Pattern appreciation at the Whitworth

The Barbara Brown exhibition at the Whitworth in Manchester is really worth catching, especially if you like patterns.
The layout of the gallery enables an overview; the broad visual statement of the textiles designed by Barbara Brown during the 1960s and 1970s, to be seen straight away and makes for a striking sight. Large-scale pattern in different colour-ways jostle for attention and yet the small gatherings of textile designs within the gallery also create more local dialogue for consideration. The repeats are large, not in the Marimekko sense but larger than we often see, taking the full width of the fabric to do the talking. Seeing the textile lengths on exhibition really shows off the bold rhythms of each pattern.

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The designs on show demonstrate a variety of motif units across the fabric, some halved, some quartered, others full width. The corner of the gallery most impressive in my opinion was the monochrome series that really pushed her design prowess forward. Although strong graphic statements, these are far from flat patterns. The curves in Ikebana (below left) and Automation (below, third from right), both from 1970, differ in how they control and divide the space, toying with depth and dimensions. There is a sense of sci-fi and computer generated environments across this mono-chrome series. Escher should also get a mention as the optical illusions on the architectural scale appear to pay homage to him too.

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I have my favourites, but I really want to highlight the breadth of pattern compositions here. The design statements include many geometrics with cubes, columns and dots. There are stripes, spots, architectural themes and florals. I see more than a hint of Op Art, Psychedelia and modernism across the printed fabrics, some more than others, but the designs appear experts at communicating the populist aesthetic of those years.

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As a teaching aid for textile design, this exhibition does rather well. Design students can understand the potential to grow large repeats rather than stop at small ‘plonk – plonk’ designs we see far too much of – maybe a result of designing on computer screens. Designers need to understand that even domestic interiors can cope with so much more than a motif 10cm in diameter. Brown’s shapes are also not always contained by outlines, and this presents bold, solid shapes that hold their own. Colour statements include monochrome and full-on colour including oranges and blues. There is a sense of the colour palette dating the patterns but the combinations communicate bravery. The monochrome designs have a very formal spirit, and although different in style do remind me of some of the black and white, large classical columns Timney Fowler print designs of the 1980s.

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Barbara Brown was working in a very different time, and artwork was not created in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Hand drawing full-scale repeats gives you a very different relationship with pattern compositions. Some designs appear not to show signs of drawing, but others do, almost standing out for doing so – particularly Sweet Briar, 1959 (above left).

The exhibition was dominated by the printed fabric lengths but a couple of later knitted pieces offered an insight in to the designer’s creative career progression, and reminded me of the direction Lucienne Day took with her silk mosaics, making a clear distinction away from the commercial print designs. The juxtaposition of some small ceramic pieces next to fabric lengths offered an interesting pause for thought too. Would you have matching china and curtains? Maybe not, but the patterns held their own at both scales and on the different surfaces.

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This is one of those examples of why you need to see exhibitions in the flesh, and not rely on the computer or phone screen to do the job. Seeing Barbara Browns patterns are eye-catching on a small screen, but they are far more impressive in this setting.

The exhibition is on show until January 2018 (and they always have several interesting things on at the same time – and I can recommend the cafe!)

http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/currentexhibitions/barbarabrown/

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Plot to Plate season

Apparently it’s National Allotment Week, but having an allotment is an all year round commitment. It is however this time of year when the winter trips to dig the heavy clay soil ready for the Easter planting pays off, and all the trips returning home with only muddy boots to show are forgotten.

We are having to visit the plot at least twice a week to stay on track with harvesting. The currants and gooseberries are picked, eaten or frozen. Strawberries are only a memory along with Wimbledon, but potatoes continue to be dug. We’ve had too many courgettes for what feels like months, but probably only weeks, we’re coming to the end of French beans, but have the runner beans in full flow.  Raspberries have given us the summer stint, and now, along with the blackberries show us signs we are in late summer, heading for Autumn. I’ve already cooked too batches of blackberry jam, and cream teas are regular occurrences at home!

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It’s not all going smoothly! We are having no luck with getting parsnips growing; I fear winter roasts without them! The brassicas are being harvested by slugs and butternut squash had better get a move on if they are to deliver ahead of the frosts. Domination of certain weeds make it difficult but I’m determined not to be beaten – we garden organically but there are times I dream of chemicals! We’ve also realised that although growing purple potatoes (Blue Danube) is rather novel, it’s very odd eating purple mash potato and we are not so sure we like it.

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Five years ago I launched my Plot to Plate collection which is a celebration of home-grown food. It is a collection that shares my interests of gardening and pattern design, with products on interior and gift products. Limited edition prints initially investigated the motifs used in the repeat designs. You can read more about the Plot to Plate collection development here.

Having an allotment is a great way of being in touch with the seasons and being in tune with nature. I once heard the chap on the next plot to ours exasperated as weeds covered his once tidy plot that he had left alone for a few weeks. He said he was not going to be bossed about by nature… he quit within the season! I sometimes feel that it’s an extra burden in my busy schedule, but once I’m there, digging or harvesting, those thoughts are put aside. The community of the allotment holders is also great. Today I was discussing our successes and failures, and soon the offer of spare brassicas was made and sweetcorn varieties were being recommended. I’ve written before about the good feeling of sharing allotment produce excess before.

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My Plot to Plate collection has grown since 2012, far beyond my original intentions, but I’m really pleased with the evolution. I’ve made drawings of many kitchen gardens over the years – National Trust’s Upton House & Gardens remains one of my favourites, along with Hanbury Hall. My tea towels that celebrate the journey from plot to plate with drawings of the tools involved has inspired lots of my design work since then too, so they make me proud.

So here we are celebrating the allotment, but it won’t be just for this week, it’s a collaboration with nature after all and I’m in for the long haul… happy harvesting!

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contexts build connections

Over the last twenty years the contexts for which I have made work has varied considerably. The intimate space of a page in a book, a sequence of doors in public conveniences, a gallery wall, patterns made in gravel on three large roof-scapes of a hospital or the humble tea towel; they all require different considerations. The client, the audience, the buyer and the customer, each has different agendas, budget requirements, aesthetics and expectations – I enjoy each challenge and added dimension that brings. The opportunity to consider my practice in these differing environments creates a chance to reflect and develop a greater understanding of possibility and relationship with the context of known work while developing an understanding of those different people and their agenda and perspectives.

More recently I’ve been working on design projects away from gallery walls, but I was delighted to be asked to be involved with Ambiguous Implements, a touring show featuring 17 practitioners across a wide range of creative disciplines, exploring domestic and familiar objects in alternative ways.

The contact came from a journal my ‘construct’ design work was reviewed in called Feast. I had been pleased with the care Laura Mansfield and the team had taken with understanding my work for the article in Feast, and for this new invitation I was delighted to include both some original drawings from my ‘Construct’ project, as well as metres of Construct: twist, in a bespoke colourway, as the nod to domestic interiors for the gallery settings. I was also asked if they could use my words, spoken casually during a conversation over the phone, but seemingly capturing the essence of the exhibition.

“a familiar object provides an unfamiliar forum for thinking” — Kate Farley

It’s funny how little conversations, and apparent one-off opportunities build networks to develop, support and enable both parties in different ways. I’ve been grateful to Laura and her team to be so considerate and inclusive, and to allow my work to sit in a very different context, thereby enabling me to consider the work further, evolving and existing in new ways. The other practitioners make very different work but the conceptual connections and mutual respect for others practices can also grow further understanding beyond the single opportunity. I’m pleased to be involved, for the development of my practice and the context of ‘construct’.

ambiguousimplements

Information:

Ambiguous Implements has been curated by Laura Mansfield in collaboration with Rachael Colley and Nuala Clooney. Funded by Arts Council England, supported by Dust and Simon Taylor Designs.”  https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about

Ambiguous Implements is at The Bl_nk Space Gallery, Roco Cooperative Sheffield  until Saturday 15th July opening Tuesday to Saturday 11am- 6pm. Other venues

“Bringing together 17 practitioners from the fields of design, jewellery, ceramics, metalwork and sculpture Ambiguous Implements presents a collection of contemporary works that playfully reconsider the familiar objects of our day to day domestic life. Re-thinking the tools we use for eating, grooming, cooking and cleaning, the exhibiting artists have employed and subverted traditional craft techniques, reframed existing tools in new sculptural assemblages, or given seemingly banal objects new functions and effects. The collection of works present a twist on the familiar, bringing new perspectives to bare on the objects that populate contemporary domestic life.

Rob Anderson, Aimee Bollu, Caroline Broadhead, David Clarke, Nuala Clooney, Rachael Colley, Rosie Deegan, Kate Farley, Daniel Fogarty, Kate Haywood, Jasleen Kaur, Julie Mellor, Maria Militsi, Rebecca Ounstead, Matt Rowe, Jonathan Trayte and Abbie Williams each present new and existing works.”

text from https://ambiguous-show.tumblr.com/about

 

yellows

I’ve always enjoyed working with colour; choosing combinations, mixing inks and matching colour. I am interested in how we relate colour to brands, how colour suggests quality, market levels, football teams, trends, and this week in particular political parties. Sometimes people say they do not really like colour – but what they often really mean is that they don’t like strong and vibrant colours, but in my mind bright colours are no more important than the whites on white; equally powerful if used well, just not so extrovert.

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I like seeing the way an inky grey sky makes fields of corn glow golden, and how the crepuscular blue sings out before the night sky takes over. Relationships that colours have can bring connotations, evoke distant memories and create moods. I remember a bag of hand-me-down clothes was excitedly torn open by my twin sister and I, hoping for fabulous new items to wear – in the eighties, when what was actually presented was everything brown and purple – from the previous decade. So disappointing!

Getting the right colour isn’t about a broad brush of red, it’s about seeing the nuances. You’ve only got to see a sale-rail to see the buyer got the shade of mustard a bit too green, or the pink too candy, and not blush. Any colour can vary hugely, our personal perception of colour not only is affected by the technicalities of sight, but also our own relationships with colour, built on past experiences. It took me a while to wear navy, having had to endure it for school for several years.

A friend described my ‘black’ screen prints for the Barbican, and I had to explain it was actually dark grey – it makes a considerable difference to the final result, but if both examples are not shown side by side most people would be none the wiser that the designer made a conscious decision to make a grey look not quite a black.

So here’s some yellow, photographed in Norfolk a few weeks ago. Enjoy, what ever it means to you!

KFarley_yellow_norfolk100

gardening spirit

As this is the start of National Gardening Week it seems appropriate that I reflect on how important gardening is to me. Growing up in a gardening family, with a self-sufficient attitude to growing vegetables I suppose it was inevitable that one day I’d have a garden of my own to tend. For years I’d visit mum and be walked around the garden having updates on the state of things, nodding but never knowing the names of things, but seeing the pleasure the process of gardening gives to her. Now I understand.

Here in Birmingham we have an allotment to grow the vegetables and fruit in, and we grow flowers in our garden. We have spent over a decade digging and harvesting plot 8; learning to respect weeds for their various ways of making their presence known – I still want to try weaving couch grass. The feeling of success when we pick the first strawberries of the year, or fill the rucksack with runner beans that can be filling the freezer for wintertime is certainly worth the hours of graft. Last weekend I picked over a kilo of purple sprouting, and we commented that the harvest would probably cost well over £10 in the shops, as organic produce – but with no plastic wrapping or air miles included. Of course our food tastes so much better too! Gardening spells out the seasons as we check for frosts, or pick the first fruits, and enjoy the harvest and flowers of each changing month. The beds of wallflowers make me so happy this time each year, signalling the excitement of the growing year getting underway.

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It was at the allotment plot that I first developed my pattern collection ‘Plot to Plate‘, launched in 2012. I had been drawing the allotment beds on the site, as well as National Trust kitchen gardens for a while, and a language of graphic pattern made from lino cuts evolved, firstly as limited edition prints, and secondly as motifs to explore repeat pattern with (for example: Plot to Plate VVV textile design – final image with the Auricula). The title design is slightly different in the fact that it was hand drawn, and is an over-sized dog tooth check featuring tools of growing, cooking and eating, such as garden rakes, spades, whisks, wooden spoons and cutlery as a visual narrative up the tea towel, celebrating the journey from plot to plate – available in Brassica green or Brassica purple. plottoplate_ttowels_katefarley150

This collection has evolved to incorporate more formal pattern compositions such as Parterre (below) and Hanbury, inspired by National Trust’s Hanbury Hall and Gardens in Worcestershire, featured on hand screen printed cushions and wallpaper, where I make links between pattern design for textiles and formal garden design.

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These days my design practice has moved away from the inspiration of the formal gardens but I continue to dig. Our potatoes are in the ground for this year and the greenhouse is working some magic. Gardening provides me with not only creative inspiration but also head-space – a highly valuable asset in today’s world. As a designer and an academic, juggling a young family too, things can be frantic and I’m often running for trains. Faced with two hours of hard clay to dig I’m actually very happy. I can focus on the job in hand while chatting to the friendly robins, making myself physically tired, seeing the result of the work, and at the same time having time to think and mull over some of the other stuff of life. There’s also the sense of community with other allotmenteers; we share the same weather and battles but also share the excess harvests. Every time we get to the point of questioning ourselves about the allotment and if we have time, I remember all that it does for me, how my hard work there actually keeps me well; gives me a sense of well-being I can’t imagine getting from anything else. I shall keep digging, and knowing, for so many reasons, why I do!  Happy National Gardening Week!

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pebble pattern collection

I know I’m not alone in having collections of stones, gathered from walks and adventures over the years. Heads down across the beach, we search for beauty in the lines, colours and patterns of pebbles. We look for skimmers, ones with holes, and stripy ones…

I was looking at some of the stones that are in my studio and realised I had the components of a traditional textile design collection. The key pattern structures often include an all-over design, a spot repeat, a stripe and a plain (from left to right in the image below). I had fun sorting the stones to find the most straightforward ‘collection’.

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seeing red

My world is pretty colourful; on a daily basis I’m in contact with colourful textures, materials and surfaces from fashion, interior and architectural contexts. Not only do I work with hard and soft surfaces in my design practice, I also teach undergraduates to work with colour in relation to textile design. It’s important to see beyond the broad definition of colour by name and to think about the context of colour; the surface qualities in that colour, the effect the material has on colour, such as gloss, matt and opaque for example.

Last week I managed to update some colour charts in my studio resources and it made me think about how we tend to have particular favourites when it comes to colour. I certainly have a comfort zone in sections of the colour charts and other areas I’d have to be persuaded to go near. Commissions often include discussions with clients about the intended colours of products, and I enjoy the challenges of pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone – within reason! I have a different palette I’m happy to wear compared with what I’d live with, and I certainly dress in colour relating to the mood. I remember many years ago dressing in very colourful clothes only to receive a rejection for something that mattered. I felt gutted I’d dressed for the wrong outcome!

Here are some REDs… I love the border colours between red and orange.

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