“Power, physicality and immense presence” are the qualities of textiles from the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, according to Ashley Gray, the man behind Styled by Design in London’s St James.
The short exhibition shows a mixture of dabbling fine artists and real textile purists and is a walk-through (and sale) of some of the greatest works of the 20th Century. “Collectors, curators and lovers of Modern Art have woken up to the rarity, beauty and historical importance of the textile work of the modern masters,” says Gray. “These rare and powerful works underline the innovative genius of both the artists and the textile producers of the post-war era.”
The textiles were made for a range of reasons: some were scarves, some curtains; some experimental art and some keepsakes from events like the Festival of Britain, the opening of the Tate and the gathering of the Congress of Peace.
Picasso’s Peace Scarf is the headline grabber, but this show is an education in the artists who engaged with silk, cotton and jacquard (as well as the big names like Hepworth, Moore and Cocteau, there are the more niche textile stars, including John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Marino Marni, Keith Vaughan, Patrick Heron and Richard Allan) and the master makers themselves, including Ascher Studio and Edinburgh Weavers.
“When Zika Ascher [of Ascher Studio] started showing silk scarves in frames under glass for the first time, that was the first time they moved from the fashion accessory into really being art itself. Ascher – and Alastair Morton in the same period – approached artists who hadn’t really thought about their work being used as textiles and told them, ‘Look , don’t look so worried and produce what you want to produce and then we will do the rest.’”
The expert weavers’ knowledge, taste and talent have led to works that Gray sees as “more exciting than an oil painting…there’s reflection, there’s contrast, there’s direction and up close it’s got that really textural feel. The textiles themselves reinterpreted the artists’ work in a more powerful, more dramatic way than the original drawings would have done.”
Styled by Design, 3rd – 7th October 2017 Gallery 8, Duke Street St James’s, London