Erin M. Riley, “Depression” (2021), wool, cotton, 35 x 48 inches (all images courtesy PPOW Gallery)
When I was fourteen I went into the bathroom with a powder blue Swiss Army knife and I pressed it against my arm. I was shocked by the bright red color of the specks of blood that began to appear against my pale skin. Self-harm brings everything into sharp focus, yet it also feels fuzzy, like your body is floating. I thought about these dichotomies — sharpness and softness, and their relationships to trauma, as I walked through The Consensual Reality of Healing Fantasies, fiber artist Erin M. Riley’s solo show, now on view at PPOW Gallery. In Riley’s grandly scaled, astonishingly detailed tapestries, the bright, shocking colors of violence and trauma break through muted grays and whites — the yellow caution tape surrounding freezer trucks outside a New York hospital during the pandemic; a bright yellow walkman in a pile of photographs, CDs, and dirty laundry; the red blood of a bruised hand — flashing like the vibrant feathers underneath the dark wings of a bird you might learn about in a science textbook. Each strikingly realistic image disguises the handwoven process behind it. The artist sources wool from shuttered textile mills around the United States and washes, strips, and hand-dyes her yarn before weaving on a Macomber loom.