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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