Monday, 28 May 2012


I love the Barbican. It's one of my favorite places. It rockets skywards into the London skyline like some bizarre rock formation. A man-made urban Monument Valley. 

In winter I'll sit in the library reading the periodicals and in summer I'll have coffee outside in the middle oasis by the fountains. At anytime I'll be winding around their art galleries soaking up whatever is on offer.
The latest morsel for consumption is a comprehensive corral of textiles, glass, ceramics, furniture, and architecture from that most celebrated of design schools The Bauhaus, which was founded in 1919 by architect Walter Groupius. It's intention was for all arts and crafts to become anonymous design directed towards production rather than individual creative expression. The Bauhaus went though three destinations of Weimar, Dessau and Berlin before being closed by the Nazis in 1933 for being too radical, revolutionary and left-wing.
The Bauhaus's obvious legacy is it's influence on Modernism and the idea that design and function have to go hand-in-hand to be taken seriously...yawn...zzzz...sorry dropped off there for a second but 'Art Is Life' seems to contradict a lot of the bollocky-boo that surrounds these ideas of what constitutes good design. Many of the exhibits, especially the early output, and the numerous photographs show a surprisingly playful, brave, and highly expressive creative approach to not only the art and design side of the school but life in general. There were regular concerts, performances and parties. The girls cut their hair short and wore trousers and there was even a Bauhaus jazz band, and this sense of happy and mad freedom is reflected on every level throughout the exhibition.

Above, a madcap costume for 'The Triadic Ballet' by Oskar Schlemmer, 1922.

If you would like to add a touch of bonkers Bauhaus to your home why not go for our braids and tassels from the Newport collection.

11cm 'Vision On' braid
left 'Miles' tassel,
right, rosettes

The best thing about Bauhaus -Art Is Life? The textiles, and a chance to see their wonderment in the flesh rather than pawing over their images in books. I've always been smitten with the Bauhaus weavers output especially Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl who are to weave what Shakespeare and Marlowe are to theatre.
Stolzl was instrumental in setting up the weaving workshop,and at first the students had to self teach the rudiments of weave- dressing looms, drafting pattern structures and how different materials reacted to being woven. Unlike the other workshops, which had a technical master and a 'formmeister' who over saw the design development, the weavers, because there were no qualified tutors available, were allowed to weave anything they liked- hangings, cushions, upholstery fabric and carpets- and the early textiles were boldly coloured, abstract and geometric, and a complete departure from the naturalistic and figurative ornate textiles of pre-First World War design.  

Above, two examples of Stolzl's weave designs.
Below, the lady in question.

Above, two designs by Anni Albers.

Anni Albers came to the Bauhaus as a student in 1922. Unable to get into the glass workshop she opted for weave and soon became completely enamored with it's infinite possibilities. She was very influenced by pre-colombian textiles, especially the extra warp/weft and inlay structures. She also experimented with new materials e.g. the mixing of cellophane with linen.
She emigrated to America with her husband Josef Albers, a Bauhaus master, in 1933, to teach at The Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Anni continued to develop and design woven textiles, as well as writing and later printmaking.

Below, Anni Albers

For all their creativity the weavers also adhered to the Bauhaus doctrine that all design had to be able to work for production and that the structural and practical qualities were as important as the aesthetic i.e. trying new fibres and playing with texture to see what their properties were as regards to light reflection, sound absorbency, and durability. They were also one of the most successful of all the workshops selling designs to textile manufacturers in Dresdan, Berlin and Stuttgart.

Bauhaus weavers on the stairs. I'm somewhere at the back.

Loom Heaven. The weave workshop.

The influence of the Bauhaus weavers can be seen in the work of any weaver worth his or her salts- and yes there are his weavers out there [check out Travis Meinolf AKA Action Weaver]. In fact in some parts of Africa weaving is purely a patriarchal occupation, which scuppers Freuds -who's in my top ten of all time misogynist windbags- theory that weaving was invented by women as a subconscious reaction to percy [and yes, that is a euphemism]envy. 

The magnificent Mr Meinolf sets his loom up in fields, parks and motorways- bringing weave to the people. He's even organized weave parties with warps hanging down from the ceiling so you can weave while you dance. On a more serious note Travis has very interesting theories on the politics of weave and it's potential usage as currency.

Pictures of me weaving taken by Alun Callender last October for a shoot for Homes and Gardens magazine.

On your visit don't by-pass the Barbican's other exhibition, the complete antithesis of Bauhaus modernism -clutter- in Chinese artist Dong Song's 'Waste Not' in the Curve Gallery. An instillation of 10,000 household objects collected by his mother over five decades which are laid out in series of connected items like an idiosyncratic market of unwanted but potentially useful goods.

 Recommended reading,
On Weaving.
Anni Albers.
Wesleyan University Press, 1965.


Bobs gone

Pucks arrived


Tuesday, 1 May 2012


'The Yellow Wallpaper' is a dark claustrophobic tale of a woman's decent into madness. Written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an early campaigner for women's rights, in 1892, this short story charts the main characters fall though her cognizance of the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom. 

The wallpaper, which she finds vile on sight begins to move and throws up disturbing visions of surreal nightmarish creatures and
deranged patterns, until, unable to bear it, she tears the paper off the wall with her bare hands.
What we see and what we think we see are poles apart, and 'The Yellow Wallpaper' explores these themes making the reader unsure which side to take- a sign of delusion maybe exacerbated by a very passive/aggressive husband and the constraints of Victorian mores or just a result of an over-active imagination prone to fights of fancy? 
My latest flight of fancy is Reg the Giant Owl. I came home one evening to find him sitting at my loom and he wooed me with a twit-twoo. I created Reg to rid me of mice of whom I had become convinced were creating a Miceoan Utopia under my floorboards- roads, schools, libraries filled with miniscule copies of "Of Mice And Men'. I'd lie awake at night listening to their scratching and squeaking. That's a leisure centre just gone up. Still Reg seems to have done the job. There hasn't been sight nor sound of the pesky brats for over a week. A brilliant example of mind over matter.
Madness and it's effects on the sufferer and those around them has been playing on my mind a lot recently. The mad want to be sane so they can belong, the sane want to be mad because they think it makes them more interesting and the truly mad just want be Napoleon. To define madness one has to define sanity first, and where is that line drawn? Do we wait till madness becomes harmful before we intervene or do we project our concepts of insanity onto people who we feel don't fit into our perceptions of normal and perhaps damage them to greater extent by making them feel more out on a limb than they already do?
One of the most extraordinary books I've ever read, 'The Lagoon and Other Stories' by Janet Frame, deals with this idea of someone on the outside looking in with such brilliance that when I first read it it hit me between the eyes like a bullet. This book, which was given to me by a poet called Anne Marie, herself a unique character with a highly original take on the world, has such simplicity in style and sparse use of language that it conveys its message with a clarity as powerful as thunder.
Frame herself spent much of her life in institutions having been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia after a breakdown caused by the drowning of her two sisters and because she didn't fit in with her societies idea of compos mentis. She was even due to have a lobotomy which was only cancelled because the above book won a literary prize. Frame turned her experiences into poignant literature which is best read to uplift the soul when one is rendered raw from dealing with one of life's upheavals. 
Back to the matter in hand, 'The yellow Wallpaper' is also a current exhibition at Danson House, a graceful Georgian villa set in the serene surroundings of Danson Park, Bexley.

Danson House.

Curated by artist Tom Gallant and using Gilman's novella as inspiration, this exhibition, taking as it's framework fragments of text from the story , is a series of instillations, images, film, and products culminating with Dress 09, a collaboration between Gallant and the fashion designer Marios Schwab.

Dress 09

My one quibble, and it's a rather greedy one at that, was that this exhibition wasn't big enough. I loved the premise that we can, though our perceptions, see inanimate objects as living, moving beings, or change their original function by using our imagination, and would have liked to have seen this explored further. I felt the exhibition was sightly confined to the area it was given and would have liked it to have been extended throughout the house.

A still from Prince Achmed.

My favorite exhibit was the magical Lotte Keiniger's Prince Achmed, the first ever feature length animation, made in 1926. Keiniger  was inspired by shadow puppetry which plays with  our visual senses though dark and light and scale, and the piece is all in delicate silhouette. It reminded me of Jan Pienkowski's illustrations for 'The Kingdom Under The Sea', one of my favorite books from childhood.

Jan Pienkowski's illustrations.

I came away with a brain buzzing with ideas and questions. Something I can't say about the Victoria and Albert's latest blockbuster.
British Design 1948-2012 does exactly what it says on the tin- a greatest hits of Art and Design from this fair isle from the last 60 years. This exhibition proves that this country has produced some of the most innovative and creative designers in the world and it's raison d'ĂȘtre is purely a celebration of that fact. There was nothing I'd never seen before and on a personal level it was more about nostalgia than inspiration, but it was still joyous to see these old friends that have shaped my design tastes. This certainly will be a crowd pleaser especially with the current obsession for all things vintage and retro, but it's well to remember that we are still proffer prodigious design talent and we should always be looking to the future rather than over our shoulders and wanting what has gone before. It's worth noting that in conjunction the museum is holding events and exhibitions which feature current design.

Dress by Mary Quant 1960

One of me favorite exhibits was an early Mary Quant red tweed dress. I'm a big fan of Quants early output especially the period from 1955 when she opened her shop Bazaar in the Kings Road.

Above, two more examples of Mary Quant designs.
Below, images of Bazaar's shop front

It would seem strange to compare early Mary Quant, instigator of the mini skirt, to another of my favorite designers the Queen of American casual chic, Clare Mccardell, but I think there are similarities in the timeless, pared down simplicity of these clothes. As someone who doesn't go in for fussy florals or flouncy frills and errs on the puritan [I look in the mirror some mornings and think - Who's your style icon then? Oliver Cromwell ?!?] I'm drawn to the clean, clear lines and uncluttered detailing.

Above, images of designs by Claire Mccardell

Coming soon to Jessica Light Shop our first collection of trinkets- necklaces, earrings, hair furniture, etc- in fact all manner of baubles and gewgaws. Perfect for all those summer garden parties that we are continually invited to to be rained on and ruin our heels at as they sink into the mud. We will also be featuring some of The Empress of Arcadia's beautiful hand beaded broaches.

A hairclip from our new trinket collection.