Monday, 10 April 2017

Josef Frank-Patterns-Furniture-Painting

Josef Frank (1885-1967)

I hadn't visited the Fashion and Textile Museum before, despite making many visits to White Cube just a stone's throw away. I was very much looking forward to a visit in 2017 though, having eagerly anticipated this Josef Frank exhibition. I only discovered his fantastic work early last year, and was then coincidentally commissioned to create a 1 metre square Butterfly Ball based on the colours of his Citrus Fruit textile design later in the year (here).

The Fashion and Textile museum - the brainchild of textile designer Zandra Rhodes - is a little gem, and the ideal place for a Josef Frank retrospective.

There is already so much written about Frank's history, which basically saw him train initially as an architect in Vienna, and then having to move to Sweden due to the rise of the Nazis and the climate of anti-semitism. Having settled in Sweden, he worked as a very successful architect, textile and furniture designer for design firm Svenskt Tenn who came to the wider public's attention at the World Expositions in Paris and New York in 1937 and 1939 respectively.

Villa Claeson, Falsterbo, Sweden designed by Josef Frank

Svenskt Tenn allowed Frank to give free rein to his imagination, and it is here he created his most well known textile designs. These designs ironically, were rooted in the world of his imaginative fantasy, whilst the real world was being ravaged by the horrors of war. Nature was Frank's primary influence, and the pictures below show how designs were developed from first hand observation as well as fantasy.

The little isolated details of Frank's designs are so delightful, and so rich in detail that you can see how they could easily spawn new textile designs of their own.

Grrrr!... Loved and coveted this fun rug. So playful!

Seeing the original artwork and being able to compare colours etc. to the finish printed product designs is always useful. Most designs were adapted to fabric with minimal adjustments.

The design above (like the Tulips design seen earlier ),is unusual as it is based on observations of real plants whereas many of his other designs were based on illustrations that Frank had adapted from children's illustrated books.

Frank's watercolour paintings - created purely for his own enjoyment after his textile design career began to wane - were a bit pedestrian to my eyes, and lack the spark and excitement of the textile designs. I would have liked him to apply some of the whimsy and playfulness of the textiles to these watercolours in perhaps the way Paul Klee did, to create something with a little more liveliness. Frank was aware however of the limitations of his watercolour technique and, (more power to his elbow), actually revelled in this. No matter what anybody thinks of them though, the act of painting undoubtedly made him happy, which is what matters most in the end - doing something creative which gives one pleasure and makes the heart sing.

The exhibition closes with a look at some William Morris textiles which were an influence on Frank's own style, and the legacy left on modern Swedish textiles by Josef Frank with contemporary designs from companies like Ikea. 

Josef Frank: Patterns-Furniture-Painting is a really enjoyable exhibition and well worth a visit for anybody with an interest in surface pattern design.

Josef Frank: Patterns-Furniture-Painting
until 7th May
Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey Street