da Lanks is the for­mer design edi­tor of WIRED and Bloomberg Busi­ness­week. Her writ­ing has also appeared in Fast Com­pa­ny and The Wall Street Journal.

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