The Art of Textiles: Thinking about Matisse

Henri Matisse, ‘Harmony in Red’, 1908. Oil on canvas, 180 x 220 cm.

Matisse collected textiles throughout his life and had generations of weavers in his family. He wanted his work to be decorative and for it to redefine the ‘decorative’ as a positive phenomenon. Painting women and their domestic interiors in a radical way provided him with just the opportunity to explore and expound this.

Surprisingly, loose blue textile-inspired patterns dominate Matisse’s rich painting despite it being called Harmony in Red. They are expressive and organic, mirroring the rising shapes of the fruit bowl and its pot plant. It is as though they are growing out of the floor and claiming the table and walls. These patterns are wild and joyful, suggestive of potential creativity and spirit within the house. The trees framed to the left of the painting appear contained and groomed in comparison.

Despite the overall emphasis on pattern, the woman’s clothes are intriguingly plain. Her blue top compliments but in no way detracts from the blue designs. The angle of her bent head and stooped body leads the eye away from her and towards the patterns at the painting’s centre. She is very much a part of the still life and does not demand a stronger presence. Could she be a maid, or a careful mistress of the house?

In tension with the interior’s patterned promise of creativity, this subdued image of the woman could suggest that her housework – almost literally – consumes her. On the other hand, this blue harmony between her and her surroundings suggests she is at one with her home. In this way, Matisse is keen for us to see that decorative art can have a story and a weight to it. Like all genres of great artistic masterpieces, it shows you a tale just as much as it keeps you asking questions.

Matisse has been clever with this painting. It is heavily ornamented and yet not detailed, so verges towards the abstract. The table merges with the wall, the fruit seem like an extension of the random patterning and the chair is definitely missing a leg. Is it a window or a painting that occupies the left-hand side of the wall? The overall flatness and diminished perspective makes this a difficult question to answer. Pattern, colour and line come first.

The decorative is given a mind of its own; it is not about conforming, but about creativity, expression and the joy in pure colour and design. And let us not forget, the painting cries, that women have a positive – if often overlooked – place within the decorative and textiles businesses.

 

 

 

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In memory of Bristol architect Colin Beales

Bristol architect Colin Beales

Bristol architect Colin Beales

This information is on display at The Beales Bequest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection.

The collage of photographs

The photographs within the collage displayed in The Beales Bequest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection include some of the buildings that Colin designed or worked on during his career as a successful Bristol architect. Derek Balmer took many of the professional photographs of the buildings and their interiors.

Collage wall at Colin's old flat

Collage wall at Colin’s old flat

The images have been arranged in a collage formation, which is reminiscent of Colin’s way of working on architectural projects. It is also similar to the collage wall in his old flat at 19 West Mall. A photograph of this collage is featured. It provides a wide range of inspirational images, from furniture, sculpture and food, to even a cat.

The Dickinson Robinson building

The Dickinson Robinson building

 

The Dickinson Robinson Building, or 1 Redcliffe Street

The Dickinson Robinson Building, or 1 Redcliffe Street, was the headquarters for Dickinson Robinson Group (DRG) in Bristol, designed by its own architecture department and completed in 1963. Modern buildings were accepted for DRG’s factories, so they were eventually persuaded that a modern building for their headquarters would be appropriate too.  Continue reading

Bertoia’s Diamond Chair in ‘The Beales Bequest’ exhibition

This article is published on The Ken Stradling Collection blog

Colin Beales sitting in The Diamond Chair

Colin Beales sitting in The Diamond Chair

Harry Bertoia, an Italian-American sculptor, university lecturer and furniture designer, created The Diamond Chair in 1952 for the firm Knoll International. It comprises of a series containing a small and large version of the chair, a chair with an raised back and a footstall, a child’s chair and a bar chair. The Knoll website refers to them as the ‘wire collection’, and this post illustrates the classic Diamond Chair, The Bird Chair and The Side Chair from this collection. The chairs are sculptural, sturdy and functional; they are surprisingly comfortable and supportive.

Most chairs in the mid twentieth century were made of wood, so it was relatively novel that a chair like Bertoia’s Diamond Chair was made with steel. This technique of using steel was familiar to Bertoia due to his experimental work as a sculptor. The fluid lines of the bent metal are pleasing to the eye and unusual in furniture design.

The chairs holds an interesting shape from all sides. Although wide, the spaces between the wires give it a quality of lightness and airiness, so it doesn’t seem to impose upon a space. This makes it an appropriate chair for a small or minimalist room.

Continue reading

The opening of The Beales Bequest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection

The Beales Bequest PosterA version of this article is on The Ken Stradling Collection website

From tomorrow, Wednesday 14th January, the latest exhibition at The Ken Stradling Collection will be open to the public. I have co-curated this show, entitled The Beales Bequest, and wrote the gallery’s information texts. I also contribute to their blog, and will be writing a series of blog posts about individual objects featured in this exhibition.

The Beales Bequest revolves around the eclectic objects that a Bristol architect and founding trustee of The Ken Stradling Collection left with his artist wife to the Collection when they died last year.

Colin and Jennifer Beales were great friends with Ken Stradling. Colin often drove around Bristol with Ken, and they travelled together to parts of Europe, to view or purchase furniture, ceramics and art. He in particular had a long association with The Bristol Guild. Jennifer also made significant contributions, such as formulating the title of the Collection’s catalogue, “The Incidental Collector”, which Colin helped to write and edit.

On display in the exhibition there will be a great variety of ceramics by many important British makers from the 20th and 21st centuries. Think Dan Arbeid (who The Guardian has described as “one of the pioneers of unconventional vessel-based handbuilt forms”), Mick Casson, Stig Lindberg and Herbert Krenchel.

There will also be bold and often humorous pieces of glasswork and sculpture, as well photographs of Colin’s main architectural projects and some of the Beales’ own art – pottery, etchings and paintings – exhibited too.

The Beales Bequest will be open to view every Wednesday 10 – 4pm and by appointment until 11th March (the exhibition has been extended beyond the original date of the 4th February).

Pieces by Stig Lindberg, Erik Hoglund and Herbert Krenchel

Pieces by Stig Lindberg, Erik Hoglund and Herbert Krenchel

 

T. J. Clark comes to London to shed new light on Picasso and ‘truth’

Published in Trebuchet Magazine

This autumn, acclaimed art historian T. J. Clark has been travelling round London giving talks about his latest book ‘Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica’. In this book Clark concentrates on the artwork Picasso produced during the 1920s, which has been considered not to be the artist’s best period. Indeed, Greenberg calls the results of this artistic epoch a failure of nerve. Other scholars have criticised Picasso’s art at this time in terms of its ‘brightness’, condemning it as overdone. Clark conveyed that he wanted to re-address the 1920s because it is neglected and misunderstood – a motive that fits well with his well-known desires to re-address the methodologies and focuses of the history of art in a new type of Social Art History.

Clark concentrates on three particular paintings in his central chapters. The first, ‘Guitar and Mandolin on a Table’ 1924, which he renames ‘Still Life in Front of a Window’, is the largest still life Picasso ever did. Next to be considered is ‘The Three Dancers’ made in 1925 – a painting Picasso said was his best, or better than ‘Guernica’. This is renamed as ‘Young Girls Dancing in Front of a Window’ in Clark’s book. The last central painting addressed is ‘The Painter and His Model’ 1927, which is by far the least well-known work of the three. The renaming of the paintings to locate the subject matter within rooms and to include window references is important for Clark’s argument, as I hope to illustrate later.  Continue reading