Archive for November, 2009

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles with tags , , , , on November 30, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Asian Art Museum, SF—Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam & Burma. The first major exhibition in the West to explore the rich but little known arts of Siam and Burma from the 19th century. Many of the than 140 works, including sculptures, textiles, paintings, and ceramics come from the Doris Duke Collection (recently donated to the Museum) and have never been on display before. The only venue for this show.  Through January 10, 2010.

Modernism, 685 Market Street, SF—Catherine Courtenaye: Fieldhand and Other Works. “Courtenaye’s inscriptions gently mock the idea that every move of the artist’s hand registers some truth of personality or mood. The whole point of calligraphic penmanship was to suppress vagaries of temperament.”—Kenneth Baker.  Through December 23.

Cain Schulte, 714 Guerrero St. SF—Justin Quinn: Keep Out This Frost. “Justin Quinn continues his transcription of Herman Melville’s epic Moby Dick into the letter E. This letter has become a surrogate for all letters in the alphabet, presenting a universal yet unreadable language.  This simplified system allows Quinn to explore the distance between reading and seeing.” Through December 23.

Venetian Red Notebook: Othon Friesz’s Chromatic Fervor

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Othon Friesz, Paysage (Le Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat), 1907
oil on canvas, 25 3/8 x 32″ (courtesy SF MOMA)

It would be easy to overlook Othon Friesz’s Paysage (Le Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat) in the upstairs gallery of works on permanent display at SF MOMA. Tucked just inside the entryway on the right, this gem of chromatic fervor is not directly in sight. With the far wall beckoning, one is tempted to make a bee-line across the room, ignoring the wall on which The Eagle’s Beak hangs.

That would be a shame,  because the painting is just about as good an example of Fauvism—that fleeting but influential movement—as exists in the museum’s collection.

If his mother had had her way, Othon Friesz (1879-1949) would have become a musician. But, Friesz, born into a prominent shipbuilding family in Le Havre, convinced her that art was his true calling. Friesz studied at the École des Beaux-Arts (Le Havre) under neo-classicist Charles-Marie Lhuillier. There he met Georges Braque and Raoul Dufy, who would become lifelong friends, as well as fellow Fauves.

Othon Friesz, Bec de l’Aigle, La Ciotat, 1906-7
oil on canvas, 65.5 x 81 cms.

In 1898, Friesz moved to Paris to study at the Beaux-Arts under Academic painter Leon Bonnat.

Despite the academic styles of of teachers, Othon Friesz’s work this period shows the hallmarks of Impressionism—painting directly from nature, interest in the effects of light

In the first years of the new century, however, Friesz sought to break away from Impressionism. In Paris he met Henri Matisse and came under the spell of the emotional force of colors and the power of the flattened picture plane that defined the Fauvist painters. In 1905, he exhibited with the other Fauves at the seminal Salon d’Automne and again in 1906 at the Salon des Indépendants.

Like Matisse, Derain and the other Fauves, Friesz’s style owes much to Cézanne’s innovations in composition, color and brush technique. Freisz pushed color and line into the realm of the decorative, to great effect. Though the compositional lines of this painting swirl with harmonious movement, curiously Le Bec feels like an unrushed effort. It’s less like a plein air work and more deliberately thought out, more embellished as a result of the thinking.

As critic Clive Bell observed in 1921: “… Friesz has a reaction as delicate and enthusiastic as that of an English poet. Only, unlike most English painters, he would never dream of jotting it down and leaving it at that. Such hit-or-miss frivolity is not in his way. He is no amateur. He takes his impressions home and elaborates them; he brings his intellect to bear on them; and, as the exhibition at the Independent Gallery shows, without robbing them of their bloom, makes them something solid and satisfying. .” (Burlington Magazine, June 1921, p.281)

Othon Friesz, La Ciotat, 1907
oil on canvas, 65 x 80 cm (private collection).

In Le Bec, Friesz has succeeded in revealing the essential character of Le Bec, a most unusual natural form. Equally important through his distinctive color palette—warm yellows and reds—he has expertly evoked the afternoon light of the Mediterranean.

By 1908, a revived interest in Paul Cézanne’s vision of the order and structure of nature had led many of them to reject the turbulent emotionalism of Fauvism in favor of the logic of Cubism. (Braque to substantial success.) And yet, the Fauves released generations of subsequent painters from the restraints of “local” color.

Le Bec stands as our own local testament to this brief, luminescent moment in the history of art.

Wider Connections

Scott Hewicker & Cliff Hengst pair SF MOMA Collection with some of their favorite songs, including this Friesz.
Masters of Color exhibition catalog
More Friesz

Stripped Bare: Amish Quilts at the de Young

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Liz Hager, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Maker Unknown, Pine Trees motif, crib quilt, ca. 1930, Ohio.

As we have observed on these pages before (A Different Canvas), the line that separates art and craft can be narrow indeed, the distinction fueled by a contemporary fine art world intent on preserving its top-dog status.  Nowhere would the distinction seem to be more blurry than at the de Young’s current show Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown.

Maker Unknown, Nine Patch Variation (Tartan) motif, quilt, ca. 1930, Pennsylvania.

While the curators are at pains to point out that there is no documented evidence that modern painters—Joseph Albers, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, or Victor Vasarely, for example—had any connection to the Amish quilting tradition, the visual similarities are inescapable.

Kenneth Noland, Interlock Color, acrylic (?) on canvas, 1973.

Josef Albers, Homage to a Square, acrylic on canvas, 1965.

Frank Stella, Marrakech, oil on canvas, 1964 (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Maker Unknown, Roman Stripe variation motif, crib quilt, c.1915, Kansas.

Certainly, basic geometric shapes are fundamental to all human-made ornamentation, whether the ornamentation ends up as a decorative or fine art piece. The Amish quiltmakers, however, weren’t interested in making art. All aspects of Amish life are dictated by a list of written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which outline the basics of the Amish faith and conduct. Ordnung vary from community to community (which explains why one Amish might ride in a car, but another eschews electricity), but the basic tenets encourage humility and simplicity, and with those,  avoidance of all but the basic forms of ornamentation in dress and accoutrement. Art for art’s sake is associated in the Amish world with pride, vanity, fashion, luxury, and wealth, all cardinal sins.

As a placard at the introduction to the show poignantly proclaims: “The women who made these quilts…lived in a world that was already stripped bare of self-involvement, pride, and even the need to create self-conscious works of art.”

Thus, what makes an Amish quilt “Amish” is precisely what differentiates this body of work from its high-art relatives on display downstairs at the de Young.

Rebecca Zouk, Bars, quilt, ca. 1910, Pennsylvania.

The Amish quilting tradition as outsiders know it, didn’t get underway until the late 1870s—in fact the overwhelming majority of quilts were made between the 1880s and 1960s. To start, quilters constructed their coverings from one solid color, often black, brown, or blue.  The earliest multi-color designs were basic square and rectangles, which slowly evolved into more colorful and bold patterns.

The boldly-colored shapes and their intricate patterning are a visual delight. But look closely at Rebecca Zouk’s Bars quilt from 1915 and you will see the most extraordinarily intricate designs precisely stitched by hand into the background fabric. The sheer joy of discovering this delicate expression of reverence and love (for the recipient as well as the work itself) throughout many of the quilts of the show is alone worth the price of admission.

Maker Unknown, Crazy Quilt motif, ca. 1930, Pennsylvania.

Amish Abstraction is not all dour seriousness. Witness the use of this crazy quilt  from 1930—the cacophony of the traditional motif is restrained, Amish-style, within 12 orderly squares. The Amish knew how to have their fun.

Wider Connections

Faith & Stephen Brown’s site—CollectionAmish Quilts & Modern Art

The Amish Quilt

Josef Albers—The Interaction of Color

Dark Day Picks—New York Roundup

Posted in Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , on November 23, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Today Dark Day Picks departs from its usual coverage of San Francisco to highlight noteworthy events in New York.

Onassis Cultural Center—The Origins of El Greco. Holland Cotter reviewed this show as: the “most enwrapping and enrapturing art in town, framed by alert scholarship, a lambent environment (the installation design is by Daniel Kershaw), and a score of Byzantine music, arranged and performed by the Greek ensemble En Chordais, that will soak into your system and stay there.” See also VR The Making of an Iconoclast.  Though February 27, 2010.

International Center for Photography—Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video. A global survey of some of the most exciting photographers interpreting the theme of fashion. Through January 17, 2010.

American Museum of Natural History—Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. Making stops at Xi’an, Turfan, Samarkand and Baghdad, this multi-faceted show includes dioramas, interactive exhibits, artifacts, performances by Yo-Yo Ma and a variety of films bring the legacy of the ancient Silk Road alive. Through August 15, 2010.

Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fiber Arts, Fine & Decorative Arts, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Christmas advertisement for The Little Gallery
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Muriel Rose (1897-1986), though largely unknown today, played an extremely important pioneering role in the flowering of the 20th-century crafts movement in Great Britain, first with her influential gallery in London and later as a Founder Trustee of the Crafts Study Centre in Surrey.

Muriel Rose, c. 1950s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Muriel Rose (with Margaret Turnbull) opened The Little Gallery on Ellis Street, off Sloane Street, in Chelsea, in 1928, and was its director until the gallery closed in 1939. Rose created an environment where craft was shown as the equal to fine art. A strong and forceful personality, she was rigorous in her standards, and only showed work of the highest level of craftsmanship. She was just as adamant that the work was displayed with care and artfulness. She created vignettes, grouping work in simulated domestic settings. Rose championed the work of established and well-known craftsmen and women as well as anonymous craftspeople from around the world. She exhibited hand-printed and handwoven textiles, glass, pottery, embroidery, lace, hand-made papers and more. The Little Gallery also sold more familiar high-end tableware from Wedgewood as well as English and European art pottery.

The Little Gallery at 5 Ellis Street
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

Rose exhibited the work of potters Bernard Leach and Norah Braden and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie among others, as well as the important textile artists of the day, including the innovative designers of hand-blockprinted textiles, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, and Ethel Mairet, a pioneer in the English handweaving movement. Rose also featured the textile work of Enid Marx, with whom she shared a passion for international folk art and a commitment to preserve the quickly-vanishing ethnic arts of the world. Rose traveled extensively studying and collecting pieces, and in The Little Gallery displayed work from Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, India and Mexico. She also sought out the textile work of miners’ wives from Durham and Wales, exhibiting and selling their high-quality handmade quilts, which were very popular and provided a much-needed financial boon to those impoverished communities.

Bernard Leach: Life & Work by Emmanuel Cooper

Norah Bradon, vase, 1930s
Stoneware with ash glaze

Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, vase with embossed leaves
Stoneware, green ash glaze, c. 1920s-1930s

Barron & Larcher, Peach, design for fabric

Ethel Mairet working at a tapestry loom(undated)

Enid Marx, Rope, textile design (undated)

The Little Gallery was not just a place for craftspeople to exhibit and sell their works, Rose created a community. The gallery was a place where artists could mingle and socialize with each other and with their clients, and often collectors would simply drop by for tea. Rose knew it was important to educate her customers so they would understand the skill required to create the works on exhibit. For example, if there was an exhibition of weaving, looms were brought in to the gallery so the artists could demonstrate their techniques. This interaction between artist and customer encouraged sales, but Rose was also concerned that these traditions, techniques and skills be valued, preserved and passed on.

Welsh quilter, c. 1930s-1940s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

During the war, Rose was hired by the British Council to organize a touring show, The Exhibition of British Crafts. The exhibit opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1942 and toured the United States until 1945. She also organized another show, Exhibition of Rural Handcrafts from Great Britain which toured England and New Zealand in 1946. Rose served as Crafts and Industrial Design Officer of the British Council until 1957. In the 1960s, Rose helped found the Crafts Study Centre. Rose donated her archives and her collection of antique and contemporary crafts to the Centre, and they remain an important part of their collection.

To learn more about Muriel Rose and The Little Gallery, Venetian Red recommends Muriel Rose, A Modern Crafts Legacy, edited by Jean Vacher, published by the Crafts Study Centre in 2006.

To read further about Barron & Larcher, Enid Marx and other British textile designers see previous VR post The British Abstractionists.

A Different Canvas: Charles Burchfield’s Landscapes for Interiors

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags on November 18, 2009 by Christine Cariati

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles and wallpaper.  For all posts in the series, click here.

by Christine Cariati

Charles Burchfield, Morning Glories, c.1925
Design for fabric
Burchfield Penney Art Center

When Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was a young man in Ohio he painted experimental watercolors of nature and insects in an expressionistic and exuberant style where color had deep emotional resonance and even sounds were depicted through an invented calligraphic shorthand. In 1930, the newly-opened Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted Burchfield’s work in their inaugural solo exhibition.

Charles E. Burchfield, The Insect Chorus, 1917
Opaque & transparent watercolor w/ink, graphite & crayon
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York

In the 1930s and 1940s Burchfield shifted gears and began to paint the masterful, quiet yet dramatic portraits of industrial small town and city life for which he became very well known. These paintings were mostly watercolors but had the solidity and palette more commonly found in oil painting.

Charles Burchfield, Freight Cars Under a Bridge, 1933
Watercolor, Detroit Institute of Arts

Then, in 1943, when Burchfield was fifty years old, he returned to the landscape and created a stunning body of work. These large-scale, semi-abstracted landscapes vibrate with energy that lovingly reflects on and explores the landscape of upstate New York—the change of seasons, weather, clouds and flora—in a deeply inspired and spiritual way that has strong psychological and emotional resonance.

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radiant Spring), 1950
Watercolor on paper
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
photo courtesy Gary Mamay

VR recently discovered that in 1921, after studying at the Cleveland School of Art, the young Burchfield relocated to Buffalo, New York (where he lived the rest of his life) to work as a wallpaper designer at M.H. Birge & Sons. He also designed coordinating fabrics for interiors. These designs are harbingers of Burchfield’s later work, celebrating nature and the seasons in a decorative yet very painterly and beautiful way. It’s an interesting variation on the theme of established artists venturing into textile design and yet another example of the fruitfulness of embracing both decorative and fine art.

Charles Burchfield, Bleeding Hearts, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, Robins and Crocuses, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, September, c. 1925

A retrospective of Burchfield’s work, Heatwaves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, is at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through January 3, 2010.

Venetian Red: Notes From the Field

Posted in Design, Liz Hager, Travel, Words & Symbols with tags , , , on November 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

In Notes From the Field, we highlight innovative, witty, and thought-provoking design elements recorded by our readers from around the world.

Signpost, 11/2/09, Perú. (Photo courtesy of Juanita Garciagedoy.)

Juanita writes:

The llama-crossing sign is on the road that goes through Reserva Salinas Aguada Blanca, a few hours from Arequipa, Perú.  The reserve is home to many species of plants, birds, and critters, including wild vicuñas and domesticated alpacas and llamas.  Tourists are only permitted to go there with a guided tour, and on our bus there were several Peruvians, and several Europeans including Mira, a Finnish adventurer and instructor of surfing and physical education.

I took a multiple shots of this signpost, but prefer this one for the sense of surrealism I derive from it.

Venetian Red adds: We like this sign for its multiplicity of information. While locals are cautioned about the road hazard, visitors are additionally alerted to the more poetic cultural message embedded in the sign’s image. You’re not in Kansas, Toto!

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Painting with tags , , on November 16, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.


Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery—Frances McCormack, recent paintings. For McCormack loosely interpreted botanical forms and architectural elements are the vehicles through which she explores the restraints/opportunities presented by the rectangular picture plane. Through Dec. 12.

Caldwell Snyder Gallery—Cole Morgan. Morgan harnesses his signature style—graffiti-like paint notations and pencil scratching—into the grid format. Sometimes Morgan’s work gets a little too self-conscious, but joy and whimsy always shows through. Through Nov. 30.

111 Minna Gallery—The Novemberists, including collages by former SF Supervisor Matt Gonzalez. Through Nov. 30.

A Different Canvas: The British Abstractionists

Posted in Female Artists, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

This is the third installment in a series of posts, in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles.  For all posts in the series, click here.

Henry Moore—Barbed Wire 1946

Henry Moore, Barbed Wire, ca. 1946,
serigraphy in five colors, spun rayon (courtesy The Ascher Collection).

While primarily known as sculptors and painters, the British “Abstractionists” Ben Nicholson (1894-1982), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), and Henry Moore (1898-1986) also designed a fair number of textiles. Though not always huge commercial successes, in fact their designs did help revitalize British textile design, which was nearly moribund in the pre-War years.

Nicholson, Hepworth, and Moore were eager to experiment with textiles; they all considered designing for the applied arts to be a legitimate part of their artistic output. Further, they understood the power of the mass-distributed textiles to introduce their individual aesthetics to new audiences.

Barbara Hepworth—Pillar, 1937

Barbara Hepworth, Pillar, 1937,
woven cotton and rayon furnishing fabric, produced by Edinburgh Weavers.

A discussion of mid-20th-century textile design in Britain necessarily begins with William Morris (1834-1896), the undisputed progenitor of the industry. Through tireless efforts, Morris and members of the Arts & Crafts movement provided the framework—in terms of both design and production—that would thrust Britain, indeed the world, into the modern design age.

Ben Nicholson—3 Circles, 1937

Ben Nicholson, Three Circles, 1946-47,
screen printed linen, produced by Edinburgh Weavers (courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum).

By the mid-19th century Britain enjoyed clear dominance in the production of textiles. An ample supply of inexpensive cotton thread from her colonies, together with an unfailing commitment to industrialization of the weaving process and to the production of synthetic dyes (spurred by the discovery of synthetic mauve in 1856 by Sir William Perkin) formed the backbone of her competitive advantage.

Roller printed export cotton, Lancashire 1858

Pre-Morris Design—typical roller-printed export cotton, Lancashire, ca.1858
(courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum).

Nonetheless, the nation’s pre-occupation with technology eventually stymied design innovation. By the 1860s, the industry was hopelessly mired in copy-cat design practices that bred profusely-ornate and garishly-colored patterns. The country’s ability to provide innovative décor and fashion fabrics to a burgeoning middle class was seriously compromised.

Wm Morris—Larkspur wallpaper, 1872

William Morris, Larkspur (detail), 1872, wallpaper design.

By the 1870s, Morris and his colleagues succeeded in breathing new life into the British textile trade. Morris’ imaginative and harmonious designs were influenced not only by the arts of Medieval England and France, but 16th- and 17th-century Italian textiles, as well as growing attention to the cultivation of formal gardens. The designs sought to achieved a more naturalistic depiction of floral arrangements in both color and form. Indeed, great observation was at the core of  Morris’ superior draftsmanship.  Morris succeeded in creating designs that are timeless; a century and a half later, we still find them irresistible.

In addition, Morris’ unflagging promotion the standards of hand-made production (natural dying, hand weaving, block printing) led to innovation in weaving techniques, which, in turn, restored a richness of quality to fabrics that had nearly been lost through the rapid mechanization of looms.

Phyllis Barron—Log pattern , 1915

Phyllis Barron, Log, 1915, hand-blocked cotton.

The shadow of Morris’ legacy was long. Certainly, pockets of creativity existed in Britain well into the 1920s. After Morris, the design standard was ably carried  by C.F.A. VoyseyWalter Crane, Rennie Macintosh, Liberty’s, the Omega Workshops, among others. Originally painters, Phyllis Barron (1890-1964), Dorothy Larcher (1882-1952), and Enid Marx (1902-1998) were committed to continue the revival of hand block textile printing techniques that Morris had begun. Through much truly laborious work, they produced many stunning designs, in the process keeping the hand-crafted principles of the Arts & Crafts movement alive.

Enid Marx, Blue Waves

Enid Marx, Waves, ca. 1930s, hand-block printed cotton.

Outside Britain, perhaps the most visible disciples of the movement were Peter Behrens and the Darmstadt colony, the Wiener Werkstätte, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Lötte Frömel-Fochler—Grünfink

Lotte Frömel-Fochler, Grünfink, 1910, fabric sample.

By the early 1930s, these innovations notwithstanding, the British textile industry on the whole had once again sunk into a deep design funk. In place of British goods, the lushly-ornamental designs of the French had become highly-desirous. The British textile manufacturers were simply unable to compete effectively. Compounding matters, an ever-deepening economic depression enveloped the nation.

Nancy Nicholson—Unicorn, 1930s

Nancy Nicholson, Unicorn, 1930s, bedspread, block print and stencil.

A handful of textile firms specifically sought to redress this problem. In the early 1930s, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth began experimenting with block printing on textiles through Poulk Press, established by Nicholson’s sister, Nancy. Later they would work under the auspices of Edinburgh Weavers (established in 1928) whose director, Alastair Morton, regularly commissioned artists throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s to provide avant garde fabrics to the architectural trade.

Alastair Morton

Alastair Morton, late 1930s (?).

In October 1937, Morton launched the “Constructivist Fabrics” collection with designs by Nicholson,Hepworth,Winifred Nicholson (Nicholson’s first wife), and Arthur Jackson (Barbara Hepworth’s cousin).

Ben Nicholson—Princess, 1933

Ben Nicholson, Princess, 1933, hand block printed cotton.

Nicholson was already pre-occupied with flat geometric shapes in his paintings and linocut prints, and it is easy to imagine why he was influenced by Enid Marx’s work (though he found her techniques too slow and soon had his sister printing his designs). Nicholson produced some of the most austere textile prints of the pre-War period; but as Three Circles (above) demonstrates, he also could harness his fascination with geometry into appealing designs.

Hepworth’s textile designs closely follow her abstract paintings and drawings, in which she often worked out ideas for her sculptures. Hepworth had a gift for mathematics, and was close to her father (a civil engineer), so her two-dimensional works often have the vestiges of technical drawings in them. She and Nicholson were married for over 20 years, and although their work is different, it is also highly complementary.

Marianne Mahler—Treetops, 1939

Marianne Mahler, Treetops, 1939,
printed cotton and rayon furnishing fabric, printed by Edinburgh Weavers.

Though the importance of the Edinburgh Weavers within interior design industry was substantiated by the magazines and trendsetters of the 1930s and 40s, Morton once admitted that the fabrics weren’t always commercial successes:

There may be relatively few buildings yet that can suitably use them. But we are confident that they are the type of buildings and fabrics that the present generation wants and their production will have been justified if they have helped to develop a genuine contemporary style of interior decoration, keeping its place in the living culture of today.”

—Alistair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Art, Edinburgh, 1978, p. 12

The company continued to produce avant garde textiles until Alastair Morton’s death in 1963.

Victor Vasarely, Oeta, furnishing fabric, 1962,
printed by Edinburgh Weavers, (courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum)

Henry Moore first became interested in fabrics during WWII, when Czech exiles Zika and Lida Ascher commissioned Moore, Matisse, Alexander Calder, Jean Cocteau, and others, to create designs for a collection of limited-edition silk scarves for their textile company. Soon Moore had filled four notebooks with designs, not simply for this commission, but for furnishing fabrics and dress-making material.

Henry Moore—Three Standing Figures, 1944, silk serigraphed scarf

Henry Moore, Three Standing Figures, 1944
serigraph on silk, printed by Ascher, Ltd.

His textile designs show a wholly different Moore, full of expressionistic line and color. Textile design fitted Moore’s socialist aim of integrating modern art into daily life, so familiar, though ominous, objects, including barbed wire or twisted safety pins,  gave his designs a distinctive hard edge. Whimsical motifs such as clock hands, sea creatures, and piano keys referenced Moore’s pre-war flirtation with surrealism.

Henry Moore, textile design

Henry Moore, textile design from sketchbook, 1940s, pencil/was/crayon/wash.

Given the drab chroma of his iconic stone and metal sculptures, one of the most astonishing elements of Moore’s textile designs is his use of vivid color. The artist conceived his hues—among them lime green, mustard yellow, bright pink—as a counterweight to post-war drabness. Moore once said that color for him was “a bit of a holiday,” and his work in textiles offered him the opportunity to work unfettered in this realm.

Wider Connections

Enid Marx
Alison Morton, hand weaver & daughter of Alistair Morton
VADS—Textile Collection
Meg Andrews—Antique Costumes & Textiles
Barbara Hepworth

“Henry Moore Textiles”

Venetian Red: Notes From the Field

Posted in Contemporary Art, Design, Liz Hager, Sculpture, Travel with tags , on November 10, 2009 by Liz Hager

Today Venetian Red launches a new feature, Notes From the Field. Periodically, we’ll highlight innovative, witty, and thought-provoking design elements recorded by our readers from around the world.

Paris- Notes from the Field
Furniture store display window, 11/9/09, Rue du Bac, Paris. (Photo courtesy of Tia Lombardi.)

The City of Light inaugurates Venetian Red’s new feature. Though occupying a back seat to New York, London and Berlin in the juggernaut that is contemporary art, this delightful display is an unexpected reminder that the legacy of Rodin lives on in powerful, if quiet, ways.

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