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Olivia Wendel's Handpainted Scarves

Why the Brooklyn-based artist finds wool and silk to be the fitting canvas for her work

by Nara Shin
on 08 November 2017

The last time we wrote about Olivia Wendel, it was back in 2014—her stained silk tapestries were a notable highlight in that year's annual RISD graduate thesis exhibit. Armed with an MFA in textile design, the now-Brooklyn-based painter has since developed a synergetic relationship with the rippling canvases of wool and silk, resulting in her debut collection of six scarves this year.

A brief look at "Miniature/Gigantic"—the watercolored lines and blurs and bleeding, lack of color, botanical elements, the groups of women, often nude, often in motion—feel less kitschy-sellable-feminist-motif (as boobs have become), and more dream-like. A pillow to vulnerability, a backdrop to emotion—the female form is used to express what lies beneath wordlessly, rather than an object to be gazed at. (A perfect fit for Michelle Pfeiffer's character in the Darren Aronofsky-directed film mother!). When unfolded, the scarf reveals a 50" x 50" painting. But when wrapped gently around the neck—the fabric softly caressing and holding warmth, never scratching—the scarf eerily hides the potentially shocking nude figures. In the age of oversharing, it's charming to be wearing such a secret out in the open.

"Fabric is soft and alive, I see it as a way to animate my drawings and free them from a still piece of paper," Wendel tells CH. She thus takes cues from dance and movement—The Performance scarf was inspired by seeing Pina Bausch dance in "The Rite of Spring." "I began with scarves because I like the idea of an heirloom, something special and unique that you can collect and use for a lifetime. I noticed that it was rare to see a hand-painted design because the majority of prints for fashion are digitally designed. I wanted to offer something honest and vulnerable, something that has imperfections and a story to tell."

While the debut collection is only black-and-white, Wendel's next collection, which launches 20 November, bursts with color (as given a sneak peak here). Shop the wool and silk scarves ($195) online from her online store.

Images courtesy of Olivia Wendel and DAFNE

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