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Artist Textiles, Picasso to Warhol (by Margaret Cooter)

In London until 17 May is an exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum of about 200 textiles designed by artists, including some of the big names – not just Pablo and Andy, but Saul Steinberg, Sonia Delaunay, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró and Ben Nicholson.

The show has  examples of Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstraction, Surrealism and Pop Art. Nor are the companies that produced the fabrics absent – Ascher scarves (including a 1947 design by Matisse); the New York based company Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics (with scarf designs by Salvador Dali and Manuel Vertes); and Fuller Fabric – their’Modern Master Prints’ series pulled the coup of getting Picasso’s designs.

The museum allowed photography, and you’ll be able to find many pix from the show on the web (some links are at the end of this post).

Furnishing fabric design by Bernard Adeney (head of textiles at Central School, 1930-1947)

Calculations by Picasso – his fabrics could be worn as clothing, but weren’t made in upholstery weight

“Flight” by Irish-born designer Louis Le Brocquy (1916-2012) (see another colourway here)
A border print by Saul Steinberg
Another Picasso print
John Piper had a finger in many artistic pies and in the 50s and 60s produced textile designs, often of buildings and landscapes.
“Desert Rocks” (1947) is by Salvador Dali (two scarves by Dali are shown here)
Marcel Vertes' Radishes, 1945. Vertes was a prolific designer for the Wesley Simpson compnay

Marcel Vertes’ Radishes, c.1945. Vertes was a prolific designer for the Wesley Simpson company













Andy Warhol's Buttons

Andy Warhol’s Buttons












Charlie Chaplin fabric, c1927

Charlie Chaplin fabric, c1927













The Horrockses dresses, much sought after in the 1950s (and a hot vintage item now), still seem “so English” to me, even after living in the UK for several decades. The photo (from here)


shows textiles designed by Graham Sutherland, c.1949 (left) and by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1953.


To see more artist textiles in the show, you could start with these links –

“Everybody wants to get it done quickly” (by Margaret Cooter)

Nowadays it seems that the books that are being published about quilting in particular, and perhaps other textile arts in general, are along the lines of “Make a Quilt in a Day”. It’s all about speed, about making more and more items – productivity seems to be the sought-after achievement. What’s driving this need for speed?

Quilts from the 1970s – from

Quilts from the 1970s – from

Back in the days of the 1970s quilt revival, not only did we have just a few books setting out how to make our quilts – and if we didn’t want to use the designs they supplied, we worked out designs on graph paper. Now, everyone can do it faster and better by searching out tutorials on the web; furthermore, traditional quilters have electronic programs to work out individual designs, and contemporary quilters can use photos and so much else.

It’s really exciting, this augmented world of possibility – but is it just too exciting? Are quilters (of whatever categories and persuasions) being misled by being pushed into always doing the next new thing, and into the need for instant gratification? Or is it that through this exposure we have accumulated so much in our brain that we want to do, and doing it quicker will mean we succeed in our goal of producing as much as we can?


Quilting in the 2000s – new materials, new technologies, and no end in sight (via

We chose our own path and focus, of course, and there will always be a bandwagon effect that makes it hard not to jump on to the newest fad. For many people, though, quilting is a way to escape the frenetic pace of social media, constant information, lack of a work-life balance, and similar modern ills.

In trying to make it easier (and quicker) for ourselves, it’s hard to get away from using other people’s patterns, drawings, photos, instructions – they get us to the point where we can get on with “just making”. No further decisions need be made, the project will not falter or stall because of indecisiveness … only because of diminishing interest or lack of time.

Even for the artist/designer who turns quiltmaker, the many decisions needed to get as far as the “making” stage can sometimes be daunting. Have you had an idea and worked it up on paper or in samples, but not started the actual making because it seems that finishing this huge quilt will take too much time, time that you’d subconsciously allocated to several other projects as yet unvisualised? And could this be because, deep down somewhere, you’re not all that sure that this particular project, despite all your preparation and care, will turn out the way you want it to? Is it too big a risk to make the commitment?


“Silence” by Derek Melander (via

For some people, the focus is on production and results. For others, their pleasure comes from the process – they simply love the making. For all of us, we work at different speeds – sometimes we really do need a quilt to be ready tomorrow; for example, a long-planned project to welcome a baby can suddenly jump to the top of the list.

The Slow Textiles movement is embraced by some quilters but it’s definitely not in the mainstream that publishers are feeding with “quilt in a day” books.

Another hopeful sign is Modern Quilts, makers who are taking quilting back to its roots – not just by rediscovering the patterns and techniques that got the resurgence in quilting going in the 1970s, but by using the methods of those times – planning on graph paper and hand quilting among them.

Taking your time when making textile work emphasizes, quite rightly in my opinion, the sense of connection that is always inherent in cloth: connection with the body, with warmth, with continuity, with care. Connection of the maker with the fabric and with the intended use of the new item, and with its users. Connection with old cloth and its history, including the history of its making and of its maker.

Arguably, productivity is over-rated. Less can be more: more care, more satisfaction.

And yet, and yet – the proliferation of books, techniques and supplies means that specialist shops (and teachers)  can make a living out of quilting. The availability of so many patterns and kits means that beginners, or people unsure of colour choices or unwilling to burden themselves with a large stash, can derive the satisfaction of making, and express their need to make something beautiful.

When art is temporary, does it last? (by Margaret Cooter)

Would you like this to happen to your art?


It was done by permission of the artist, Motoi Yamamoto. Yamamoto’s  salt sculptures, which take weeks to install, include Floating Garden (below). It represents the eye of a storm, so perhaps what happened at the end of the show – the perfect storm of preschoolers – was entirely appropriate. Generally, on the last day of his exhibitions, the salt is returned to the sea.


Seeing the photo of the “destruction” of the work led to thoughts about the permanence, or ephemerality, of art works. Why do some artists deliberately make work that isn’t meant to last “forever”?

Linda Florence uses sugar to much the same effect as Yamamoto, sifting it through stencils onto a dance floor – the destruction by dancers is part of the work’s life –


Richard Wright won the Turner Prize in 2009 with his site-specific painting, which used traditional fresco techniques and gold leaf, and took three weeks to make – and probably about 20 minutes to paint over at the end of the exhibition.


The next year the Turner Prize winner was Susan Phillipsz, a sound artist. “Lowlands”  was first shown – or rather, heard – under old bridges along an industrial river in Glasgow. Transferred to a white room in the gallery , it was played on speakers in three corners, requiring the audience to move about to experience the work fully (as with the original installation). It was also caught in a video – hear it, and see the setting, at, a different experience … but also an ephemeral one.


Some art is ephemeral because of the materials used, or its situation; consider the land art of Andy Goldsworthy, selected leaves on a rock in a river that will get swept away, or an Ice Arch that will melt once the sun rises.



Is ephemeral work all that these artists do? Yamamoto (who is Japanese) calls himself a salt installation artist, and yes, that’s all he does. Florence (who is British) is a designer; her wallpaper, for instance, be seen on the walls of Ted Baker’s New York flagship store and the changing rooms in Selfridges, London. Phillipsz was originally a sculptor and started making sound works in 1998.

Goldsworthy and Wright are artists who deliberately choose to make ephemeral work. Goldsworthy’s practice includes photographic documentation, and arguably the many books of his work belie any ephemerality, not to mention that a digital catalogue has been compiled. Wright (who is currently making a stained glass window for the Tate) is on record as saying, after his Turner Prize win, that he wants to leave nothing behind. Worthy as this sounds, I contend that leaving nothing behind is impossible, in an age of data trails and photos posted on the internet – if indeed it is these traces that are the record of an experience of art, of an individual seeing (or hearing) something that changes their subsequent perceptions.

Anyway, why should we worry if, at the end of the day, children roll about and mess up the art, or it becomes a backdrop for dancers? Is that worse somehow than a tidy sweeping up and disposal when the exhibition period is finished? Is the mere fact of there being an exhibition, with its limited duration, part of the fact of a work being art, and deserving reverence? When the show has closed, the art goes on record and/or disappears from view. Is that very different from it disappearing through an act of destruction?

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