Illustration: Ian O'Phelan. Night Flowers, 2009.
The pattern work of the American artist, designer and illustrator Ian O'Phelan is an excellent example of the continuing relevance and contemporary usage of the repeat pattern. It is often thought that the great days of pattern work, whether that be textile or wallpaper, are well behind us and that the contemporary world has nothing of relevance to add to the accumulated wealth of the past. However, as the work featured in this article shows there are still a number of excellent young designers who are aware of both the historical context of pattern work and the relevance it has, or can have, to our contemporary world.
Illustration: Ian O'Phelan. Fruit Vine II, 2009.
Repeat pattern work is not the easiest of technical processes to master. To make a pattern appear both seamless and above all effortless is another process and level of achievement altogether. Although admittedly a basic repeat pattern is relatively easy to produce, there are a number of optical rules that apply, and in order to achieve an interesting pattern without an obvious formal and optically tiring effect, skill is needed along with an intrinsic knowledge of composition, spacing, balance and harmony.
O'Phelan's decorative pattern work is both graceful and punchy. The observational details, particularly of the floral work, are within the great tradition of decorative pattern work that goes back centuries. The designers work shows a sensitive, sympathetic and indeed compatible approach to the subject matter that is truly timeless. However, twinned with this sensitivity to the floral tradition of pattern work is the ironic juxtaposition of what to many would appear to be an uncomfortable, or even inappropriate use of subject matter.
Illustration: Ian O'Phellan. Pink Paint (Beetles), 2009.
An obvious example of this juxtaposition is that of one of the examples shown here Pink Paint (Beetles). This gives a clear indication of the sentimental and traditional representation of a floral repeat pattern that appears to be superimposed by yet another repeat pattern of a very different kind. The beetles although seemingly at odds with the pink floral motifs are in fact technically and amusingly part of the same overall story. The floral and insect life of the natural world is indeed a symbiotic partnership in that world. The harmony of nature is in the detailed balance of flower and beetle.
This is by no means a misaligned pattern imposing ugly over beautiful, or distaste over graceful. It is an acute observation of the real world, rather than the posy formalised world that decorative pattern work can often take. There are many other small details and larger impositions and juxtapositions that run through much of O'Phelan's decorative pattern work. All are intriguing, thought provoking and amusing. They ask us to question what we expect of our pattern work, and perhaps what has been missing in the past.
Illuastration: Ian O'Phelan. Disporum Cantoniense, 2009.
O'Phelan's repeat pattern work, which admittedly is only part of his overall output, should be seen within the context of the history of decorative pattern work. His work is by no means a pastiche or even a messy reimagining. It is the work of a bright, clear, concise and gifted designer who both understands the relevance of historical context, but also understands the contemporary relevance that that context can take within our own world.
There are a number of links to O'Phelan's work, which can be found below in the Reference links section. There is both a website and blog as well as a Flickr account. The artist and designer can also be found on both Facebook and Twitter. He has exhibited work in both the US and the UK.
Illustration: Ian O'Phelan. Fungi I, 2009.
All images were used with the kind permission of the artist.
Ian O'Phelan website
Ian O'Phelan Flickr gallery
Ian O'Phelan blog