Entering through a small discrete doorway, you walk down a long corridor and open the door into what appears to be a hospital room, with two hospital beds in the centre, those beds with metal frames – easy to wash down – and huge wheels with ugly brakes so that they can be moved backwards and forwards through the hospital. Something is strange however. Instead of the usual white bedlinen, branded with the logo of the hospital system so that you would never think of stealing it, the beds are covered in quilts or weavings made from photographic and other images. The walls to are covered in artworks, as they are in hospitals which appreciate the healing power of art, but these are not the ubiquitous framed prints – again easy to clean – but more quilts or weavings.
Hales Gallery in Shoreditch is located in the heart of the refurbished Tea Building, a quiet cocooned space isolated from the buzz of the workers in the building, bars and restaurants around it. Making quilts and sewing memories of important events into them has a long tradition in the United States and many examples can be seen, for example, in the American Museum in Britain in Bath. American artist Hunter Reynolds takes this tradition to a new level, making quilts into artworks bursting with memories in his exhibition ‘Love Light’ that took place at the gallery over the summer.
His first quilt or weaving was created for his friend Jack Brusca, the American painter and printmaker who died of AIDS in 1993, when Brusca became confined to hospital, taking inspiration from a wall of photographs in Brusca’s studio, the ‘wall of angels’. These photographs of family, friends and lovers – important people in Brusca’s life – were copied and sewn into a quilt that Reynolds placed on an empty bed next to his, so that he could see his ‘angels’, take comfort from them and relive his memories as his health declined. Evocative of Brusca’s death, the other bed now lies empty, also covered with a quilt.
Reynolds uses his quilts composed of photographs from his own archive to spread messages of hope, both to himself as an HIV-positive gay man, and to others, whether they are battling ill-health, prejudice in society or other issues. Some of his quilts show that the disease itself has its own beauty. As Reynolds said, he ‘realized that (his) work had to do with this experience of death, emotions, and that I wanted people to feel, to experience pain and loss, but also to have hope in life.’
‘The day will come when you will review your life and be thankful for every minute of it. Every hurt, every sorrow, every joy, every celebration, every moment of your life will be a treasure to you, for you will see the utter perfection of the design. You will stand back from the weaving and see the tapestry, and you will weep at the beauty of it.’ (Neal Donald Walsh)