Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Henry Moore, Raoul Dufy and John Piper are amongst many of the leading artist’s who produced artist’s textiles through the 20th century spanning from Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism through to Abstraction and Pop Art. Yet although the general populace knows their art works well, a much lesser proportion are aware of their work in the textile sphere helping to furnish and decorate people’s homes.
Particularly after the Second World War there was a need for a new way and interpretation of life to be able to bring together both the unfamiliar and accessible, and artist’s textiles such as scarves, dresses, wall hangings and curtains served as a creative vehicle and a reachable way of bringing these artist’s work to a wider audience.
One of the first collaborations was brought about by two Czech refugees, Zika and Lida Ascher, who arrived in London in 1933. By 1942 they had set up Ascher Ltd. and they started to commission leading artists of the day, including Henri Matisse, Graham Sutherland, John Piper and Duncan Grant, to produce limited edition screen-printed textiles, producing scarves and fashion fabrics and examples were included in the Britain Can Make It exhibition in 1946 and one design was even worn by Princess Elizabeth on the Royal Tour of 1947.
In the 1950s many manufacturers had caught onto the mood of collaborating with artists to produce innovative designs for their works, and such joint ventures included Eduardo Paolozzi working with Edinburgh Weavers, John Piper and David Whitehead Ltd., and Lucienne Day with Heals. Whilst on the other side of the Atlantic Fuller Fabrics of New York could be found working alongside Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Joan Miró. By the 1960s bold experiments were taking place, none more so than with Andy Warhol soup can dresses and food themed prints.
Historically this sphere within artist’s work has often been overlooked and much maligned, but recently this historiography has been re-examined and its importance within the cultural design sphere is started to be accepted as significant, in allowing a re-fashioning both of individual identities and to a certain point national identities within the Post-War era. Bringing artist’s textiles to a larger market place allowed ordinary people to engage on a personal level with artist’s work. With this re-contextualisation prices within the commercial sector have started to steadily rise and what was once considered an unimportant off-cut of an artist’s oeuvre is now a much-loved piece of mid-century design.