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From interview with Ugo Scassa, by Franco Fanelli


The understanding of a work through its transposition into a tapestry requires an extremely sophisticated analysis of the compositional, chromatic and material structure of the work. It is by means of this analysis that I am able to direct the work of my weavers. I believe the art of the tapestry maker to be comparable to that of an orchestral conductor. A conductor, with the cooperation of the orchestra he is directing, gives a personal interpretation of a musical score. The result he achieves depends on the beauty of the composition in question and on the sensitivity and depth of his interpretation. The tapestry maker too, with the assistance of his expert weavers, creates a tapestry by means of a careful and critical interpretation of a figurative work of art which, in this case, becomes his score.
My tapestries are woven on looms of haute‑lisse.

The concepts behind my work are very different from those in France. As far as the quality of the cartoon is concerned, I tend to choose works of the finest and best known contemporary artists, rather than opting for those of the " French peintres cartonniers", as their corporation would prefer. However, rather than oblige artists to make their cartoons specially for turning into tapestries, running the risk of imposing all the limitations on their pictorial language that the "cartonniers" impose upon themselves, I consider it better to choose from those works which seem best suited to the medium in which they will be recreated. In other words, those works which are most appropriate as cartoons for tapestries.
This approach enables me to consider the entire artistic output of each individual artist, rather than have to deal with a single cartoon which, as well as requiring special attention for its preparation, could once it is finished prove to be unsuited for the creation of a tapestry. Pictorial language, in contemporary figurative art, is expressed through the most diverse and unconventional stylistic innovations. It is therefore necessary to adopt a technique that remains faithful to the classic canons of tapestry weaving, while transferring all those elements which are suggested by the cartoon and which, taken together, make a work of art of the tapestry

Could you give an actual example?

Anyone who remembers the "carte" by Cagli, one of those paintings he made using crumpled paper on which light and colour create an infinite variety of effects, can understand how its transposition into a tapestry requires a special technique. The new work must preserve all the richness of the myriad plays of light which are the dominant artistic feature of the painting.


 To obtain this, we abandoned the easiest and most convenient type of weaving , the juxtaposition of uniform sections of fabric which at most can be made to blend one into the other using a hatching technique,  and adopted the more difficult and painstaking technique of ever-changing textiles.
This is achieved by mixing a number of different yarns with different colours and tones in the same skein.


At this point, a number of skeins, each containing a blend of different colours, can be used to create a practically unlimited range of colour and tone.
This technique gives results which would be impossible to obtain in any other way and it enables the most diverse forms and expressions of de pictorial language of contemporary art to be transferred to the tapestry not only respecting the original but, in some cases even enhancing its effect. This procedure also gives back to the tapestry maker that broad freedom of interpretation which is considered by all scholars to have been the decisive factor behind the quality and artistic value of tapestries during their golden age. It is also judged to be one of the principal causes of their decline when it gradually fell into disuse. It offers a freedom of interpretation which is unimaginable for those who are used to working, for example, with the current technique in modern French tapestry weaving mills, and of which the first proponent was Jean Lurçat. They have simplified it to such an extent that the cartoon can even be drawn, with precise outlines and a letter or a number in each area of colour to indicate the shade to be used from a predetermined pattern book of coloured wool.
This method has made the work of the "cartonnier" as simple as it could possibly be for he does not even need to paint his work. It has also made the task of weaving that much more simple and rapid but, at the same time, it has also considerably limited the potential for personal expression of each artist and has reduced the contribution of the tapestry maker to no more than the mechanical act of weaving a flat, uniform fabric in which design and colour have been strictly established beforehand by others.

How have artists reacted to your interpretations?

I have always been granted total freedom of interpretation by all the artists I have ever worked with. The cartoon is normally chosen together by the artist and me. We try to reconcile the painter's stylistic choices with the technical requirements of weaving. Once the work has been chosen, it is entrusted to me for the entire duration of the production process. It is my "grand patron”and there is no intermediate stage of enlarging the draft to the final size of the tapestry. At this point, work on dyeing the wool is carried out for each individual tapestry, depending on the range of colours in the cartoon. My workshop contains no pattern book of coloured wool.
When the dyeing process is complete, the yarns are sampled according to the technique of mélange colours I mentioned earlier. The warp is held vertically between the two rollers of the loom and indelible ink is used to mark the outlines of the drawing using a projector. This is another innovation and one that has enabled me to avoid having to enlarge the draft to a full‑size cartoon. It also means I can obtain greater faithfulness to the original when transposing the drawing to the tapestry. Another technical device that immediately proved extremely useful was that of enabling the weavers to work on the right side of the tapestry


 rather than on the reverse, as in former times (and as is still the case in other tapestry weaving mills today). This means the part being woven can be compared directly with the original instead of having to look at a reflection in a mirror placed behind the tapestry on the lower roller. When the drawing has been made on the threads of the warp, the weaving starts. The areas of colour are blended using the skeins of coloured wool which have been prepared and sampled.
At this point, the weavers, without the use of codes or samples, but simply their technical skill and ability to interpret, lace the weft yarn over and under the warp threads, gradually building up the design. They have a vast range of colours to choose from and, working under the direction of the tapestry maker, they create a work which has an artistic value in its own right. The artist's initial work remains, to return to the original metaphor, as the musical score.

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