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19th October 2015Indigo-guizhou

The V&A 's David Bowie and Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibitions provided insights into the visionary genius of fashion leaders. It’s current exhibitionTextiles of India explores the origins of producing beautiful threads from the earth’s raw materials


Blues, reds, yellows and greens

India has provided the world with cotton and silk for centuries. Indian cotton was known to the Romans as  “woven winds.” By the 1630’s fine quality, cheap fabrics imported from India by the Dutch and the British caused the complaint, “You can’t tell servant from master.”

The art of extracting colour from nature begins with a nod to indigo dyeing. Indigo is the magical blue colour derived from the leaves of the plant Indigofera tinctoria. And, India’s name is inextricably linked with both indigo and Indikon, the ancient Greek word for dye. Issac Newton named the sixth colour of his prism after it in 1660 when the East India Company were importing the pigment into England. An infinite array of patterns can be produced on cloth by string or wax resist dip-dyeing.

From the deepest red to the lightest pink, the shades so indicative of India’s crazily colourful chintz, are extracts from the root bark of the chay plant (Oldenlandia umbellata) which grows around the southern tip of India and in Sri Lanka. Unlike indigo, chay requires a mordant or a fixative to bind colour with cloth. A vibrant golden orange extract of turmeric flowers, plants  and roots (Curcuma longa) combines with indigo to make green. Surprisingly, pomegranate rind is rich in tannins from which numerous earthy and yellow tones come.

Read more: Textiles of India at the V&A

23rd January 2015

Flowers by Barry Morrisey The Café Art exhibition in the cosy café in Hampstead School of Art on a cold winter night was a heart-warming event. All of the artists taking part have in some way been affected by homelessness. Café Art was set up in 2012 over a cup of coffee by philanthropists Michael and Paul to give this different group of artists a chance to re-connect with society.  

So far around thirty-one cafés in London are participating by lending their walls to Café Art projects ( And, this colourful network has outreached to Bristol, Bath and Bournemouth. The Guardian has hosted a Café Art exhibition in their foyer and Christie’s housed a pop-up event. Picture exchanges between Café Art in London, Fresh Arts in New York and Home Ground Services in Melbourne have also helped to highlight the cause and International exposure is a great confidence boost for the artists concerned.

“Fundamentally, Café Art works because it gives an opportunity for ten different homeless charities to get together without the need for competition amongst them. For us, the purpose is to get the artist to the next level and to get the public seeing their work. When an artist sells a piece of work we connect them directly with the buyer and we don’t take a commission,” explained Michael.

Now in its third year artwork and photographs are utilised to produce a glossy Calendar. Last year this helped to raise £18,000 for the vendors, photographers and art groups - 65% of the sales income, with the remaining income going back into the project. The evocative images for this year’s My London Calendar emerged with support and training from The Royal Photographic Society. An experienced panel of judges whittled down 3,000 entries to twenty and members of the public chose the final twelve. The sublime result is on sale here:

Community projects are vital to getting people re-integrated into society. The number of people sleeping on the streets of London has increased by 43% since 2010/11 to 6,437 and is steadily rising [1]. Over half are between 26-45 year old and 12% are female. The financial crisis has hit homelessness hard in other capital cities too. A not for profit organisation in Athens has taken advice and inspiration from the Café Art model to set up a similar project and is busy seeking its own funding to do so.

Mark and Tom are two articulate and aware artists at the private view. Tom Hair, whose art has been displayed in previous ehibitions said: “It is a learning curve, the journey of visual communication of both the product and process of rehabilitation - a rehabilitation of the self both within and without.” Mark’s portrait painting is a carnival of blue and orange. Intriguingly, the art of those affected by homelessness expresses courage, hope and spirit through colour in distinct contrast to the monotone cityscapes exhibited in the gallery downstairs: a tacit reminder that some of the world’s great artists were transient.

Flower paintings by Barry Morrisey

[1] Thames Reach

Hampstead School of Art

25th November 2013

isabella blow

The Isabella Blow exhibition is a beautiful manifestation of the creative triangle between muse Blow, designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy of incredible, unparalleled imagination. Two out of three of this formidable team committed suicide whilst still young, and it’s easy to see why with this overload of talent.

Philip Treacy’s variety and volume of hats has to be seen to be believed; a snail hat made of silk net and wire with stalk eyes, a plump green silk orchid hat with feather stamens, a rich red velvet concertina hat bisected by an open zipper partially revealing the face, a purple brocade trilby with an extended brim, black and red masks smothered with veils of swarovski crystals and a clam shell hat. There is an assortment of fascinators garlanded with clouds of red butterflies, cut out pop art red mouths, and white foam anarchy symbols. And feathers are fashioned to wrap around the head like downy snakes.

Rather like the reptile house at London Zoo, a collection of nature inspired installations are set behind glass. A gold mannequin clad in a stunning black corset, Yves Saint Laurent lilac snakeskin wedgies and a stingray teardrop clutch bag is eyecatching. She is entirely submerged in an underwater world of inky blue lobsters and shimmering black sand. Above the Perspex meniscus line, an intricately designed 16th century black galleon hat is sailing on the model’s head, its feather sails stiffening on the wind. 

An Alexander McQueen full length pink and black dress made from yet more feathers on silk with sculptured shoulders and a long train is undoubtedly the star of the show. A taxidermy bird of paradise headpiece completes the ensemble. Kimonos provide a timeless structure for a number of McQueen’s other outfits, notably a wedding dress worn with an ecclesiastical circular hat. And fellow St Martin’s graduate Tristan Webber has cleverly juxtaposed an armorial helmet with a red silk and blue appliqué silk dress teamed with purple suede platforms by Terry de Havilland.

Read more: Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore


bandana beatles        

Mr Brainwash aka Thierry Guetta is an LA based artist and the inadvertent star of Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was originally intended to be about Banksy himself, but Guetta turned out to be more entertaining. The association with possibly the world’s most famous street artist has resulted in exhibitions in LA, New York and London for Mr Brainwash, whose current show opened in London this week.

He stops short of using a live animal like Banksy did in his first LA extravaganza, hiring and painting an elephant to match the wallpaper. However, animal themes permeate the cavernous Old Sorting Office in the West End where the central exhibit is a giant gorilla made of old tyres. A carosel of decoupaged and painted horses are dancing around the space, a cute baby elephant made of rubber and daubed with pink paint is sitting on a plinth in the corner, whilst spray-painted cows, horses and a bull pop up all over the place.

Read more: Mr Brainwash Does Art Good

August 15th 2011

RAA2011 exhibitionThis is the 243rd Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly, which means that it started in 1768.  The Summer Exhibition heralds the start of important summer events, such as the Henley Regatta, and is the largest open submission art exhibition in the world.

It attracts some 11,000 entries, from which 1,117 pictures, sculptures and other artefacts are chosen.  The selection process is a tough one, with a human conveyer belt handing on works of art to be put in front of the selection panel for acceptance or rejection.  The selection process works like this; a submission is either marked with an X as rejected, or marked with a D as doubtful.  What is left is whittled down by a panel of anonymous judges to a tiny selection.

Read more: The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2011

3rd August 2011

rock drilllThe Vorticists were dominated by a two-man sculptural revolution consisting of Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brezeska.  Both artists were producing important works of modern art in Britain just prior to and during the Great War (1914-18).

Jacob Esptein’s massive The Rock Drill (1912) is a monolithic expression of masculine power.  It is the first known sculpture to combine a ready-made object, the drill machine, with a work of art. A robot-like man, made of plaster is straddling the drill, intent on doing some real damage with it.  This formidable image prophesises the violent use of machine guns during World War I.

Epstein later dismantled The Rock Drill and sold off the drill.  He pared down what was left into a new sculpture, minus parts of the arms, both hands and legs, and recast it.  The transformed Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill (1913-14) depicting the shattered and maimed consequences of the military-industrial age on the vulnerable, de-humanized form.

In contrast, his Female Figures in Flenite (1913), which is a name Epstein made up for the green and black stone called serpentine stone, are gestating women bearing reference to Oceanic, Polynesian, and African sculptures. With these pregnant, peaceful, fluid figures, he had dispensed with detail, concentrating on the essential form to produce something modern, yet extraordinarily primitive.

Read more: The Vorticists at the Tate Britain

05 May 2011

Sam Burcher goes to Bloomsbury for an evening of music, art and entertainment.

Richard StrangeLast Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending Richard Strange’s (frontman of Cabaret Voltaire, writer and broadcaster) delightful soiree at the Chapel of the House of St Barnabas in Soho, where he was talking to Richard Jobson (The Skids, writer and film director) and Cornelia Parker OBE (creator of the exploding shed as art).

A Mighty Big If is officially billed as being at number one Greek Street. But, in reality, the entrance to the gold-infused chapel is secreted on Manette Street, an unpretentious thoroughfare that joins Greek Street to Charing Cross Road.

The intrigued congregation, sitting comfortably on chiavari chairs in the chilly chapel under the high sweeping arches and alabaster pillars, were treated to much deeper insights into these creative minds than Wikepedia thought possible thanks to Richard Strange’s intimate questions. This arrangement works so much better than a ‘straight’ lecture.

Read more: A Mighty Big If