‘The Color of No’: Tenured professor debuts newest tapestry exhibit

VCUarts professor emerita Susan Iverson debuted her newest tapestry gallery, including “Nuanced Conversation” at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. Photo by Shayla Bailey

Iman Mekonen, Contributing Writer

Multiple versions of the same word are woven like echoes on the white walls of the True F. Luck Gallery of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. Each word is presented in a variety of colors, fonts and sizes, but they all read the same: “No.”

The 70 iterations of the word are the subject of Susan Iverson’s latest exhibit of handwoven tapestries titled “The Color of No.”

“The word ‘no’ was chosen because it doesn’t conjure up an image, except maybe the word itself as an image,” Iverson said. “In this investigation into color and content in contemporary culture, I needed that. If I used the word ‘horse,’ it wouldn’t make any sense.”

The exhibit opened April 12 and was followed by an opening reception and discussion led by Iverson. Richmond community members attended, along with Iverson’s current and former students.

The VCUarts professor emerita handweaved and dyed each tapestry over the span of 4 1/2 years.

Iverson completed her tapestries on a Gilmore floor loom with wool and silk, and sometimes linen and cotton.

“I prefer these natural materials and select them for their properties — the way they reflect light, their texture and their affinity for the dyes I use to give them color,” she said.

Artist Susan Iverson stands in front of her tapestry piece, titled “In the Ether.” Photo by Shayla Bailey

Iverson said the word “no” is too often viewed as negative, but is actually “mostly positive.”

“It’s everything in between,” she said. “It all depends on your tone and the language around it to color your feelings.”

Iverson said her inspiration for the exhibit was rooted in the significance of color and how it can alter meaning.

“I’m also looking at things I’ve studied historically with how different colors mean different things at different times to different people,” Iverson said.  “Some [tapestries] are just plain silly and funny, some have political content or have a serious tone. Some can even be read as standing colors for military emblems, or you might even find school colors.”

One section of the exhibit displayed a piece called “Nuanced Conversation.” The artwork consists of a series of strip-like tapestries on a blank white wall stacked in opposing colors, with each strip containing either a red and black or blue and green color. This appears on a center wall seen immediately upon entering.

“I started to think the blue and green voice as more fertile and affirming and optimistic as my friend and the other is my enemy,” Iverson said. “Somehow it swished around and the more I look at it, the red, white, black and gray may be a little rude or strident.”

Executive Director at the Visual Arts Center Stephanie Fedor acted as the coordinating curator for “The Color of No” and worked closely with Iverson to lay out the gallery. Fedor said Iverson created this piece specifically for the back wall, so that every other tapestry in the exhibit would be placed around it.

“We started there and approached the installation in a very collaborative manner,” Fedor said. “We both see the works when placed side by side as acting like conversations.”

Iverson said “Nuanced Conversation” is supposed to resemble a phone conversation between two people, represented through the opposing colors. She said the two colors could even portray one person with two different voices.

“It’s really about our horrible phones that we carry around with us all of the time in message,” Iverson said. “The blue that’s on my iPhone in the message section, there’s one silk blue there that’s exactly that blue. I didn’t dye it intentionally, but I think my subconscious worked overtime and helped me along that.”

Iverson said she wants her exhibit to spark a conversation about the significance of color and the different ways to read the word “no.”

“I hope [the audience] will consider the impact and meaning of color in a new way after seeing the show and the power of both language and color within our culture,” Iverson said.

The exhibit is on display in the True F. Luck Gallery of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond until June 2. To learn more about the exhibit, visit visarts.org.

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