Recently I have been thinking about the work of a textile designer, how nowadays it's mostly anonymous. Textile designers use the same principles as a fine artist, understanding colour theory, composition, proportion, scale. But rather than these designs getting pinned to a wall for scrutiny, a textile pattern is designed to duplicate itself endlessly, so the basic image gets lost in a sea of repeats.
These patterns take on a form of vocabulary, an expression of personality and taste. So with this thought in mind, I want to start to write a series of blogs based on some of my favourite textile design hero's.
I am kicking off with Sonia Delaunay. She has had and continues to have, a significant influence on my textile practice. Here is a bit of a summary of her life and work and why I find her so inspiring. Although her artistic career spanned well into the 1970s, I am going to focus on her early career.
At the age of seven, she went to live with her wealthy Maternal Uncle and his wife, in St Petersburg, Russia, who offered her a more privileged and cultured upbringing. (she was eventually officially adopted by them, at the age of 15)
Nevertheless, her childhood memories of Ukraine remained with her, and she often referred back to the 'pure' colour and bright costumes of the Ukrainian peasant weddings.
Robert and Sonia's creative work was deeply aligned, as they investigated the art of pure colour, and how its intensity is modulated by light, rhythm and movement.
They had their own chromatic vocabulary. "As they wake up, the Delaunays speak painting"(1) (A quote from Guillaume Apollinaire, after staying with the couple in 1912)
The Delaunay's claimed their art movement, called 'Simultanism', that took its roots from the work of French scientist Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889). Chevreul identified the phenomenon of 'simultaneous contrast', (He wrote 'On the law of simultaneous contrast of colours', 1839) which was a scientific treatise on how our eyes respond to colour and how colours are affected by the colours around them.
Sonia created a simultaneous environment through her patchwork art. In the couple's apartment, colours would dance together in the form of cushions, book covers and lampshades, creating a kind of homely theatre of aesthetic experimentation.
The Russian revolution, in 1917, marked a significant turning point in Sonia's artistic career. She no longer got the financial support from her wealthy family. And began her business 'Casa Sonia' a boutique selling fashion and decorative household items and managed to earn enough money for the family to live.
In 1923 a firm in Lyons ordered some fabric designs from Sonia. "I have done fifty designs", she said, 'relationships of colour using pure geometrical forms with rhythm. As far as I'm concerned, they were and remain colour scales - really a purified version of our concept of painting. It has involved a great deal of research and study. The rhythm is based on numbers, for colour can be measured by the number of vibrations". This is a completely new concept, one which opens infinite horizons...' (3)
Sonia's designs were applied to women's dresses, automobiles and posters, and her research and discoveries has had a significant impact on contemporary painting.
in 1925 Sonia opened her fashion house, 'Sonia Delaunay' and registered 'Simultane' as a brand name in France, setting up a boutique in Paris.
Metz and Co were a small luxury department store for textiles, interior design, applied arts and fashion in Amsterdam. During the early '20s the astute owner, Joseph de Leeuw, (who had also acquired Liberties in London), commissioned fabrics and furniture designs from international artists and architects for his own, exclusive production. (These included, Marcel Bruer, Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Paule Marrot, Josef Hoffmann) Alongside Gerrit Rietveld and the painter Bart van der Leck, Sonia's contribution marked the Metz style. Sonia's mix of great designs, strong personality and friendship accompanied Metz and Co for years.
I like the idea that Sonia Delaunay fused her art with the ongoing stream of everyday life in her textile designs, and this was somehow her legacy.
Sonia’s textile designs had an element different from those of past decorative designers. Her prints had a painterly quality to them. Sonia thought like a painter; therefore, she designed her fabrics using form and balance and colour.
Everything is feeling; everything is real. Colour brings me joy'. (Sonia Delaunay)
Credits: Tate Publishing, Sonia Delaunay.
(1.) Guillaume Apollinaire, quoted in Nous irons jusqu'au soleil, pg 34.
(2.) A quote extracted from the Tate Moderns website, Exhibitions and Events, 'who is Sonia Delaunay' (tate.org.uk)
(3) Extracted from the book, 'Sonia Delaunay, fashion and fabrics', by Jacques Damase, pg 57.