Interview with Lisa Grobler

We headed out to the famous town of Oudtshoorn for a talk with the artist Liza Grobler about her textile
artworks. This is what we talked about…

Talita Swarts: Why did you get interested in tapestry weaving as a medium for your
contemporary work?

Liza Grobler: I have always been interested in craft, as a child I loved knitting and platting and all kinds of handicraft. I used to make those tapestries for kids where you have the printed image and then you must sew it in during school holidays.
I studied painting at Stellenbosch University, but I’ve always been interested in the tangible quality of materials, the materiality of things, and for me painting is also fabric in a way. For example, we paint on linen, canvas, or calico, and in a way, that’s acknowledging the surface that we are working on. I like touching and feeling things, and I like the combination of the different visual textures with all the tactile textures experienced when you touch different surfaces. This is really what drew me too fibre arts.

TS: Can you tell us more about your unique use of unconventional materials, for example
the pipe cleaners?

LG: I’m drawn to the pipe cleaners because they are so fluffy and colourful. It is also a material that we were introduced to as young children, like when taught how to make a ladybird when in pre-primary school. This makes it something that’s familiar in the archives of our brains, but it’s not something that we think of as a serious material for adults to use.
I like playing with these ideas, all my work is very playful. Through play I discover truths about the world, and the pipe cleaners for me is something I’ve used a lot for interactive projects, to get the viewer to participate.

The little wire in the middle makes it a great material for site specific works because it has structural integrity and therefore functions like a kind of iron fist in a velvet glove. You can build big things with it, but it seems very innocent, harmless, and small, but when it accumulates, it can amount to monumental pieces.
This is a method I use in all my work including painting, textile, sculpture, or site-specific installations. I often work with small, repeated units. I also like the idea that the viewer can see the mechanics behind how something was made or even recognise things, for example what stitch was used, how the paint was applied, and how the work was constructed.

For me this makes the work more accessible because people can somewhat understand the mechanics that creates the visual spectacle. Even if they don’t understand the meaning of the artwork, especially when it is an abstract work, there’s something familiar about the materiality of the work. For me that familiarity found in the artwork creates a bridge between the artist and the viewer.

TS: What inspires you, nature, the environments you move through, history…?

LG: I do think as artists we’re basically like sponges, so we soak everything up and I am specifically influenced by my environment. My interest in the natural environment is growing daily, and I think the pandemic had an influence on that. We became more aware of magical happenings in the everyday but specifically the magic in nature.

I think all our experiences are part of a bigger narrative. In this continuum history comes into play. I think what
happened in the past, present and future is inevitably connected. Or it’s like this long, golden thread, right? And it also goes off in different directions. It’s like a golden web of experiences and interactions and connections in my story, or my exhibition. Therefore, my work is always existing in relationship to a bigger context. I’m only a small punctuation mark in a larger landscape. Instead of being overwhelmed by this, I find it quite inspiring that every time someone stands in front of my work, or every time someone talks to me about my work, all these things are growing like a ripple in a dam.

TS: You have recently moved out of the city to a small town in the Karoo. Have this influenced your work? What do you love about living the Karoo?

LG: I won’t say that I’ve moved to a small town exactly. I’ve moved to a big town, the capital of the Klein Karoo. It’s quite a big town, but it’s a big change from Cape Town. We’ve been based in Woodstock for two decades. I’ve been living in a very dense urban environment for a long time, and now there’s so much space!

Because of the vast sky I’ve become more aware of the horizon than ever before. In the city I was more focused on being immersed but here I get a bigger sense of space. The layering of the landscape, the fact that there are different distances away from my position, the colours of the landscape, the structure of the landscape, as well as seasonal changes have become more evident and has infiltrated into my work.

The one specific thing I have started to incorporate because of my new location is ostrich feathers and I have had them customised. They make a beautiful product almost like an ostrich fringe that I’ve started incorporating into my painting and some of my woven pieces. I’m quite excited about this!

TS: Tell us about upcoming projects to look out for.

LG: I’m currently working on a solo exhibition that will open in the beginning of May at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town. I’m taking over the entire CIRCA gallery space for the exhibition. This will be the first exhibition that really focus on my textile or fibre-based work using a combination of different techniques such as macrame, weaving, platting a bit of crocheting and one or two pieces that includes tapestry.

I’m hoping to create a visual tactility if I can call it that, so that you can see and touch and just move through this landscape of materials.

To see more of her work, visit the Everard Read Gallery website: