Publication: The Times.
VISUAL ART: GILES SUTHERLAND
UNTIL 18 JUNE
STAR RATING **** (FOUR)
Although the term ‘artisan’ is much used – and abused – in a contemporary context, its roots can be traced back to a time when there were fewer conceptual and practical divisions between fine artists and crafts-people. It was a point made in the Victorian era by William Morris and John Ruskin of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The invisibility and anonymity of masons, metal workers, cabinet makers, glass artists and a whole host of others is an historical and cultural scandal. In a small but deliberate way the current show by Collect Scotland – a textile design collective producing printed textile designs for industry, established in 2012 – aims to redress this. The show includes work produced over the past 4 or 5 years, as well as specially commissioned pieces by 15 designers.
The vibrant and individual work – an important and developing part of a Scotland-based creative economy – also counters stereotypical notions of textile design and use – there’s not a scrap of tartan to be seen.
“They influence almost everything you see around you, but you probably won’t know their names,” say Collect about members of their profession. Almost all aspects of the constructed environment have been designed in some way – seat coverings on trains, buses and cars, our domestic interiors from carpets to curtains, and much of the corporate world.
The curators, who include Marion Parola and Chloe Highmore, have conceived and designed a show that makes good use of the large rugged space in this former printing works. Expansive banners, several metres long, of individually printed textiles flow from wall to floor, like an unfolding sculptural narrative. They emphasise the notion that the end-use these printed motifs may be carpeting, curtains or, as Morris so ably demonstrated, wallpaper.
As is the norm in the fashion and textile industry, the curators identified a number of abstract putative ‘trends’ or themes – in this case Chiaroscuro, Earthly Paradise, Cut and Paste, Emotional Landscape and Remembered Dreams – and asked each invited designer to respond.
The result is a profuse outburst of creative imaginings, transformed through digital and traditional technologies as patterned motifs. Joanna Dixon with her design ‘Mountainscape’, forexample, has created an emotional landscape in bold rugged shapes, with violets, flame oranges and passionate yellows, which almost leap from the walls.
Susan Castillo, whose work, Ascend, is photographically derived, has used leafy plants as her central motif. Elsewhere, the same artist has created another plant-and-collage image, which compositionally resembles a painting.
An entire wall here is given over to a series of samples of the type textile designers routinely display at trade fairs. These are shown to prospective buyers and have been created often with the advice of professionals who advise on current trends. The array of available options, from bold colourful repeated motifs to quieter more intricate monochrome designs, is dazzling and baffling. Which would make the best curtains or sofa fabric for Ikea? It’s not a hypothetical question, as the collective have already sold their work to the Swedish furniture giant.
If there is a flaw in the way this show has been conceived, it lies in not fully explaining the technological processes behind these imaginative and spirited creations. A short display showing the process from initial idea, to the finished textile (wool, cotton, linen, silk etc.) would go a long way to redressing this knowledge gap.
That said, the show cannot be faulted for enthusiasm, innovation, drive and flair.