Last week, while on vacation in London, England, I was fortunate enough to visit the current retrospective on the work of Kaffe Fassett. "A Life in Colour: 50 Years of Textile Art." Held at the Fashion and Textile Museum, I was unfamiliar with the venue and discovered a part on London I had never visited before. If you are familiar with the size of our own Textile Museum in Toronto, you will be able to identify with the size of this museum and the amount of space available for installations. It is small and intimate. Perfect for viewing the works displayed. It is a testament to the regard that fiber artists and the general public have for this man's work that the show was well attended for a Tuesday afternoon.
|The sweater that started on a train.|
The installation for the show began in the hallway leading into the gallery. Early artwork and biographical information introduced the man to the public, with family photographs and art sketches from his days as a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and later the Art Students League in Manhattan. From here, we entered into a two tiered exhibition space hung with 50 years of his work. It was like walking into one of those middle eastern bazaars you only hear about.
In 1964, Kaffe went to London and the trip changed his life. His early experiments with textiles began with an interest in knitting. While on a trip to Scotland to visit the family of friend British fashion designer Bill Gibb, he became inspired by the colours and textures of the rural landscape. Further inspiration came when he visited a local woollen mill where he fell in love with the subtle artisanal shades and values of the hand dyed products. Not being able to knit, he still didn't hesitate to purchase a pair of needles and while traveling back to London by train, he found a teacher in fellow passenger Alice Russell.
You might remember his early designs which were featured in Vogue Knitting. A collaboration with Bill Gibb on a knitwear collection for the London couture house, Baccarat, would be a sensation. Vogue editor, Judy Brittain, said that "his style was the shape of things to come." Fassett's work would have a pronounced effect on the styles, colours and patterns of the 1970's and early '80's. The bohemian knits and peasant dressing that we all remember so well can be traced pack to his work. It wouldn't be long before he was looking towards the home furnishings market for his next creative outlet and needlepoint would be the result. In the 1980's every decorating shop displayed petit point or gros point cushions and the interest in the texture of tapestry could be found in every home in Europe and America. A historical revival would result in the Victorian and French country styles of that decade. More importantly, a resurgence in handicraft lead people back to their needles to produce their own cushions as well. It was at this time that he published his first book on needlework designs.
|One of the exhibition displays.|
Fassett is best known for his use of bold and complex colour combinations. His tapestry work has a painterly depth that demonstrates his artists training and this can be seen in the cabbage pillow above. Early influences, such as medieval and Renaissance have evolved into the explosive and fiery palette of south east Asia.
"India proved to me that colour is a vital ingredient in life"
It was in the 1990's that American quilter Liza Prior Lucy introduced Kaffe Fassett to the art form of patchwork quilting. His departure from the small scale previously used by quilters was revolutionary and a turning point in contemporary quilting. These influences continue after nearly 25 years! In response to the interest generated by his work, he began to design his own line of fabrics. This has probably been his most successful endeavor along with publishing. Here, the quilt medium with its larger scale, provided Kaffe with a greater surface for design possibilities.
By keeping his shapes simple, he allows the complexity of the design to develop through his use of pattern and colour. The results are kaleidoscopic. Full of movement and blending of colours. Their seems to be something primal in your response to these quilts. You want to reach out and touch, even cuddle them. They take you back to your childhood in a more sophisticated and adult way. Perhaps we all have a "Linus" complex.
Kaffe Fassett continues to publish and influence the way that we look at textile design today. He is arguably this generations answer to the great men and women of the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement. Would your grandmother have approved? Most certainly. Imagine the joy they would have provided in the drab soddy of the prairies or the log cabin of a century earlier.
So, what has Kaffe Fassett to do with our Piecemaker's 2014 show? Well, you'll just have to come out and see my tribute to this man and decide for yourself.