Warp and weft
Where working practices intertwine via colour, thread and spatial know-how
Words: Jane Audas
Jennie Moncur, tapestry artist. Jennie Moncur, creative director, Vitsœ. I will endeavor to unravel (or unpack, if you prefer a Vitsœ metaphor) the two sides of her career below. Do read on…
People may know Jennie as a weaver or may know her through her work at Vitsœ, yet colleagues (and even some friends) often know very little of the dual nature of her working week. Some of you may have seen the occasional tapestry by Jennie in a Vitsœ shop; a burst of colour zinging amongst all the off-white RAL 9002. But her official working role in Vitsœ has been somewhat under the radar. So, it seems an appropriate point, after the recently busy few years under her belt, to celebrate and talk a bit more about her. To speculate on where her working practices meet, intertwine (or not) and where they complement each other. But for that I must talk to others – because somewhere, at this moment, Jennie may be wincing a little at all these words. It is not her style, talking about what she does.
Jennie works on everything that surrounds the core Vitsœ products: the shop designs, exhibitions & events, printed matter, website and editorial output. And the colours are hers. Oh, the colours. On shop floors, on printed literature, covering the chairs. Customers very often enquire after the colours Vitsœ paints its shop walls, and then they paint their homes the same colours – and that is Jennie. As Mark Adams, Vitsœ’s managing director notes: “You can trace every colour in the Vitsœ world, over the past three decades ultimately, back to Jennie”. Then, you only need to look at her tapestries to see where the colour thing comes from; she is colourist to the core – if not to the heart. Her tapestries are both architectural and abstract, colourful – and often contain glimpses of nature. For the rest, Jennie’s design practice was never just a textile practice, although tapestry is always at the centre of it all.
She is also a consummate technician, able to plan and move between 2D and 3D seamlessly in her head. Able to move from thread, to powder-coated steel and back again. From the beginning her work was about spatial awareness. Her practice easily extended beyond the loom into other design work: rugs and even decorative design schemes for floors and bridges. In fact, the railway bridge adjacent to Vitsœ’s production building in Leamington Spa, England, has recently been dressed in one of her designs, making it the 23rd or 24th bridge she has worked on – she can’t quite remember. The linoleum floors she designed for the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, was a commission she picked up directly after her graduation show at the Royal College of Art. And so (I hope this is starting to make sense now) to the Vitsœ floors. The shops in New York, London and Leamington Spa have floors designed by Jennie; the designs are very her and very Vitsœ at the same time. And they are the most tangible evidence of her role as creative director to date.
Jennie likes to work in an organised, detailed, just so kind of way. For both sides of her work. As a maker she is: “ridiculously practical and organised, very sensible”, comments Mark. That way of working has proved the ticket at Vitsœ, too. In a company where it is considered normal to have a meeting (or several) about the radii of screws, it is essential to have someone focusing on the rest of the (sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller) picture. As Julia Schulz, a colleague who works closely with Jennie explains: “In her creative process she is quietly confident. There’s no prima donna. She knows exactly what she does and doesn’t want. She will allow a conversation but at some point, she will say: ‘this is it’.”
Those who know Jennie know time at her loom is essential. It is when she does her weaving, yes, but also when she does her thinking, planning and perhaps a bit of putting her world to rights. Her seat at her loom is where she grounds herself. Words like ‘self-confident’ and ‘self-contained’ come up time and again when talking about Jennie and she seems to maintain and nourish those qualities through time alone in her studio. The build of the new Vitsœ headquarters in Leamington Spa, was telling, explains Mark Adams: “The thinking time is more important than the weaving time, sometimes. Some of the most fruitful conversations we had whilst building this building were when Jennie had been weaving and came back and said: I have been thinking this through…’.”
I’d wager not many other companies have a craft practitioner in the role of creative director. It works so well partly due to the woman herself. The successful balance of her two roles may be down to design, or system-thinking. It’s something that forms a backbone to processes at Vitsœ, and to Jennie’s highly organised making, too. She doesn’t see a huge difference between working out compositions for shop environments, or colours for her weaving. They both need to be right and are both approached with a thoroughness that is constant and consistent.
It is, finally, quite telling to know that Jennie organises everything she keeps. She has all her old college work, keeps an archive of her making work and documents all her working processes. She always has. And anyone who knows Vitsœ knows that they love their details and that their archive is the oxygen of the company. The dichotomy of Jennie’s working life is less surprising when you tally all the above. Simply put, she has – in both work roles – a place to put things, and puts everything in its place. The word ‘creative’ is explicit in her role as creative director at Vitsœ, implicit in her role as an artist and maker. But it is writ large in both, make no mistake.
The exhibition ‘Jennie Moncur: Interrupted Views’ opens at Ruthin Craft Centre, in Wales on 16 July. It will be a solo exhibition showcasing a rare public viewing of Jennie’s exquisite tapestries, both new and some older works. The exhibition will then tour to The Harley Gallery and Portland Collection Museum, Nottinghamshire, England.
Jennie Moncur: Interrupted Views
16 July – 25 September 2022
Ruthin Craft Centre,
25 March – 18 June 2023
The Harley Gallery,