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Paul Laster

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25 February 2013
  • art
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Fransje Killaars: sculpting with textile

 Maine Mills Figures, 2013. © 2013 Fransje Killaars

Focusing on colour as her subject matter and textile as her medium, Fransje Killiaars makes sensational installations that utilize carpets, tapestries, bedspreads, garments, and wall hangings in their distinctive construction. Trained as a painter at the esteemed Rijksakademie in Amsterdam in the early 1980s, Killaars started out creating brightly coloured canvases, while simultaneously assisting the celebrated American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt on numerous projects.

For her second major museum show in the United States—the first was a dynamic installation at MASS MoCA in 2007—Killaars presents four significant works from the past decade at the Bates Museum of Art and the Museum L-A in Lewiston, Maine, along with a newly commissioned project in Museum L-A that incorporates historical bedspreads woven at the former Bates Mill, which played a vital role in the development of Lewiston as a manufacturing centre and serves as a powerful site for Killaars’ engaging work.

Fransje Killaars: Colour at the Center, which was curated by Bates MoA director Dan Mills, features the artist’s seminal, 2008 installation Figures, which fills the museum’s intimate space on the Bates College campus. The two-sided piece offers a group of mannequins and modern office furniture draped in Killaars’ signature textile designs and backed by a gridded wall of vibrant coloured fabrics on its front, while a selection of women’s beige and white outfits is displayed as flat forms on a neutral field at the back side of the sprawling work. It’s the old world versus the new one—and the newer, livelier one definitely wins out.

Figures, 2008


Figures, 2008


Figures, 2008 

“I first encountered this monumental installation in a solo show of Killaars' work at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in 2008,” Mills recently told Arts Holland Blog. “I was immediately struck by the scale, power, and almost visceral response to the dazzling colours, and to the primary media, textile.”

Over at the old Bates Mills, the curator asked Killaars to create a work of art that referenced the history of the once thriving place. “Lewiston is a mill town (the second largest in America at one time) and, during its heyday, thousands of workers made textiles and shoes here,” said Mills. “During the development of this exhibition, I proposed to Killaars that she come visit, see the community, and see the mill spaces, where these industries once were. The result was developing a partnership with Museum L-A (Lewiston's museum of history and labour,) borrowing Bates bedspreads for a site-specific work, and creating a new installation in the very space these textiles were once woven (the outlines of the looms are still visible on the wood floor.)”


24 Hours, No. 2, 2005 


24 Hours, No. 2, 2005 


Figure and Crosses, 2008 

The artist’s multi-coloured Maine Mill Figures stand in striking contrast to the white Bates bedspreads. Occupying most of a massive floor of the former factory, Killaars’ alien-like, fabric-draped figures seem to be almost floating through a space that saw generation after generation of workers toiling to make simple products for comfort and care.


Maine Mills Figures, 2013 


Maine Mills Figures, 2013

“I am fascinated and deeply affected by the power and effect of colour," Killaars wrote in her statement for the show. “Textile and colour are the prime media in my installations. I try to make an image you cannot describe, and which gives new experience and meaning to the space. Textile is tactile. Using textile as carrier of colour in installations adds a sensorial layer to the space that suggests a connection with our everyday life, and very naturally merges painting, architecture and fashion.”

Her colourful pieces, which were hand-woven by a community of workers at the Tasara Centre for Creative Weaving in India, spark a spiritual dialogue between the past and present, while beautifully blurring the boundary between art and craft.

Fransje Killaars: Colour at the Center is on view at the Bates Museum of Art and Museum L-A in Lewiston, Maine through March 22, 2013. Later this year, portions of the show travel to the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Galerie Zürcher in New York.

Handwoven acrylic fabric, blankets, mannequins, office chairs, wood, garmets, cotton, wool © 2013 Fransje Killaars. Photographs by James Aaron Helms.