Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet (8 Feb – 5 May 2019) at the Broadway Gallery was the first major solo exhibition of Allistair’s work in the UK. The exhibition, commissioned by Laura Dennis, served as a survey of Allistair’s creative practice over a period of five years and encompassed painting, video art and sculpture. The centrepiece of the exhibition was a series of hand-knotted carpets; woven interpretations of the artist’s abstract paintings and drawings handmade in Afghanistan and Nepal.
“The Broadway Gallery is very excited to announce that it will host Allistair’s first major solo exhibition in Spring 2019, focusing on his creative journey from the canvas to the carpet. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to experience the carpets up close; adorning the walls of the gallery in a celebration of them as objets d’art and learning about the techniques involved in their production. Each carpet in the exhibition, much like Allistair’s original paintings and drawings also on display, varies in style and composition. Whilst some carpets have a strong ‘painterly’ appearance, others have a distinct bold and brightly coloured ‘Pop Art’ aesthetic, based on Allistair’s playful plasticine sculptures and vibrant iPad sketches. One carpet perfectly resembles its ink-pen drawing counterpart, owing to the carpet’s high knot count, and is more monotone in pattern – a dramatic departure from Allistair’s traditional kaleidoscopic colour palette.”
Curator Laura Dennis, Broadway Gallery, Letchworth Garden City, November 2018
Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet at the Broadway Gallery
The carpets on display, or ‘woven paintings’, a term Laura Dennis used to describe them, were handcrafted by Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan and in Nepal by Rug Maker to the artist’s designs. The exhibition successfully showcased how the expert weavers masterfully interpreted Allistair’s rhythmic energy and spontaneous artistic style, recreating every expressive brush stroke, splash of colour and hand-drawn shape into a woven knot.
In the second room, two short films illustrated the different carpet making approaches of both countries, showcasing each region’s varying traditions and production methods where some techniques remaining unchanged for centuries. Rug Maker’s Meet The Makers film followed the Nepalese carpet making process whilst Carpet Making In Afghanistan produced by Turquoise Mountain, showed the weavers working in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan the weavers use the indigenous Karakul sheep’s wool whereas the weavers in Nepal work with imported wool from New Zealand. The dyeing of the yarns are similar in technique but differ in their sourcing: the dyes in Afghanistan are natural in origin (plants, vegetables and ground rocks) compared to the use of some chemical dyes with natural in Nepal. Whilst both carpets are hand-knotted, there are slight differences in the style and look of an Afghan and Nepalese knot.
Broadway Gallery | The Symphony Series (2016) | London Streets (2017) | Somewhere In Between (2019) | The Window (2017) | Melt (2018)
The Symphony Series: I – IV (2016)
MEET THE MAKERS BY RUG MAKER VIDEO | ECLIPSE (2014) | EXCITED MELODY (2016) | PAINTED STUDIES & CARPET SAMPLES (2016 -2019)
CANVAS TO CARPET – THE PROCESS: MELT (2018) – ORIGINAL PAINTING, CARPET GRAPH, DYED YARNS
The Wave (2018) | Church Window (2004) | ORIGINAL PAINTINGS, SKETCHBOOK PAGES, CARPET SAMPLES, DYED YARNS, CARPET DESIGN GRAPHS IN VITRINE
CANVAS TO CARPET – THE PROCESS: ORIGINAL 3D PLASTICINE SCULPTURES & SKETCH BOOK DEVELOPMENT WORK FOR C.S.M CARPET (2016 – 2019)
Spinning Around (2017) | 3D plasticine sculptures & sketchbooks in vitrine | C.S.M (2017)
London Streets (2017) | College sketchbooks (2005, 2006) | LGC_18 2018) | Somewhere In Between (2018)
London Streets (2017) | sketchbooks (2005 / 2006)
Jump (2017) | Come Into My World (2018) | The Night Cafe (2018) | Jane’s Dream (2018) | The Window (2017) | Melt (2018)
Digital ipad animation painting film on screen
BROADWAY GALLERY Q&A with Allistair Covell
Broadway Gallery: What made you want to turn your paintings into hand-knotted carpets?
Allistair Covell: In June 2013 I saw an opportunity in COVER magazine, inviting artists and designers from across the world to ‘design a carpet’. The winning designs would be made into a hand-knotted carpet in Afghanistan and then presented at the world’s largest flooring trade show DOMOTEX in Hannover, Germany. Not knowing much about carpet production I sent in an image of a complex abstract painting and to my surprise my entry was chosen as one of the final six and entered into the international Carpet Design Awards.
In January 2014 the finalists, were flown to Germany to see the carpets for the first time and during the Carpet Design Awards ceremony I was named as the winner of the AfghanMade Best Young Designer Award. Winning such a prestigious accolade encouraged me to research this area of textiles and slightly refocus my practice to include translating my paintings into hand-woven carpets.
BG: Why is music such an important part of your creative practice?
AC: Music is my biggest inspiration with the majority of my paintings named after the song or a lyric that inspired them. As a synaesthete, my paintings are heavily influenced by my sensory responses to sound. I aim to illustrate music on a 2D surface, capturing the rhythms, movements and characteristics of music through the application of colour, shape and pattern. Even though my paintings are abstract in appearance, they are also representational: an orange square is the visualisation of a drumbeat, a circle is the sound of a synthesiser while a paint drip shows the sound of a violin.
BG: What are the main challenges in your practice?
AC: Working in two disciplines can be quite a challenge. Sometimes I have thought that not everything I paint can be easily translated into a carpet as certain brush strokes and colours might prove to be too complex but the Afghan and Nepalese weavers surprise me. Some carpets are so detailed they do look like paintings from a distance which is the effect that I want to achieve.
Another challenge is the time factor: it can take up to four months to hand-knot a carpet owning to the traditional techniques used. I find it fascinating that a sketch drawn very quickly on an iPad ‘in the moment’ when listing to a song can take months to interpret, translate and become a woven carpet.
Reprinted with permission from Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet, Broadway Gallery booklet © Letchworth Heritage Foundation (Feb 2019)
HOW HIGH (2017) | LET IT WILL BE (2017) | MR_47 (2017) | ECHOES IN RAIN (2017)
Raged Life Blog interview with Allistair Covell
In the final weeks of the Canvas To Carpet exhibition, Allistair was interviewed by Elspeth Jackson, founder and editor of Ragged Life. The interview covered a variety of topics including how Allistair began to work with weavers in Nepal and Afghanistan, why he refers to his artworks as ‘woven paintings’, to his favourite carpet in the exhibition.
The interview with Ragged Life also previewed the ‘encore’ of the Canvas To Carpet exhibition, Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit. Forming part of the HALI Fair at the Mall Galleries in London, this mini exhibition was a showcase in partnership with Turquoise Mountain and took place in June 2019. The HALI Fair was part of HALI London, an event during London Art Week.
The full interview can be found here.
Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet | Broadway Gallery | 8 Feb – 5 May 2019
PHOTO CREDITS: ALLISTAIR COVELL AND KATHERINE MAGER 2018 & 2019 | VIDEO CREDIT: AARON RAW 2019