Something that comes up a lot in my conversations with artists is the pejorative nature of over-intellectualizing or academicizing how art is made and how we talk about the arts. Some artists fear they’re not educated enough; others fear they can’t explain their work using enough big words. Some start to doubt themselves. I hate that.
For Santa Fe-based weaver and textiles artist Rhiannon Griego (Tohono O’odham), though, that’s not an issue. Rather than worrying about lending validity to her work, she’s confident: Many of her pieces fall under the fine art category, and though she makes functional items, like clothing, her art is easily hangable alongside paintings, displayable in the way one might revere sculpture. Besides, she says, weaving isn’t such a huge jump from her previous practice of beadwork or jewelry, nor does it differ all that much from her ancestors’ basketry. In many cases, Griego tells SFR, she creates in a way reminiscent of the underside of Tohono O’odham baskets—the structural point of power represented with raw hemp and/or churro wool and other materials, hand-dyed in most cases, sometimes with foraged pigments from Abiquiu and elsewhere.
“The way I refer to it is, the Tohono O’odham are basket weavers, and I feel that very much in the work I’ve been exploring—that it’s the link to that element of my people,” Griego explains. “My father’s family were spinners and weavers here in New Mexico, too, and that influences my work through the voice of ancestry.”
Griego’s a relative newcomer to Santa Fe, though. Previously, she lived in Oakland, California, and studied weaving techniques in Berkeley (more on that in a sec); she grew up in Orange County. But a recurring dream called her to the Southwest a couple years back for an extended road trip with a friend. Not only did she encounter a Griego Road, which she considered a sign, but the Continental Divide proved to be the place represented in her dreams.
“The dream was of red earth,” she says. “Visions of red earth, and the places I associate with it.”
The switch to textiles as fine art came even later, and Griego estimates she’s been weaving with an emphasis on form over function for roughly three years. Of course, it’s the type of artistry that doesn’t come easy. One must weave for at least 40 years before they can claim the mantle of master, Griego says, adding that she’s obviously not there yet. Still, through a combination of self-taught practices and a mentorship with Berkeley-based weaver Lynn Harris—a proponent and purveyor of Saori-style weaving, the Japanese-born school of thought that embraces experimentation and imperfection through free expression—she’s well on her way. Beyond that, she’s about feel.
“It’s all tactile,” she says during a recent studio visit, pulling pieces out to show their different wefts and weaves, even sitting at one of her looms to demonstrate how she works. Across from her equipment lie countless spools and skeins arranged by color. It appears Griego has several pieces in-progress, many of which will make their way to a one-off show early next month at the Bishop’s Lodge hotel. It’s Griego’s biggest collection to date, and one, she says, that pulls primarily from her biggest inspiration: the land.
“[These pieces] remind me of being outdoors,” she says, gesturing to a wall hanging composed of simple square patterns overlaid atop one another. “Working like this, I feel like I’m outdoors. This deeply connects me to the land—it translates to yucca and bear grass, and I’m working with churro wool, which has a long standing history in New Mexico.”
Griego sources that churro wool from the Shepherd’s Lamb company in Chama. That it’s local is important to her, and the same goes for almost everything she uses. If she can source it regionally, Griego says, she will.
“And it’s not just the visual,” she notes of her upcoming show, explaining that she also drew inspiration from the five senses. “I’ll be burning incense and projecting images of the landscapes that inspire me to weave, I’m creating a playlist that has been inspiring me. And textiles themselves are meant to be touched, which is interesting in a fine art capacity—when you go to museums you can’t touch things.”
You’ll want to touch Griego’s work if given the chance. The textures leap out of the pieces and phase from soft to coarse and points between. That drive to de-stigmatize how we interact with textile art is subtly huge, too. Often, textiles, weaving or basketry are relegated to a place in the artistic pantheon best described as craftwork. Within that, you’ll find a labyrinth of misogyny relegating women creators to specific types of output. As the delineation between artifact and artifice blurs, however, artists like Griego help defuse much of the inaccessible language and presentation surrounding the arts. You can wear a Griego should you so choose—you can hang one up on your wall beside your favorite prints and paintings.
“Being a weaver and being part of this resurgence in weaving?” Griego concludes. “It’s part of this new narrative of people redefining textiles. It’s not just decor—and it’s a little bit of an uphill battle, but we’re beginning to transform it.”
Rhiannon Griego: 4-8 pm Thursday, Nov. 3. Free. Bishop’s Lodge, 1297 Bishop’s Lodge Road, (888) 741-0480