Brooklyn-based artist Erin M. Riley’s studio isn’t filled with what you’d expect. There’s a vintage weaving loom, piles of hand-dyed yarn, and racy photos of semi-naked women. Merging a traditional craft with modern social media culture, Erin painstakingly hand-weaves tapestries of sexy selfies gathered from the Internet.
After discovering weaving in art school, Erin steadily honed the precise skills needed to execute hand-made tapestries. Today, she’s one of few millennial artists keeping traditional weaving alive. With her first solo exhibition on view through March 19th at Los Angeles’s Soze Gallery, Erin’s boundary-pushing work is garnering more attention than ever before.
In the gallery, she discusses her strongest influences, how she finds selfies, and much more. Check out more of Erin’s work here.
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How would you describe your artwork?
I’m a tapestry weaver. I make images with hand-dyed wool yarn on a loom using images from the Internet that I obsessively collect and interpret.
Who or what are some of your influences?
I’ve always loved Kara Walker. Her work challenges viewers and that’s something I want to do. Feminism, Tinder, death, and reality TV influences me as well.
What draws you to sexy selfies?
For me, feeling sexy comes in waves. I don’t walk around feeling sexy 100% of the time. So selfies—especially ones I assume are sent as “sexts”—feel like stills in a tryst. You’re seeing a person when they feel their best.
What’s the process of making a tapestry?
I constantly collect photos. They end up in a folder on my computer, where I sort them, think, and look. The photos I choose are printed and traced so that I can determine if they’re able to work as a tapestry. I then prepare and dye yarn, warp the loom, and weave. The process itself is very slow—my works are generally 48" wide and I can weave 1" in 2 hours.
What are the challenges of hand weaving?
It’s so slow that it’s rare to make mistakes. But if you do, it takes just as long to undo them if you catch them in time. It’s also not the best for your body; it’s grueling, physical work for your back and hands.
How do you find selfies?
I receive a lot of amazing images through Direct Message on Instagram. But I generally keep an eye out on Tumblr, Google, and Instagram.
Any crazy stories?
I’ve had people send me emails revealing affairs and the images that resulted from them. That’s super intense.
If you could weave a sexy selfie of anyone, who would it be?
Such a hard question! Frida Kahlo or Nina Garcia. It would be amazing to see a softer side to such strong women.
What’s your next project?
I’m hoping to start a series of massive paneled tapestries. I want to weave strips of a piece that are then connected to each other. I’m currently in the process of weaving three 4 x 6 ft. self-portraits.
Do you have any special rituals that help you work?
Lately, my pieces have been so challenging that I procrastinate by prepping for future pieces. To weave I make sure everything I need is close by: scissors, tapestry beater, yarn. Oh, and iced coffee.
What five words sum you up the best?
Stubborn. Scorpio. Persistent. Loner. Creative.
How do you relax?
I try to sleep, read, or go for a walk. That clears my head from the pull of the loom.