Erin M. Riley
When did you realize you wanted to become an artist?
During my freshman year of art school, I walked into a room full of looms and became intrigued. I had never seen one before. There is a lot of math in weaving, and in high school, the only classes I got A’s in were math and art. I liked the nerdy aspect of having to do calculations before getting started.
Is there a through line or central message in your work?
My work visually follows three different but related paths: objects, landscapes, and figures. They’re all about the body—its existence and its death—as it relates to objects, landscapes, and other bodies. When you stand in front of a tapestry and understand a body created it, there is energy in that.
Tell us about your working style, ideal studio environment, or any routines you have.
One superstition I have is that I don’t warp my loom [prepare the vertical threads on a loom] and weave on the same day. Warp days are warp days. I’ll wait for another day to weave.
Which artists inspire you?
Ingrid Wiener is a weaver whose tapestries are complex and painterly and break all the rules. I’m also inspired by textile artist Hannah Ryggen.
What does craft mean to you?
I see craft as muscle memory or a physical experience—knowing the material, knowing process, and being one with it. I’ve been weaving for so many years, and nobody can take that away from me. I have it in my bones. I’m a weaver.
Riley sources wool from defunct US textile mills; she washes, strips, and hand-dyes the wool before weaving. Her large-scale tapestries function as woven photographs that capture intimate moments and spaces.
Riley’s tapestries are challenging and often difficult to look at due to their explicit nature, whether erotic or violent. Anxiety depicts the scars, usually hidden underneath clothes, from dermatillomania, or chronic skin-picking, an illness the artist has lived with all her life. This weaving reveals the harsh reality of how isolation triggers patterned coping mechanisms. The artist says that she has “learned my dark places are cyclical like cicadas. Growing in the dirt to emerge every decade. I photograph the bad moments because they do eventually fade.”
The Affair depicts a computer browser with many tabs open, a sort of archive of modern life. As indicated by the page titles, the contents range from casual television streaming to serious news articles. The browser window is open to a paused video featuring the artist’s exposed body. Through this work, Riley, whose practice explores desire, eroticism, and voyeurism, navigates the isolation and lack of sexual affirmation that characterized the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine.
Riley’s practice calls attention to women’s multigenerational experiences of violence and trauma, and their effect on personal identity. She mines personal memories, Internet stories, news articles, and other ephemera to create her weavings. In Not Credible, we get a glimpse of a police report stating that a victim is not credible due to insufficient evidence. While the claim is ambiguous, the conclusion of the report can be applied to countless women who have had their experiences with sexual assault or abuse invalidated by law enforcement officials.