Thursday May 15th 2014
The Fashion & Textile Museum
79-85 Bermondsey Street SE1 3XF
Jo, Mary and I arrived on foot after a short if unscenic walk from London Bridge Station (having crossed all the lines at platform level you then have to skulk beneath them along Bermondsey Street) to find the easy-to-spot Fashion & Textile Museum. This is an area of London still full of narrow streets which used to be part of the leather and tanning industry, with the nasty effluent heading into the rivers, and which is gradually being rehabilitated and loved.
The Museum was set up by Zandra Rhodes, well known for her colourful Sixties and later designs and the exterior of the building reflects her colour palettes. There are those in the party (no names mentioned) whom the word ‘Fashion’ might make run for the hills, but I am pleased to say that by the end Jo (oops) was wishing it was her turn to write an account of our visit. The exhibition was entitled ‘Artist Textiles – Picasso to Warhol’ but contained so much more than the two named artists – essentially everyone you may ever have heard of (and a few not) had been seduced or persuaded into designing head scarves at the very least or dressmaking or furnishing fabrics at most. Jo took many photos and almost certainly I will have made errors in the captions so I will let you match artist to picture!!
The artists included :
Matisse (of course)
Sonia Delaunay – fabulous stripes and choice of colour
Dufy – amusing and topical prints with variations of Charlie Chaplin or tennis matches – very Thirties
Miro, and – the real revelation – Salvador Dali. None of us enjoys his work and indeed find it positively unsettling (I know that’s the point) but his textile designs were an enthralling and witty surprise. (This one is 'Number Please')
If all that Alexander Calder makes you think of is giant mobiles think again; he too ventured into textile design, though of a rather spidery and less attractive finished article.
Rather in the mould of William Morris in the preceding century, several of the artists joined or started specific design workshops. The Bloomsbury Set started Omega Workshops and here were represented by a Ben Nicholson rug, to which any of us would have given houseroom, and a Vanessa Bell item. There was also an example from the Wiener Werkstatte and into the Post war period Hammer Prints.
By the time we reached the post war period – late Forties and Fifties textiles were being used for frocks – eavesdropping on the many other visitors, entirely female it has to be said, these provoked waves of nostalgia for Horrockses frocksand home dressmaking. As some-one with the equivalent of two left feet where sewing is concerned this is not a conversation I could join but I was still left admiring the clothes.
The more tailored and formal styles then give way to the vibrant colours and looser shapes of the Sixties: stand out items include Warhol’s ‘Happy Bug Days’ in two colourways – turquoise and orange of course – and his delightful melon prints. Again we had no idea he had designed so much and so well for both furnishing and fashion.
Less surprising were the contributions from Picasso, who was always happy to squiggle on a plate and sell it, whose fabric designs were taken up by an Apres-Ski Company of all things. His Mediterranean-inspired designs, and bull fight motifs sit slightly oddly with anoraks and the like.
The last room showcased designs by Sarah Campbell , who has continued designing solo after the death of her sister Susan Collier – the board showed how artists build up colour and small details of design into paintings which then form the basis of a repeat pattern – quite inspirational.
I think this exhibition demonstrated quite clearly that there is no firm dividing line between Art and Design, and making their work available in a more accessible and possibly affordable way can only enhance the reputation of the various artists and bring pleasure to those who buy the end products.
This exhibition is about to end but future plans include exhibitions revolving around Mexico and Frida Kahlo, and knit wear design, and on the basis of today’s experience we would all be keen to return. There is no permanent exhibition but a series of changing special shows.
PS Steinberg's Paddington Station for anyone nostalgic for transport.