Needlepoint artist Natalie Fisher has embraced the beauty and intricacy of Moroccan architecture to create gorgeously textured tapestries that speak of the universality of art.
When you hear the word “tapestry”, perhaps the first thing to come to mind is an image of a little old lady sitting in a rocking chair by a cosy fireplace stitching “Home Sweet Home” into a sampler, a charming if old-fashioned image and one under challenge from 21st century needlepoint artists.
In our Meet an Artist series, we spoke to needlepoint/tapestry artist Natalie Fisher. Her work is bold and contemporary, even when she recreates classic, centuries-old Moroccan designs.
Currently working with Islamic motifs and drawing on her Jewish background, Natalie is a great believer in the unifying power of art. Her work is meticulous, each stitch a statement in design, incorporating intricate details of light and shade. Her Moroccan series uses stitched yarn to celebrate the colour and vibrancy of Islamic geometric art. It’s a true artistic marriage, one transcending boundaries of religion and culture.
You’ve been creating these needlepoint works for some time. How did you get into such a painstaking form of artistic expression?
It started as craft, and then turned into art. What I mean by that is, when I was 13 my aunt gave me a little tapestry kit for my birthday. You know, one of those little canvases with the design printed on it…it was a little peacock. It’s kind of like stitching colours by numbers. When I started stitching it I really enjoyed the process of pulling the wool through the holes in the canvas. It was really calming, so I kept buying new designs, but I soon became bored with the commercial designs and started designing my own canvases.
One day I realised that I didn’t need to follow a pattern so strictly; I could actually apply wool just like a painter may apply paint to a canvas. So I just drew the designs on blank canvas and then filled the colour in by looking at my original photo and just making intuitive decisions about colour as I went along. My first original series were giant flower blooms. Then I travelled to Morocco and was really drawn to the architectural details there, so in the past two years, I’ve been making a Moroccan series of works.
Are these tapestries or something else?
My works are not strictly tapestries. Tapestries are worked on a loom with vertical and horizontal warp and weft threads. My works are really needlepoint pieces. They are worked on a needlepoint canvas and I pull the wool through the little holes. But I sometimes refer to them as tapestries, as “tapestry” is a word that has been adopted as a generic word for needlepoint in some circles (not in the circles of the real tapestry weaver purists though!).
Is there a message in what you do? What is it about Islamic art that inspires you?
I’m not exactly trying to convey a message in my work, but in my current series of Moroccan-inspired needlepoints I’m aiming to encourage the viewer to consider how the ancient technique of Moroccan mosaic tile-making (also called “zellige”) can be represented by wool. So I’m juxtaposing the two ancient techniques of hand stitching with mosaic tile-making.
The thing that I love about Islamic art, particularly Moroccan design, is its symmetry and geometry. The order, the repetition of pattern bears similarities to the order and repetition of a hand-stitched needlepoint. Moroccan design in particular is really geometric and uses many repeat patterns that can really just go on forever. That’s great because I really enjoy making large pieces. So I just keep repeating the pattern to the size I want the finished piece to be.
Do you feel there’s a clash between this and your Jewish faith?
Although I identify as Jewish, I am not someone of faith. I don’t see any clash between my representation of Islamic art with my Jewish identity. In fact, there are synergies, as there was (and still is to some extent) a Jewish community in Morocco, and there are examples, such as the few remaining synagogues, where you can see the interplay between Islam and Judaism in the architectural details.
How important is remuneration for your creative efforts?
Remuneration is a factor but it’s not the most important thing. I remember when someone first wanted to buy one of my needlepoint tapestries I was reluctant to part with it, even for reasonable money, because I’d become so attached to it, having spent many months making it. But I soon got over that! I’ve since sold many. But really, I make these painstaking pieces because I love stitching, I love Morocco and Moroccan architecture and I want a piece of Morocco on my wall! Although it’s nice to sell pieces, I’d be making these anyway, sales or no sales.
What work or works are you especially proud of?
I think I’m probably most proud of the works I’ve made in recent years, the very large pieces that represent Moroccan mosaic tiles. To get to the end of a very large piece makes me feel quite virtuous. And because my pieces are getting larger and larger I suppose I tend to be most proud of the piece I’ve just finished.