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Tapestries in The Empathy of Patience explore shared humanity 

It all started with a shirt.

It was a very nice, hand-woven linen shirt, to be fair, that caught the eye of then biochemistry graduate student Michael Rohde.

"That started the mental curiosity about how cloth is made," said Rohde, now a fiber artist based near Thousand Oaks.

click to enlarge GOLDEN Artist Michael Rohde captures blurred faces in his tapestries of famous people like the Dalai Lama, above (titled Compassion), and Martin Luther King Jr., below (Dream), who embody the kind of people Rohde wishes to be like. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF MICHAEL ROHDE
  • Photos Courtesy Of Michael Rohde
  • GOLDEN Artist Michael Rohde captures blurred faces in his tapestries of famous people like the Dalai Lama, above (titled Compassion), and Martin Luther King Jr., below (Dream), who embody the kind of people Rohde wishes to be like.

He began with making a shirt. Next, it was rugs. Now, Rohde primarily makes tapestries, which are currently on display at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art as The Empathy of Patience: Michael F. Rohde Tapestries exhibit.

"I realized that the rugs I was making were being used on the wall rather than the floor," Rohde said.

click to enlarge Dream by Michael Rohde. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF MICHAEL ROHDE
  • Photos Courtesy Of Michael Rohde
  • Dream by Michael Rohde.

The loom that Rohde uses works on a grid. Years ago, an art supply store owner remarked that he didn't know why fiber artists were always going against that grid by trying to make circles. Rohde took that advice to heart and now primarily works with lines, squares, and rectangles.

"I started thinking, 'Let's work with the grid and see what I can do with it,'" he said.

While none of his pieces are exactly representational, some of his pieces are certainly reminiscent of major historical and cultural icons. Colored and black-and-white squares come together to make the blurred, pixelated faces of people—including the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr. in his pieces Compassion and Dream, respectively.

"I always want to create something that is pleasing on a visual level," Rohde said. "I think the faces are a little more easy for people to respond to. A number of them, their lifestyle, the way they think about treating people is something I'm drawn to."

click to enlarge ABSTRACT When he's not focusing on faces, Rohde takes inspiration from color and geometry for pieces like Endless Fragment. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF MICHAEL ROHDE
  • Photos Courtesy Of Michael Rohde
  • ABSTRACT When he's not focusing on faces, Rohde takes inspiration from color and geometry for pieces like Endless Fragment.

For all of his tapestries, Rohde dyes his own yarn, so the colors come out just right. His smaller pieces can take three weeks to finish, while a larger piece can take up to six months to complete. In his more abstract works, the artist leans heavily on colors, geometry, and shapes for inspiration. But still, his more abstract pieces aren't only about aesthetics.

"I've always loved color and how colors relate to each other," Rohde said. "If they dug deeply enough into it, they would understand it had an additional meaning."

With his shapes, Rohde hopes to create meaning, perhaps even in a literal way, so that archaeologists may one day try and decipher the code.

"I can't do the same thing for long," Rohde said. "I have to do something new." Δ

Arts Writer Ryah Cooley believes that life is a rich and varied tapestry. Contact her at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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