Threads Sing in Paolo Arao’s Devotion to Textiles

05.07.24 | By
Threads Sing in Paolo Arao’s Devotion to Textiles

Devotion is the loom with which artists weave craft, steadfastness, and personal conviction, for a meaningful creative practice. Filipino-American artist Paolo Arao explores this concept – metaphorically and physically – with his second solo exhibition on view at the David B. Smith Gallery, aptly named Devotion, in a showcase of new textile works alongside collaborative totem sculptures that pull on patrons’ heartstrings.

Interior of an art gallery with a series of textile artworks displayed on white walls alongside a long corridor with wooden flooring.

The lyricism of Devotion plays out in textile drawings where geometric patterns are hand stitched into appliquéd patchworks in a symphony of color. Viewers’ eyes follow varied visual thread weights and move along the intricate line work as if reading sheet music. “For me, the most direct link to musicality and textiles comes through the instruments used to create music and cloth,” Arao says. “The loom is like a piano. And I think of weaving as a way of making threads sing. There is a somatic rhythm to weaving on a loom that feels connected to playing music on a piano.”

Art gallery interior with wooden floors and white walls displaying various artworks, including a large woven textile and several framed paintings.

Closeup view of woven textile art pieces in blues hanging on gallery wall

Interior of a modern art gallery with white walls displaying colorful abstract paintings and a wooden floor leading to a staircase at the back.

Four colorful abstract paintings displayed on a white gallery wall with a hardwood floor.

Interior of an art gallery showing a white wall with three artworks: two framed pieces on the left and a colorful textile artwork on the right.

A large, multicolored woven tapestry with a plaid pattern hanging on a white wall, featuring primarily purple and red hues with fringed edges.

Modern art gallery interior with colorful woven textile on a white wall, and two framed artworks hanging on adjacent walls, in a room with wooden flooring.

Modern art gallery interior showcasing colorful abstract paintings on a white wall, with exposed wooden beams and ductwork overhead.

Part of what makes the collection so poignant is the visitors’ ability to glean personal meaning from a material most are intimately familiar with, and often interconnected by. Following a rich Filipino textile heritage and cultural ideologies, Arao imbues pattern, texture, joinery, and hue with a bit of spiritual healing and protective power – so to speak. Dizzying patterns and kaleidoscopic colorways, which do create a greater visual vibration, are thought to offer protection to the beholder in warding off evil spirits. Call it faith or superstition, the power of composition is bewitching to onlookers, fascinating to critics, and an essential source of inspiration. “I carry color within me,” Arao adds. “My relationship to color is not passive. It is political, it is personal, it is emotional, it is felt, and it is in my very being.”

Yellow and black woven textile art hanging on gallery wall

closeup of yellow and black woven textile art

Art gallery interior with five colorful abstract paintings hung on a white wall, the largest featuring a black and yellow grid pattern on the right.

Three framed digital artworks featuring geometric patterns in pink, blue, and purple hues, displayed on a white gallery wall.

Two pieces of modern art on a white gallery wall; one large striped textile and a smaller framed blue piece to the right.

Framed textile artwork featuring a geometric patchwork of orange and black squares with intricate white stitching patterns.

While prismatic quilted pieces and the “all-seeing, protective eye” represented in a repeating diamond motif are mainstays of Arao’s repertoire, new to his oeuvre are textile paintings made on the loom, handwoven multi-panel tapestries, and wooden fiber sculptures created collaboratively with artist Gregory Beson. Each of these formats is a testament to having built a consistent rhythm of works where each new textural or material element can step forward from a chorus of tradition for their own solo performance. Pieces like Nocturnes and Études employ precision needlework against complementary woven backdrops for this new series of intimately-scaled, wall-based textile works.

Aboriginal dot painting with geometric patterns in a wooden frame, featuring a symmetrical arrangement of earthy and white dots on a dark background.

Framed artwork featuring a geometric pattern of white lines forming various intricate designs on a dark blue background, displayed in a black frame.

Interior of a bright art gallery with colorful abstract paintings on white walls, wooden floors, and exposed ceiling beams.

A bright art gallery interior featuring wooden floors, white walls, and modern sculptures near a window overlooking a city street.

The clear aesthetic labor echoes soft fabric sounds while conjuring visions of nimble needlework, which together harmonize aesthetics, techniques, and the artist’s heritage. “There’s an immensity packed into an intimate scale, and I hope that these pieces can invite a moment of wonder or reflection for the viewer.”

A modern art gallery interior with a large wooden spiral sculpture on a pedestal, and two framed artworks on the white walls.

Sculpture installation in a gallery featuring a tall, vertical piece with curved wooden elements, and a smaller, round wooden wall piece.

Art gallery room with a spiral wooden sculpture on a pedestal in the center and four abstract wooden wall sculptures.

Art gallery corner with three abstract wooden sculptures: one freestanding helix-shaped piece and two wall-mounted shapes resembling wings.

A wooden sculpture shaped like a broken heart, composed of two pieces bound together with red thread, mounted on a white wall.

Paolo Arao’s work will be on view in the Main Gallery and Project Room at David B. Smith Gallery until May 11. You may learn more about the artists involved and see more of their work by visiting and, or visit the gallery website at

With professional degrees in architecture and journalism, Joseph has a desire to make living beautifully accessible. His work seeks to enrich the lives of others with visual communication and storytelling through design. Previously a regular contributor to titles under the SANDOW Design Group, including Luxe and Metropolis, Joseph now serves the Design Milk team as their Managing Editor. When not practicing, he teaches visual communication, theory, and design. The New York-based writer has also contributed to exhibitions hosted by the AIA New York’s Center for Architecture and Architectural Digest, and recently published essays and collage illustrations with Proseterity, a literary publication.