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OCA Curriculum leader for Textiles, Sarah Taylor, reports on a fascinating day.
The title above was Stephanie Thompson’s response for Good Housekeeping magazine on the Kaffe Fassett – A Life in Colour exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM), London (Good Housekeeping 22 March 2013). I don’t think any of us on the study visit would disagree. This was a celebration of colour and texture from the most complex to the subtlest of palettes as showcased in the many examples of knitwear, paintings, personal sketchbooks, elaborate needlepoint, brightly patterned prints, elaborate quilts and paper designs.
It was a packed study day which started with a Highlight Tour led by the Head of FTM, Celia Joicey. This helped us orientate ourselves with the 100 or so works on display which spanned a prolific 50 year career.Most of us were intrigued by his early artistic work as a painter in the mid-1960s which focused on a much subtler colour palette than the more vibrant handling of colour which he is perhaps best known for. It was evident that his move to England at this time had a huge impact on his work, not least his career. The contrast of colour he experienced was profound.
A few of us attended his talk the evening before where he spoke about this dramatic change from the rich, bright, almost garish colours of the Californian landscape to the seemingly monochrome range of misty greys from the English countryside. However, these shades of grey were anything but. To Kaffe Fassett (same pronunciation as, ‘safe asset’), these tonal shades were and still are, very much a rich and valuable source of colour inspiration. This change of palette reflected in his work was something that students picked up on in our discussions later that day and the importance and influence that travel had on his work.
Another aspect which came across from both the Highlight Tour and the exhibition was Kaffe’s seemingly lack of interest in textile technique, which he openly admitted in his talk. It was all about colour, not technique, but as we later discussed, the use colour can be a creative, technical skill. As tutor Pat Moloney pointed out, his aptitude for colour could also be attributed to working with the subject every day for decades. The use and application of colour as a subject in its own right, was something that struck a chord with many of the group. To some, the knitwear garments demonstrated that textiles could be art whilst still being functional.
In the afternoon, we had a Couture Inside-Out workshop with Curator, Dennis Nothdruft, which focussed on the iconic British fashion designer (and founder of the museum), Zandra Rhodes. We got to see and handle exquisite fabric prints, garments, original paper designs, sketchbook work and garment illustrations from the museum’s archive. This gave us a real insight into her creative design thinking which we could all relate to. Like Kaffe whose home life inspired his desire to pursue a career in the creative arts, Zandra accordingly to the Curator, was clearly influenced by her mother, a fitter for a Paris fashion house and tutor at Medway College of Art. In fact there were many similarities: both designers seemingly going against the grain in their approach; they were constantly reinventing themselves; both shared a passion for North American and Aboriginal art; and, both saw observation as a key element in their work. As designers, they have always been pretty hands on. Although, Kaffe admitted that a lot of his textiles like the quilts for example are not all made by him (mainly because it takes him away from the fast paced, creative development of ideas). Zandra prints everything by hand (unless it involves printing dyes other than pigment). As Kaffe said, “Working with the hand frees the mind”.
Like Kaffe who seemed to approach textile design rather like a painter, Zandra approached fashion designs from a textile perspective having no formal fashion training. Her elaborative printed fabrics were carefully engineered to be cut and sewn accordingly.
One of the student’s remarked on something the curator pointed out, “If you don’t know how a sleeve is designed and cut then you have an infinite variety of making sleeves”, something she could relate to. So remember, invention can come through problem solving!
Thanks to OCA tutor Pat Moloney, all the students who came and for their contribution during the day; the Head of FTM, Celia Joicey and curator, Dennis Northdruft for their enlightening insight on the work of these designers and for making us feel so welcome.
I think we all left feeling invigorated and full of new inspiration. Given most of the group were in the early stages of Textiles study with OCA, I am sure we will see the influence of this study visit through the colour, printing and constructed textile exercises.
The exhibition continues until 29 June. Further information can be found at: http://ftmlondon.org
The link to the online Zandra Rhodes Digital Study Collection is: www.zandrarhodes.ucreative.ac.uk