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Dovecot's curators on tapestry legend Archie Brennan: 'A brilliant undiscovered pop artist'

Earlier this year, Dovecot Studios was awarded National Lottery Funding through our Open Project Fund to research and experiment with the tapestry innovations developed by world-renowned Scottish weaver Archie Brennan, leading to the design and creation of a major new tapestry to promote Scottish tapestry skills worldwide.

Archie Brennan (b.1931, Edinburgh) currently lives in America, and is recognised internationally as a master of modern tapestry. He's also known as an innovator, pioneer and iconoclast, friend to Eduardo Paolozzi and Sean Connery – and 'possibly the greatest Scottish Pop artist you have never heard of'.

Kate Grenyer, Exhibitions Curator at Dovecot explains that Brennan, 'was very influential on Dovecot’s development in the 60s and 70s and was a huge figure in Scottish art and craft.'

Brennan studied drawing at Edinburgh College of Art evening classes at age 15, where he met apprentices from Dovecot (Edinburgh Tapestry Co.) who were also attending as part of their apprenticeship. In 1948 he joined Dovecot and his apprenticeship lasted until 1954. After studying in France for a spell, Brennan returned to Edinburgh, and gained degrees from Edinburgh College Art from 1958 - 1962.

From Scotland to America (via Papua New Guinea)

'He left Scotland at the end of the 1970s and moved to various places around the world,' Grenyer adds. 'He went and did some consultancy in Australia, taught at the Art School in Papua New Guinea and designed the mural for the front of their parliament building. He then eventually moved to America where he’s settled since the 1980s.'

Grenyer says that Brennan made and taught tapestry until he couldn't weave anymore, stopping in 2015. 'He’s had this long and extraordinary life,' she says, 'and there are so many stories about his life to go into.'

'We've done some research into all of Archie’s tapestries, a lot is known about the work he did in Scotland up until the late 1970s' Grenyer says, 'but less is known about the work he did in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s.'

'But we also really wanted to do some physical research into understanding his tapestry weaving process and the difference that he’s made to tapestry.'

Weaving work in Archie's way

'Our weavers have to research his work as well in their particular way, which is to look at what he’s done and respond to it as tapestry weavers, and have a think about how they would interpret the same subject matter. So, we're looking into creating a tapestry inspired by and based on the work of Archie Brennan.'

'We’ve done a lot of research into that. What we want to do is have an exhibition - we’re hopefully going to do a crowdfunder next year with the idea of the exhibition happening in 2020.'

One aspect of Brennan's life and work they are keen to highlight is his relationship with pop culture. 'He’s such an innovator,' Grenyer says. 'I would say that he’s a brilliant undiscovered pop artist.

From Princess Diana to Muhammad Ali

'He’d pick icons like Princess Di or Muhammad Ali and he played with those images in the same way as pop artists.'

'He’s hugely well known as a tapestry, but if he worked in sculpture or painting he might be better known. His work has very clever pop references in it - contemporary magazine imagery, newspaper imagery. He plays with the way tapestry makes up an image bit by bit - fast moving sketches of fast moving TV images became part of his tapestry.'

For Grenyer, Brennan's importance is undisputed. 'I think people will have a chance to understand how clever he, and understand what tapestry does.'

Images: Archie Brennan Kitchen Range and Hearth 1974, Antonia Reeve Photography; Archie Brennan Kitchen Range and Hearth, 1973, room view, Antonia Reeve Photography; Archie Brennan, Muhammad Ali 1973 (Courtesy of Dovecot Studios)

This article was published on 21 Oct 2019