Tag Archives: embroidery

William Morris back home in Walthamstow

17 Aug

Until yesterday I’d never really thought of Walthamstow as somewhere to go for an afternoon out, unless I’m visiting friends in the area.  But, a quick nip round the North Circular in my little car proved me wrong as the William Morris Gallery is definitely worth a visit.

The William Morris Gallery at Lloyd Park in Walthamstow. Own photograph.

Following a 15 month closure, the Gallery has now re-opened thanks to a £5 million regeneration programme mostly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Waltham Forest Council.  The renovation has been sensitively undertaken by Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects who have retained the original fabric of the building while introducing modern features.

One of the wonderful new galleries. Own photograph.

Now, I never knew this but William Morris was actually born in Walthamstow in 1834 and Water House, a grade II* listed Georgian building, was his family home from 1848-1856.  There was interest in turning the building into a museum in his honour from as early as 1908 but, at that stage, there wasn’t anything to put in it!  Over the years, with the help of Sir Frank Brangwyn RA and others, a collection has been formed and, in 1950, the building became a museum to showcase Morris’s work.  It has remained so ever since.

Blue Plaque. Own photograph.

Morris’s designs are iconic; there can be no doubt that he revolutionised British design and his influence still prevails.  In Victorian times, his graphic style was the height of modernity.  Morris is also known for his strong connections with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and, in 1861, he founded an interior design business called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company; the firm’s partners included Ford Maddox Brown, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who designed most of their stained glass), Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Morris.  ‘The Firm’, as they were known, strove to make use of natural materials, reviving ancient crafts in their quest for pure quality.  Hand-craftsmanship was paramount to Morris throughout his life and he preferred to make use of small-scale workshops where individuals were trained in a specialist skill.  In 1875, the business was renamed Morris & Co and fell solely under his control.

Honeysuckle Wallpaper that was used at Rounton Grange. Own photograph.

The dense display system in use at the Gallery allows for over 600 objects to be on show at once.  The building has an archive system in a specially designed conservation basement and, as all the collection is now stored on site in this archive, the objects in the public space can be rotated regularly.  Visitors to the gallery move from the introductory area into a room looking at Morris’s formative years and his early forays into design.  Each room progresses through his life showcasing his countless designs.  Embroidery was the first of the textile arts that Morris explored and, through this craft, he fell in love with the experimental, non-commercial ideas that came to typify his practice.

Exploring Morris’s life and work at the Gallery. Own photograph.

Trellis was Morris’s first wallpaper design where he took direct inspiration from the rose trellises in his garden.  Initially, Morris attempted to print the design himself but the results were not to the high standards he sought.  He turned to Jeffrey & Co and they continued to print all his wallpaper designs thereafter.  The sometimes cluttered display shows off the quality and splendour of Morris’s designs.  He famously said Have nothing in your houses that youdo notknow to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’ and there can be no doubt that his designs fulfil the latter criteria.

William Morris, Trellis. Own photograph.

The first floor is less dynamic but explores the founding of Kelmscott Presss, another of Morris’s businesses that printed his volumes of poems and historical tales.  It also investigates Morris’s political views and the Arts and Crafts movement as a whole.  There is a room dedicated to Frank Brangwyn, one of Morris’s apprentices responsible for collecting a large number of the pieces that feature in the Museum.   There are some great interactive features where you can design your own patterns, explore maps, ‘be Morris’ and so on; you’re even encouraged to touch and interact with the objects.

Interactive elements. Own photograph.

The gallery now also has space to stage small-scale exhibitions around modern art and design.  Kickstarting this new programme is Grayson Perry’s rarely-displayed The Walthamstow Tapestry – 15m wide it chronicles our journey from birth to death with characteristic touches such as the seven ages of man reinvented as the seven ages of shopping.

Grayson Perry, The Walthamstow Tapestry. Own photograph.

The museum is light and well-formed with clear identifiers for all the rooms.  Even on a random Thursday morning, the place was packed showing the popularity of Morris.  People still draw inspiration from his creativity and genius.  I never visited the gallery before the refurb so I have no point of comparison but the space is great.  And it’s free.  Thanks to the refurbishment the gallery now houses a café and Morris’s patterns have been fully incorporated into the building, used to carpet the stairs, decorate the ceilings and even paper the walls in the toilets – they’re definitely worth a visit too!

Grayson Perry: The Walthamstow Tapestry is at The William Morris Gallery until 23rd September 2012, www.wmgallery.org.uk.

Advertisements

A Game Plan with No Energy – Boetti at Tate Modern

4 Mar

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern.  Generally, I like to write about exhibitions as soon as possible but, for this, I needed time to digest.  I felt thoroughly bamboozled by parts of the show.  To be honest, I still do.

Boetti is one of the most influential Italian artists of the 20th century, strongly associated with the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s (which he then rejected in 1969 with his work Niente da vedere niente da nascondere).  The exhibition begins with his Arte Povera objects at a time when he was experimenting with the figure and identity of the artist.  Taking this to extremes, Boetti began to represent himself as split in two, as twins called Alighiero E Boetti.

In the background – Alighiero Boetti, Niente da vedere niente da nascondere, 1969. Own photograph.

The exhibition highlights Boetti’s engagement with travel, geopolitics, games, numbers, words, dates, sequences, systems… with far too many things in fact.  It is very hard to tie Boetti down; throughout his career, he always jumped around, never remaining in one place for long and, for this reason, after the second room there is no route around the exhibition.  Instead, it is structured by ideas rather than arranged chronologically.  Game Plan is playful and conceptual, aiming to be the exact manifestation of the artist himself.

Game Plan at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Boetti is most widely-known for his maps where each country is created using the colours and symbols of its flag.  From June 1967, not having any interest in learning the skill himself, Boetti asked his wife to embroider the shapes for him.  When travelling, he commissioned local craftswomen as he was intrigued by the female approach to colour.  At one point, supposedly, the embroiderers did not recognise the ocean as an ocean and used a colour that was more plentiful in their supplies.  After this time he gave them leeway to choose the colours they preferred for the seas; the values of the locals are woven into the pictures along with the artist’s ideas.  Boetti was fascinated by systems of which maps are the very embodiment, the human method of representing the world through shapes and symbolic colours.  At the heart of this exhibition are 12 maps embroidered in his characteristic, vivid colours.  This room is certainly the highlight of the exhibition and one where we most coherently get a sense of Boetti’s personality and ideals.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1971-72. Own photograph.

There are other well-known highlights; his 1973 work ordine e disordine covers a whole wall with a hundred embroidered squares featuring the randomly-dispersed phrase.   Also included are his monumental embroideries and a book created in an attempt to classify the thousand longest rivers in the world.  Shown in a room with windows, through which it’s possible to see the Thames, the hangings take a vivid actuality with their sense of movement and research mirrored by the flowing fluvial contours outside.

Alighiero Boetti,Ordine e Disordine, 1973. Own photograph.

I found his postal works particularly interesting; in 1969, Boetti selected 25 characters to be part of his Viaggi  Postali.  He created 25 different journeys.  The first envelopes were sent to the first addresses but were obviously returned to sender as the addressee didn’t live there.  Boetti photocopied both sides of the envelope and filed the copies in grey folders.  The original envelopes were then placed in larger envelopes and sent to the second address.  And so the same thing would continue as part of Boetti’s own strange game.  19 envelopes remain in the final work, the others having got lost on their travels.

Alighiero Boetti,Viaggi Postali, 1969-70. Own photograph.

And then there’s the work generating most attention – his Lampada Annuale, a black box holding a single light bulb that only illuminates for 11 seconds a year.  Few people will ever see it alight but there will always be a great sense of expectation when approaching it.  But, Boetti will always have the last laugh; no doubt the work will illuminate one night, enjoying its 11-second glory in solitude.

In the foreground – Alighiero Boetti, Lampada Annuale, 1966. Own photograph.

Game Plan is another exhibition that Tate has dimly lit, making it gloomy and exhausting.  It is highly likely that the tapestries dictate these low light levels but the curatorial decisions have removed any playfulness from the exhibition.  Tate has done nothing to jazz this show up.  I’d only seen a few of Boetti’s works before but the sheer diversity is incredible.  However, if you don’t know anything about the artist, Tate’s choice of labelling and explanations is strange.  I found the catalogue to be far more palatable than the show and it is through this that I’ve been able to understand some of the more baffling elements in greater detail.  It clearly elucidates Boetti’s multi-faceted career in a non-exhausting way.

Alighiero Boetti,detail of I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo, 1976-78. Own photograph.

Even on a preview morning, as people ‘accidentally’ stepped over the boundary lines, a ridiculous symphony of beeps deafened everyone in the gallery.  The alarms were like a sound installation which I imagine will get tiresome.

Some of Boetti’s works are a revelation and his use of texture throughout is amazing but overall it’s not for me.  The volume of work at Tate shows how active Boetti was.  Although, he made very few of the pieces himself, he saw thought as a sixth sense and was constantly bubbling with ideas.  There may be no continuity in his medium but Tate aims to show that his principles are consistent and that his eccentricity was omnipresent.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

%d bloggers like this: