“The vibrancy of color plus the textural warmth and the monumental scale seem a combination limited only to tapestries. To me, no other art form offers the same stimulation and excitement.” – Jan Yoors

Yoors began designing abstract tapestries in the late 1950s. His first abstract tapestries incorporated flame and wave motifs, beginning in 1957 with Sparks and Saetas. Sparks incorporates wavy, flame imagery already seen in Yoors’s other figurative works such as appears on the rays of the sun in Nicaraguensen (1956) inspired by a poem by Octavio Paz, in which vertical black and red wave-like motifs form the background for a large sun and moon and two butterflies. Despite Yoors’s creating more abstract compositions in the 60s he continued to design figurative compositions with of female figures, however these scenes lack the narrative element of his earlier designs. The element that changes from the 60s on is that the color palate becomes more refined, with no more than three colors used in most tapestries. These later works are rarely narrative in the way the early tapestries are, as movement and the relations created by the shapes and forms predominate.

Many of the tapestries from the late-60s onward recall geographic and natural forms, such as in the two Negev tapestries inspired by photographs Yoors took while flying above their namesake desert located in Israel while on a 1967 photography commission to document post-war religious architecture.

The ephemeral concepts such as language appears in his later abstract tapestries, such as Written in Fire, one of his largest tapestries at 21 feet wide and 7 feet high. This work resembles scribbled calligraphy that recalls upside down Arabic, or, perhaps even Hindi script. Forgotten Law (1962), with its maze-like design, is another work, which references language in the title and textual in design.

Photography was an increasingly important tool for Yoors in tapestry, and another way in which he transformed the ephemeral into his designs. Photography first becomes particularly important to Yoors’s design process in the late 60s where he cropped and enlarged shapes from his abstract photographs, which he crafted into vibrant designs for tapestries. After receiving a camera in the late 50s Yoors took his camera everywhere, in New York City and throughout his world travels. He took care to photograph ephemeral patina and imperfections predominantly in urban landscapes, such as torn posters, or paint and liquids dripping down walls. The titles given to these works do not reference the subject of the photographs from which they came but rather other forms whether concrete or abstract. In the Past was designed directly from a photograph of the residue of torn paper on a wall, rotated from its original orientation and tightly cropped.

The Tantra series Yoors designed from cropped contact prints he made of leaves and shadows of leaves. These tapestries make up some of his most well-known designs. In naming these tapestries Tantras Yoors was concerned with the tantric concept of focusing on details in order to understand the greater world. As with the Tantra series, nature is a large theme uniting many of Yoors’s compositions. Trees and forests are a reoccurring subject even if the inspiration for works such as Siberian Forest, was a pattern created by dripping paint. This connection reveals Yoors’s innate ability to see shapes and understand them as something else, whether forests, animals, or the night sky, among manifold other subjects.

1. Aerial photographs taken by Jan that inspired the Negev tapestries.
2. Negev 1 – Gouache
3. Negev 2 – Gouache
4. Negev 2 Tapestry installed in the lobby of Marine Midland Bank in Buffalo commissioned by Seymour Knox II. The building was designed by architect Gordan Bunshaft.