One of my first opportunities to engage with textile design and printing was through school. There I studied the history, design and practice of producing textiles and fell in love with texture, pattern and the versatility that cloth offers. Artist Textiles (31 January – 18 May 2014) took me back to my school days and renewed my passion for fabric and design.
Split chronologically into sections, this exhibition explores not only the artists and designers who have produced the textiles, but also set them within an artistic and historical context. We see Picasso sitting down to a meal with his second wife wearing a dress, the pattern of which he has designed, and see how paintings can be developed into printed cloth.
Set within the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, one of the homes of the textile industry in the UK, this is a fitting setting for such an exhibition. It is not just an exhibition displaying objects, however, it also demonstrates the importance of production. Set up by Zandra Rhodes, and now part of Newham College, it has a history of working with young designers.
This is a sumptuously designed and developed exhibition. There are layers of meaning to be derived from the intersection of designs, fabrics and mannequins dressed in fabrics by artists who are usually known for their work on paper or canvas rather than free flowing fabric. It is accompanied by a detailed and authoritative catalogue, which is an appropriate accompaniment to the exhibition and one which is both coffee table book and useful text for design students. It does suffer from the inevitable though – it is impossible to do justice to three dimensional fabric designs in a two dimensional reproduction, however good the colour plates. The experience of the exhibition cannot translate into a book. These textiles need to be seen to fully appreciate them.