Friday, 11 April 2014

The Textile Blogs 6th Anniversary


Another year and another anniversary. I thought that last year celebrating the 5th anniversary of The Textile Blog might well have been the last, but here we are again.

I must first of all thank all of my readers, The Textile Blog would certainly have shrivelled up and died without you. Thanks also to all those readers that have left imaginative, intelligent, and perceptive comments; you know who you are :) Also, a big thank you to all of the followers of The Textile Blog on the larger platform that includes Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube. Also a thank you to all of the interesting and diverse individuals that have linked with me on LinkedIn, it is much appreciated.

So what have I been up to in this last year? Well, I have been consistently adding articles to this site, which I hope that you have all enjoyed. Admittedly, many of the posts to this site have become more concerned with the two subjects to which I feel a particular passion, and both of which I feel are intimately connected, namely human creativity and the role of nature as prime source of inspiration. I don't apologise for the concentration on subjects that I feel are important, this site was always one where my own personal perspective was the deciding factor. The thoughts expressed were and are from my own unique position on the path of life, no one else's. I hope that I make sense most of the time and I do so hope that the connections I make resonate with some, if not many of you reading this.

Illustration: Photograph taken locally by me today.

I have been able to expand my writing into magazine formats, which I have enjoyed. My thanks to Boukje Mulder at Handwerken Zonder Grenzen (HZG) magazine for her consistent and sensitive help and support whilst writing my regular articles for her. I also want to thank Marcia Young and Leanne Jewett at Fiber Art Now magazine for their support whilst writing articles for their magazine. 

There are more ebooks in the pipeline, the next will use Art Nouveau and nature as its subject, I'm planning for that to be out shortly. There are also other plans and ideas that I will be rolling out as the months go by, though I am keeping them close to my chest at the moment as they are in the early stages. 

I would like to thank consistent online friends from all corners of the planet, near and far. They are too numerous to mention, but they are all important and make such a difference to life, all for the better. Most I will never meet face to face, but are still just as valued as if they lived down the road from me.

Illutration: A bit of a fuzzy Skype picture, but it's definitely me!

Although this article has been dominated by thanks to various quarters, I do think that it is important to sometimes stop and take a look at the connections you have made, and the differences those connections have made to your life, your perspective, and your centre. None of us stands on our own, all of us have frameworks and networks that surround us, all are kept going, replenished and renewed by friends, acquaintances, and those we don't even know exist.

I would like to think that The Textile Blog has made some small connection to your lives, and will continue to do so in the future. 

My heartfelt thanks to you all

Yours

John

Friday, 4 April 2014

Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill, Fashion, and the Wiener Werstatte

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1914.

The Austrian designer Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill was one of those designers who most obviously focused his talents in one direction, fashion. He ran the fashion department at the Wiener Werkstatte from 1910 to 1922. From 1918 to 1921, he also ran the fashion department at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna. From 1922, he worked first in New York and then at the Art Institute of Chicago, at both cities he was heavily involved in fashion and textiles. In 1925, he returned to Vienna and taught at the School of Applied Arts again until his eventual retirement in 1955. 

You have to wonder, with all the connections that Wimmer-Wisgrill had with the fashion industry, for a time he was often referred to as the Viennese Poiret, that there still seems a reluctance in some quarters to see him primarily as a fashion and textile designer. Some have referred to him as a furniture designer or an applied arts designer, but it is fashion that he mostly called home, so it seems fitting to place him there.

However, Wimmer-Wisgrill did work in other mediums including furniture, jewellery, books, wallpaper, metalwork, interiors, as well as a large variety of work for the stage including set and costume design. His textile design work included pattern work in printed textiles as well as embroidery. I will, in time, post another article featuring some of the printed textile and embroidered design work that Wimmer-Wisgrill produced in the decade before the First World War.

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1913.

His textile work, both for interiors and fashion, used bold, graphic motifs, very often based on flowers. Unfortunately, I don't have any colour photos of Wimmer-Wisgrill's textile pattern work at the moment, but some of the photos that illustrate this article will give you some idea as to the impact they must have made. Personally, I would prefer to use the term costume design, rather than fashion design, even though Wimmer-Wisgrill's work is usually seen as 'fashion'. It seems to me that most of the pieces shown in the illustrations have more to do with projection of individuality than they do fashion, fashion by definition having little do with self-expression, despite its claims. 

The individual as a self-expression was an important part of creative life in the run up to the First World War, and it could be reflected in many ways, including what you read, listened to, lived in, and how you dressed. To make a statement that ran outside the norms of Parisian fashion could say much about where you saw yourself and how you wanted others to see you. To wear a costume, rather than a piece of fashion may seem to be playing with semantics, but it is important to see costume perhaps as being more individual-led, whilst fashion as being more group-led, though the two can be confusing and interchangeable at times. 

Although one of the main identifying themes of the Wiener Werkstatte was its boldness in design, particularly as regards textile design, it would be a mistake to say that the designers who worked for the Werkstatte slavishly followed the theme that was set for them and had no input of their own. The Werkstatte was in many ways an organisation that gathered together the best of the Viennese design world. It must have been an extraordinarily creative hub, with designers constantly in contact with a progression of design work that fed on itself, producing more and more work in a path that led from the first few years of the century, right up until the early 1930s. That many of the Werkstatte designers carried the ideals of the organisation well beyond Vienna and well beyond that first part of the twentieth century is perhaps one of the lasting legacies of the Werkstatte.

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1913.

It is hard to say with the work of Wimmer-Wisgrill, whether he used fashion as a tool to promote and project his textile pattern work, or whether he used textile design in order to better emphasis the fashion statement. It is often a difficult path to tread, particularly if you are involved in both textile design and fashion, as to which takes precedence, if any. To me personally, although the third photograph in this article seems more muted as to textile design, the other photos seem to promote the pattern much more than they do the cut of the costume. It can be hard as a textile designer to underplay motif, line, colour, in favour of the human figure, particularly as bolder colours and graphics are often dropped in favour of muted and small-scale pattern work.

Wimmer-Wisgrill is one of those designers that are perhaps not remembered in the great roll call of twentieth century European fashion designers. He may have been called the Viennese Poiret, but it is Poiret that is remembered in the fashion world today and not Wimmer-Wisgrill. However, that does not necessarily negate the work of this Austrian fashion designer. He may not have been part of the Parisian fashion scene, but the Wiener Werkstatte was never really about projecting fashion in the same way that Paris did. Much of what the Werkstatte did was innovative, controversial in parts, and constantly interesting. Whether perplexing, fascinating, or deliberately confrontational, the Wiener Werkstatte strived to show different aspects of what could be, rather than what was. 

Illustration: Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. Costume design, 1912.

That Wimmer-Wisgrill was both part of that need to expand the perspective, whether through fashion, the applied arts, architecture, stage, or fine art, as part of the Werkstatte community, as well as on his own path of creative enlightenment, we should be always thankful for these individuals and organisations. They have left us a vocabulary of inspiration and guidance in which to work and expand in our own directions. That we should be able to hand down our own vocabulary for the next century or so, is part of the great wheel of creativity, long may it keep rolling.

Further reading links:

 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Fantasy World, the World of Reality, and the Creative Arts

Illustration: Ann Macbeth. 'Once Upon a Time' illustration, 1902.

I have always had trouble identifying with the accepted definitions of both fantasy and reality. My Collins English dictionary has a good definition of the word 'fantasy', it terms it as 'a far-fetched idea', 'imagination unrestricted by reality', 'a daydream'. However, its definition of 'reality' is seems more ambiguous 'the state of things as they are or appear to be, rather than as one might wish them to be'. So, in that regard fantasy could easily be taken as a world perception unrestricted by perceived reality, whilst reality could equally be taken as the perception of how things might 'seem' to appear.

To me, the fantasy world is more real than the accepted real. It is a world of infinite possibilities, and endless connectivity, a world without definitions, and limitations, and certainly a world that values the concepts of play and happiness. A world that contains so many of the important elements of our lives, elements that are so often relegated to the children's world of seeming distraction, unfocused experiences, naivety, and play.

Illustration: Annie French. 'The Eve of St. Mark' illustration, 1908.

The 'children's' world should of course be both lauded and cherished, it should be celebrated, not marginalised, and it should certainly be our mainstay throughout our lives, not limited to a few choice years of pre-adolescence. Children have a much better perspective on the world than most, despite adults maintaining that only they can have the privilege of defining reality. In many ways, that is the tragedy of our human perception, it is defined by adults.

Perhaps this is why so many creative people are tagged with the labels often given to children. They are often deemed unreliable, naive, fantasy-driven, in touch with the moment. They can often be transfixed by the smallest of wonders, the flight of a butterfly, the traced lines of a leaf. They have little interest in the often-destructive machinations of the 'real' world and would much rather be in the constructive world of the creative arts.

Illustration: Annie Urquhart. 'Blossoms' illustration.

The world of 'reality' in contrast can be one of limited vision. It has no real reference points for expansion; it certainly has little in the way of imaginative juice. Stand in wonder to watch a flock of geese fly by, or the colour of the sky, the sway of the trees in the breeze, and you soon realise that you may well be standing on your own. It is a world in which the rational human mind dominates; some sectors of science and philosophy have even tentatively suggested that the 'real' world is in fact a construct of this blinkered perception. Either way, our minds are often in conflict between the bulk of who we are, which is the unconscious state, and the reality perception of our thinking rational state.

It is often thought nowadays that the unconscious mind is the one linked to imaginative creativity. The unconscious mind is fuelled by feelings, colours, shapes, it is the part that we often call to when it comes to using our human creativity. It is expansive, intuitive, instinctive, infinitely imaginative, emotional, naive, playful, it is the place where we have our gut instincts that something is either very right or very wrong. All of these elements are often deemed as side-lines to reality, cul-de-sacs of living, the things that shouldn't be, and certainly shouldn't be taken seriously. They are all of the things relegated to childhood, and all the things needed to make you who you are, a well-rounded human being.

Illustration: Auguste Mahrlen. Illustration, 1904.

Our imagined 'real' world, the one where imagination and fantasy are not allowed to intrude, is one that is forever stunted, small-scale, mean. It is a half world, if that. A world that cannot grasp imaginative concepts or dismisses them as silly and childish, particularly if they come in an emotional package. It often refuses to embrace the perception of reality outside of the narrow confining parameters of convention. Therefore, to many living entirely within the realms of 'reality', dreams are nothing, imagination is pointless, and the creative arts amount to much the same, a pointless use of your time.

No one is saying, and certainly not me, that we don't need all of our mind to function in the world we find ourselves in. The perceptions of 'reality' and 'fantasy' make us a fine-balanced, intriguing, dynamic, and ever-fascinating creature. However, get the balance wrong; expand the 'reality' so that it ties the 'fantasy' into a little-used corner, and it makes for a skewed, dysfunctional, creature with a limited scope, and a dead poetic heart, in my estimation at least.

Illustration: Carl Otto Czeschka. Illustration, 1908.

To expand, or even embrace the fantasy as the real, can be seen by many as a bold, even foolish step, but our remote ancestors saw no problem in seeing the world in all its complexity. A world for example where spirit and substance lived in the same space, intertwining and affecting each other's realm, creating a harmony of sorts between fantasy and reality. A world of harmony between the perceptions of fantasy and reality.

In many ways, at least to me, the world of fantasy and reality are often given the wrong tag. The so-called 'fantasy' world could well be considered to a large extent, the real world, whereas the world of everyday 'reality' could equally be conceived as the fantasy world. We certainly need more people in the world who can see the 'fantasy' world as tangible and real, and less who can see the 'real' world as the only constant. That this can be more easily done within the world of the creative arts is perhaps telling.

In a less dysfunctional world of course, there should never be a need for conflict between perceived fantasy and reality, and certainly, no need for adjustment between the shares of perception, but then that would be a world where much of the creative arts weren't limited to a small section of the human world and treated as non-essential.

Further reading links: