I’ve left it rather late in the day to tell you about ‘Painted Treasures’!
In my last blog I said I was on course to contribute work to the brilliant Artists Support Pledge scheme; no sooner said than an invitation arrived. It was from the shop Anthropologie, the European version. Would I like to be their ‘face of London Craft Week?’ Well of course the answer was yes, so the points on the line switched and the work-in-progress started queuing up to trundle down a new track to 141 Kings Road, Chelsea – my new temporary shop/show address. ASP would have to wait a little. And now Matthew Burrows, who invented ASP and made it all happen, has just been awarded an MBE – a rightful acknowledgement for his work bringing his elegant ideas into action, and the huge difference that it’s made to so many artists, makers and buyers.Having produced the fabrics for the garments sold at Livingstone Studio at the start of the pandemic restrictions, I continued painting, trying out stencils, potato cuts, new cloths, new patterns. Suddenly I needed to bring these ideas and cloths together, and start to get them into shape.Designing and installing the show was thankfully the job of the very friendly and patient Paul Imbusch, with plenty of interference from me and huge help from Juana Lubian. As the ‘landscape’ for this collection, I’ve painted several decorative fabric panels. These are all new – and a new idea for me too; I’m often asked whether I sell my painted fabric pieces so now I can answer that I do. They can hang on a wall, be thrown over a sofa, grace the head of a bed, even run down a table. They’re all backed with a friendly plain fabric and each has its own painted label. Very nice to be included in this to-the-point BBC-culture article ‘Why We Need Soft Textures Right Now’ by Dominic Lutyens about the purpose and power of home textiles.The little Atelier dolls I showed in my last blog didn’t get the chance to go online yet as they joined the Anthro stock queue. And, as the emphasis for Craft Week is on the hand-made, I asked Sharon, the fairy-fingered queen of modflowers, to collaborate further and work on a range of Painted Treasures dolls in handpainted clothes.
She did her usual magic – and her long-held ambition to have work shown in Anthropologie is now fulfilled. Several characters have already gone off to new homes – in their special travelling bags.Talking of Craft Week – although this officially ends on October 10 my Painted Treasures shop runs on until Sunday November 8, and is open every day during the usual Anthropologie store hours. I’ll be there intermittently.This has been the chance for further new collaborations too – with Starsmead Books and with Brixton PrintShed. Ursula has covered some beautiful books – journals, sketchbooks, albums – with handpainted bookcloth. All unique works, both as paintings and bindings.
At the printshed I had quite a lark one sunday afternoon printing all sorts of experiments on both paper and bookcloths with Matthew. Off they went to Starsmead. Then alarmingly the box of sketchbooks, journals, sticky-note binders and elegant correspondence folders that Ursula made with these papers (in splendid double-quick time) went missing – travelling hither, thither and yon due to some unusual craziness on the part of the Royal Mail. It finally arrived at my door; you never saw such a welcomed parcel!My longstanding cushion-maker Sam, has been sewing into the night with both printed and handpainted fabrics. Empty cushion covers can look a bit sad – like sloughed skins – but they really perk up when well stuffed – I think I’d better stop there! I’ve been reminded that very many years ago Susan and I painted some roses on a green silkysatin evening frock for a young man making his Vogue debut. It wasn’t a tremendous success: I remember we painted the flowers too thickly. But in the photograph the glamorous model was whizzing past in a fast car and luckily her rosy shoulder was just a blur. The young designer was Bruce Oldfield. After that we didn’t paint on any more fabric until I suddenly and surprisingly got the taste for it again nearly forty years later – and have now developed some skill, with more expertise and less paint.Sitting in the Kings Road shop takes me back to my years spent studying (foundation, fine art, then graphic design) over the road at the Chelsea School of Art in the then brand new rectangular building in Manresa Road with it’s run of triangles across the roof facade,
Henry Moore sculpture at the front, a mezzanine full of plants and plaster casts for drawing, open clattery wooden staircase up the centre, a run of water in the back courtyard – I really liked being in that modest little LCC building. It’s gone now, replaced by some hideous new red-brick faux grandeur paid for by heaven-knows-what money. And where’s shabby old Sketchleys, and real banks and the Post Office? The Picasso Restaurant, The Chelsea Kitchen and The Six Bells – reliable, friendly and cheap – where we all ate many lunches, suppers and even breakfasts. All change. One of the entertaining sights that go past now is the plethora of fancy dogs and their fancy owners – I don’t think they were around in the ’60s when it was more a case of dogs on string and mind where you trod! These new walkers make me think of that funniest of films ‘Best in Show’. Flea-sized women are tugged along by massive wolf-hounds, towering gents in gilets trail tiny prancing poms, whiskery droolers sniff my shoes. My cushion ‘Spot the Dog’ has come into its own! Yesterday I was treated to a two-minute comedy outside the door. Along came a small parade: first, walking backwards, a camera man; next his subject – a smart town bride-to-be, little face veil, sophisticated in a cream costume with flowers, shocking pink stilettos and a lead, next her maid of honour, hatted and smart in charcoal and carrying the bags, and last, attached to the lead, an old black labrador with a ruff of large pink flowers about its neck. Amidst the laughter and smartness the old dog squatted on the pavement – oh dear! A lot of embarrassed shrieks, a lot of fumbling, a lot of kerfuffle – a little bag was found, the mess collected, the parade moved on to the registry office down the road. I do wish I could have found my camera – here’s a v quick drawing.
It does seem a tad risky to work for and open a show during a pandemic when masked visitors are understandably rather few, many people are reluctant to travel at all and doors may be closed again at any minute. But it’s such a great opportunity for optimism too, and to make something new and purposeful of the work started as experiments and what-ifs in the long lockdown. Many people come in telling me they love the colour – it makes them happy and they just couldn’t walk past the window without being drawn in. Result! As my brother reminds me – my earlier schoolgirl ambition to be an anthropologist has now come to fruition – in a manner of speaking if not spelling.As a new member of the Anthro community (for which many thanks), I’ve made several sorties into the virtual world – including my first Zoom demonstration – showing how to make folded and cut pop-out cards, which resulted in several people sending me pictures of what they’d done during the half-hour session. I was very impressed with their work. And there’s also a little IGTV film of me working on a potato print, with an interview too. I’m now invited to teach fabric painting via a zoom workshop for Selvedge magazine over the afternoons of the weekend November 21-22. You can book online here; the timing – 2 – 5.00pm GMT each day – is designed to accommodate US participants. I’ve also been teaching in real life, instore workshops for Anthropologie and other short courses too… There are several coming up with some spaces available – people remain cautious – and now, this weekend, is the last moment to book a place on the next fabric-painting workshop. It’s at the Fashion and Textile Museum on friday October 16. It would be nice to see you there. The next decorative collage and paper-cutting day is on Thursday October 22, and in half-term there’s a day of decorative collage for young people, with short workshops in the morning and afternoon of October 29. There’s plenty of air and distance between us all, and on each course everyone gets their own personal kit to work with. All workshops are listed on my events page. Unfortunately some do get cancelled and then rescheduled; I aim to keep it all up to date.My usual late summer holiday in France was of course pandemicised, but I’ve managed a few special days out with friends since the rules were relaxed a little. On a visit to Turner Contemporary in Margate we saw the exhibition ‘We Will Walk’ – Art and Resistance – black art from the American south. I particularly wanted to see the GeesBend quilts; they were mainly hung in the last room, and the journey to get to them, especially in the light of recent events, was pretty much heart-breaking. Through the extraordinary backyard works of creation by black southern artisans, music, spoken words, the photographs of Martin Luther King at Selma, of James Baldwin, of protest, we finally came to those magnificent and stately textile pieces. Since they were first shown in a gallery setting at the Whitney in New York their fame and status as works of originality and art has been widely acknowledged. But to see some of them up close, and breathe their atmosphere, experience the real fabric of them, the modesty and the grandeur, with the lives of their makers stitched into every seam – well, that went deep. These two pictures are from the book – well-named My Soul Has Grown Deep – which chronicles the history of some of these lives, and some of this work, including the sculptures and the quilts.On another day-trip, off I went to Beth Chatto‘s garden in Essex – always great to be amongst her ebullient and generous plantings. I hadn’t seen my dear friend Vanessa since the start of the year, and with Elmstead Market being more or less half-way between us on the map, we decided to meet there. We slowly wandered in conversation from bench to bench – it really was more about chats than gardens! There are goodbyes, and thank-yous, to be said to those two great men of design – Terence Conran, an innovator in our homes and kitchens, and the Japanese fashion designer Kenzo Takada. Both had such enormous ideas, such determination and verve to make them happen, and such huge influence on the way we saw things; the way our lives looked and functioned. We worked with Terence for Habitat in the mid 70s, producing some of our most charming and lively patterns for them then. When we complained that we weren’t making money licensing him the designs he commented “The only way you’ll make any money in textiles is by selling the printed fabric.” We stopped working with them. When we were invited back in the early ’80s we were just about in a position to design, convert and sell our own cloth; he remonstrated “Sell us cloth! Wherever did you get that idea from?” Good one, Sir T: we did very well out of it for years – and so did they!The start of October sees the Chinese mid-autumn festival, with the large full moon as its focus. Eating mooncakes is part of the celebrations. These sturdy nutritious half-globes, filled with seeds and nuts, were baked by my taichi partner’s husband – they were not only delicious but thankfully kept me going over two very busy days.
I need to thank many people for helping me to have something to show off about in this blog (I did warn you!) – here are some, and apologies to those I may have mistakenly left out – remind me and I can add you in! Alice and Louella and all the staff at Anthropologie, Paul Imbusch, Ursula Jeakins, Matthew Meadows, Sam Hatch, Sharon Everest, Ruby Streek, Poppy Frean, Livingstone Studio, HandprintedUK, Think Positive, Chris Winter, Joe Collier, Charlotte Herxheimer, Sophie Herxheimer, Words and Pictures, Stafford Cliff, Lola Milne, Rosa Herxheimer, Alastair Campbell, Molly Barber and my dear ‘daughter-in-law’ Juana Lubian who luckily seems happy to know the worst and the best of me!