Monday, 20 April 2015

Study visit - Sonia Delaunay at the Tate Modern

A weekend in April the OCA had arranged a study visit to London to see the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate Modern. And it also happened that it was the last day to see Sheila Hicks' work at the Hayward Gallery. So off I went, met up with fellow students and wandered about the exhibition and further galleries to study abstraction, colour and application of art to/with fashion and design.

I knew a little about Sonia Delaunay's work before I went. I had of course heard of her and Robert Delaunay, but hadn't seen substantial amounts of it, other than when flicking through books. At the same time I know a little about Modernism in art and the Bauhaus and de Stijl in design history terms so felt reasonably prepared beforehand.

Anyway, the work was quite interesting, there was a lot of the Delaunays' interest in colour defraction and interaction on display, large target like circles, jazzy angular patterns and a very good display of her textile and costume designs. I enjoyed the show very much. My own work is more organic and maybe not inventive in the way the Delaunays and their contemporaries were. They were working with new theories of seeing and trying hard to look at new ways of seeing and representing things. It often feels now as if so many of these ways of seeing have already been seen, that so much work now is variations on themes, and personally I find it difficult to think anew about the textile material.

Of all the galleries in the display the very early representational work and the textiles ones were my favourites. I enjoy seeing how the artist used colour to try to find a new language of description. The gallery labels suggested Sonia Delaunay had been looking at Gaugin's work in her early works and this was apparent in the choice of themes and composition, young women from the countryside at the table for example, but not so many exteriors as in Gaugin, more a focus on the person in the interior. This interpretation may be due to the curation of the show. Maybe Delaunay did paint outside, but this was not very visible at The Tate exhibition.

The textile galleries contained many samples, films of models wearing garments made of the printed and embroidered work based on Delaunay's designs. The heavier woollen embroideries were very good, I liked the texture of the surface and there was an example of how she had used watercolour in a way that suggested stitch, with a stitched picture hung next to it to allow the spectator to make this connection. There were a lot of print design in books, on the wall, in drawn, painted paper designs with the printed fabric hanging alongside as examples in single colour ways. There were some costume designs and the costume itself made for Ballet Russe on an Egyptian theme with photographs showing them being worn. So there was plenty to look at and consider.

I think my work contrasts a lot with this work - my work is mainly constructed and I work with the organic form. Here was purity of line, geometry and dynamic colour divisions and selections that had been used quite intellectually to describe the modern life of an urbane culture. My work has not yet found a language of its own, but I intuitively feel that our own post-Modern (and I am using this term tentatively......) world is so diverse, so allowing of all manner of expressions that things are so complex now. Then there was a sense of direction for the French and German Modernists. They had strong progressive and radical purposes that gave meaning to their work. It was about the new, the clarity and purity of seeing and living; new materials and findings in science inspired them, industrial methods, speed and new ways of communicating gave them the impulse to see and make in new ways. I am finding it difficult to think about creating meaning now in a vast sea of meanings, but sense that there is something about custodianship and respect for people and environment that has become a necessity. In any case that is something to continue to reflect on as I work on my own things.

The Sheila Hicks work I have mixed feelings about. The display had three rooms; the first one you entered was a mixture of samples and finished work including a vitrine with wrapped batons in all manner of colours, a larger piece on hanging wrapped coiling elements, some of her wrapped 'cushions' and some samples including a section of the Ford Foundation embroidery recent re-made. In an adjacent gallery a few of her miniatures were on show. Mainly recent ones, and perhaps not all of the interesting ones. I like the ones were she has used shells and feathers, and overall I found it interesting to see the fineness of some of them, the wrapping in one of them was very fine. The seemingly freely created pieces look very fine when they are mounted in white and framed, it makes them seem quite delicate and unique, which they are, but this mounting enhances that sense even more.

The third room was a collection of large coloured cushions for the public to sit on. There was a film one could watch which showed how this type of display had originally been made for a much larger venue, and where the coloured cushions had been carefully composed through Hicks' direction. Here the colours were grouped rather than mixed, perhaps due to the smaller room. The coloured fibre inside each coloured 'pouffe'  was some sort of synthetic and it was held together by a fine synthetic mesh. Although a fun room for everyone, including families with small children I wonder what the purpose was with this work. We came late in the afternoon on a Sunday, so it was quite peaceful and you could sit quietly, as one couple plainly did, they seemed to be almost asleep. But I am not sure it did much more, it was almost like those coloured ball fun rooms for children in places like Ikea, which is an equally democratic play space. I am sure when the original display was created the intention of making an art work interactive was one of the driving forces. In a way then Sheila Hicks' work is almost reaching a purpose such as Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam's play spaces for children, allowing people to physically interact with the art work at a fundamental level. I guess it was about pleasure as well as about contemplation.

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