Paul Klee – Making Visible

This weekend we also visited this wonderful exhibition at the Tate Modern. Having studied Klee’s colour work and visited the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican during my last OCA module, it was a great follow-on in my education of this inspiring movement. The first thing that struck me was the size of the majority of the works on show. We have been living with large scale prints of Klee’s work at home for more than a decade, and it was disorientating at first to realise how small they were in life. The exhibition was extensive, covering all periods of his life and work, from his beginnings in Nazi Germany, forced relocation to Switzerland, conscription to fight in the war and later illness and premature death from systemic sclerosis. It also, of course gave a broad coverage of work done and classes taught whilst part of the Bauhaus foundation.

This was perhaps the most technical exhibition I have ever visited, with most of my reflections and notes being about use of mixed media and many, many sketchbook ideas. My partner entered the exhibition very fond of Klee’s work, but as a non-artist was somewhat fatigued by the scale of the exhibition, with a huge number of pieces exploring colour and media in abstract compositions.

I was inspired by the use of ink, watercolour and oils together, and the different ways in which each medium was employed. His early work mainly consisted of abstract watercolour compositions exploring how tonal shifts and contrasting or complementary colours can sit together with dynamic effect. His later watercolour works included a number of paintings of built up layers of the same colour watercolour which I felt could be replicated in the form of a reduction linocut. There was evident humour in some of his works, and I particularly enjoyed a series of paintings of an aquarium, with fish depicted with big bulging eyes.

One area of special interest in terms of printmaking practice were his monoprints. He produced a huge number of backdrawn monoprints, to which watercolour was applied. These varied in subject, but his marks in conjunction with the crackled line achieved by backdrawing and loose application of colour created hugely atmospheric, and engaging images. Some of these painting were then cut apart and collaged before overpainting, allowing alteration of the composition and adding an extra layer of complexity to the final piece.

His work takes on a more sculptural feel in places, with use of collage and varying methods of priming and preparation that had interesting effects on the painting. He used a variety of base materials throughout the exhibition – paper, cardboard, plywood, burlap, calico. One of my favourite pieces was ‘Bewitched-Petrified’ 1934, watercolour on plywood. It looked like the plywood had been scratched into before painting to create strong lines of shading. Another interesting and inspiring painting was ‘Structural II’, 1924. Chalk-primed canvas was painted with gouache and watercolour in blocks of colour, and cream tempura, red tempura, and black ink lines were overdrawn, using varying levels of contrast between line and base colour throughout. The tempura is not quite opaque, and the resulting painting is a densely rich patchwork. Similar line designs are explored in his ‘Rhythms’ series in 1927, using techniques including scratching through a semi-translucent layer of pale oil paint. This method of scratching drawing through wet paint is employed again in “Walpurgis night’ 1935, in which the mark making was reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting.

There are many other areas of exploration in his work, including a room of pointillist pieces, which, to be honest I was no so keen on, and another series that looked very much like abstract precursors to Keith Haring’s work. He was truly an artist ahead of his time who pushed his materials to the limits throughout his life.


Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol

This weekend, I visited this exhibition at Zandra Rhodes’ Fashion and Textiles Museum in London. The exhibition is accompanied by the book “Textile Design: Artist Textiles 1940-1976” by Geoff Rayner et al (Antique Collectors Ltd, 2012).

The exhibition begins by presenting collaborations between artists such as Matisse and Henry Moore and textiles companies in the 1940’s as part of a strategy to revive the struggling post-war British textile industry and appeal to an American market. At the same time, companies in America were collaborating with fashionable artists such as Salvador Dali to bring modern art to the masses. This work follows on nicely from William Morris’ ideal in bringing new art and design into people’s homes. These collaborations as a commercial venture reminded me very much of some of the modern ‘capsule collections’ we see on the high street, branded by high-end catwalk couture designers; or the work of artists such as Rob Ryan or the design house ‘People Will Always Need Plates’ who have worked with Clothkits in designing their clothing. This carried on into the 1960’s, and the exhibition presents many examples of work commissioned from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. I felt that a lot of the designs seemed very dated, and I guess that this is a consequence of the aim to be commercially fashionable. A good example of this is Joan Miro’s ‘Dancing People’ designed for Fuller Fabrics in New York 1956, which is very anchored in it’s time. Others may, of course, disagree with my assessment.


In the 1950’s, companies including Heal’s and Edinburgh Weavers employed artists to design for them, or translated work by well known artists into printed woven textiles. An example I particularly enjoyed was ‘Whithorn’ by William Scott (Edinburgh Weavers) which was used widely in the interiors of Altnagelvin Hospital in Northern Ireland. I liked the contrast between fine marks and broad strokes, a primitive design in earthy colours with a large repeat. Although I liked the sample, I felt that it would be very austere and overbearing in any quantity. It seemed a heavyweight choice for a hospital setting, where today’s interiors use calming, clean and usually pale tones.





By far my favourite designs on show were those from the furnishing fabric company Hammer Prints, established in 1954 by sculptor Eduardo Paoluzzi with his wife Freda (textile designer), and the photographer Nigel Henderson with his wife Judith Stephen (anthropologist and sociologist). Judith was also niece of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Wolf, which helped establish them as the artistic definition of the Bloomsbury agenda.  This sample is entitled ‘Newsprint’, and stood out as the only design on show with any element of photographic imagery. From a distance the design takes on the feel of  a rugged landscape, with more details being revealed as you get closer. The lack of colour in their work also set them apart in the exhibition.



During the 1960’s, Picasso collaborated with American companies Bloomcraft Fabrics and American ski-wear company White Stag. ‘Musical Fawn’ for Bloomcraft was a particularly striking piece, and the juxtaposition of the fabric sample in colour and made-up dress in black and white allowed the viewer to appreciate the effect of colour and contrast on a design, and how different a sample can look from the fabric to the dress. The scale of the design and repeat also becomes particularly important and can completely change the feel of the piece. The large bold repeat works to show off the bold, stripped back composition.




Prior to this exhibition, I had not appreciated how much work Andy Warhol had done in textile design. His work had a naivety in both subject and it’s execution that was very appealing. I have seen many examples over the past 30 years of his work being directly copied or inspiring designs for modern apparel, but all of these designs by him in the textile medium were completely new to me.


A section on illustration in textiles was dominated by work by Saul Steinberg, who was commissioned by Piazza Prints in 1950’s America to design fabrics based on his satirical illustrations. I was mesmorised by the effect of the repeat, and how successful the results were. I would love to have a summer skirt from this directional print!



Finally,  a print that caught my eye was this pattern ‘Princess’ by Ben Nicholson, which features a portrait of his then lover Barbara Hepworth. I was interested to see how the repeat works with repeated elements within it and inversion of the main pattern block within the design. Despite the way in which the pattern is constructed, the design still flows in a pleasing fashion across the piece.