Sunday 29 May 2022

Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery & Rana Begum - London

Rana Begum - No. 1081 Mesh

Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, London, was designed & built by architect, John Soane (1753-1837) between 1800 and 1804 as his country home.  Soane's fame became established following his appointment as architect to to the Bank of England in 1788. He was very inventive and  known for his clever use of light in the buildings he designed - rooflights, conservatories, coloured glass, mirrors and reflections were all tools of his trade and are in evidence at Pitzhanger.  

John Soane's Pitzhanger Manor - Rear Conservatory View

Pitzhanger Manor - Coloured Glass

Rana Begum's exhibition "Dappled Light" can be found in the gallery, grounds and manor.  Begum is a London based artist who came to the UK from Pakistan, aged 8. Her inspiration comes from the urban landscape, nature, and the geometric patterns of traditional Islamic art and architecture. She allows us to explores our sense and experience of light through her work.  Soane & Begum therefore seem like a good pairing.

Rana Begum - No. 1081 Mesh (detail)

No 1081 Mesh looks like light, air filled net parcels but they are in fact made from powder coated galvanised steel and so are quite firm and rigid.

Rana Begum  - No. 1086 Tiles (detail)
Paint on mirror finish stainless steel

There were lots of reflections in her No. 1086 Tiles exhibit and lots of reflectors in No.863 L Reflector...

Rana Begum - No. 863 L Reflector

I liked the texture of her No.1082 Folded Grid piece...

Rana Begum - No. 1082 Folded Grid
Spray paint on Jesmonite

In the gallery entrance was a mark making extravaganza of inked thumb prints created in collaboration with young artists from Bollo Studios...

Rana Begum - No 1126 Wall Drawing
Ink thumb prints

In the Manor the stairwell was flooded with light which made Begum's colourful net installation look great...

Rana Begum - No. 1127 Net
Spray painted fishing net

Rana Begum - No. 1127 Net
Spray painted fishing net

And in the garden, some coloured glass panels brightened up a grey day...

Rana Begum - No 814
Coloured Glass Panels

There's more to see and it's worth a visit for the Manor which also has some impressive ceilings and decor, all newly restored...

Pitzhanger Manor interior

and the gallery for its exhibition space and small shop.  Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery are located in Walpole Park which is a pleasant green space and there is a lovely cafe, Soane's Kitchen, in the walled garden there too.  Rana Begum's exhibition "Dappled Light" is on until September 2022.

Saturday 21 May 2022

Althea McNish at the William Morris Gallery, London

Althea McNish - Golden Harvest (for Hull Traders)

Althea McNish's "Colour is Mine" exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London is her first major retrospective and shows her vibrant, colourful prints that revolutionised mid 20th Century British textile design.

Althea McNish

Born in Trinidad in 1924, she emigrated to the UK in 1950 with her family.  She was one of the first designers of Caribbean heritage to gain international recognition in the field of textile design and was one of Britain's most innovative and influential textile designers.  She claimed to see everything "through a tropical eye".  McNish's style brought together abstracted botanic designs with a Caribbean inspired colour palette.  This is true of her most famous design Golden Harvest, pictured above and is also shown in her sketchbook below...

Althea McNish - London College of Print & Graphic Arts Sketchbook

She studied at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts and in 1954 won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art where, following encouragement from her tutor, Eduardo Paolozzi, she studied textiles.  Her talent was recognised by Liberty who commissioned designs from her graduate collection and for whom she went on to design silk scarves and dress and furnishing fabrics.  She also designed very successfully for Hull Traders.

Althea McNish - Cebollas for Liberty
Printed cotton furnishing fabric

McNish's original design for Painted Desert was quite large.  She liked to work at scale and then decide how to reduce the size for its intended purpose.

Althea McNish - Original design for Painted Desert

The 3 colour Painted Desert design for Hull Traders was produced as a heavyweight cotton satin furnishing fabric in 4 colourways: purple, green, pink and gold...

Althea McNish - Painted Desert (pink) for Hull Traders

Althea McNish - Wallpaper Design for Sanderson

She was a founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, active between 1966 and 1972, which sought to celebrate what it recognised as a distinctive Caribbean aesthetic.

McNish also designed murals for W
arerite plastic in the restaurants of the ocean liner SS Oriana which took her further into the world of interior design...

Althea McNish - Warerite Plastic Mural Designs Rayflower & Pomegranate for SS Oriana

McNish's painterly style worked well for the scarves she designed for Jacqmar...

Althea McNish - Scarf designs for Jacqmar

McNish loved fashion and in the 60s was asked by ICI to design for their new fabric - Terylene Toile and also designed for paper clothes which were made from a bonded cellulose fibre that could be washed upto 6 times.  She was frustrated that paper fashion never really took off.

Althea McNish - Fashion Textiles Terylene Toile & Paper Dress

Throughout her career Althea McNish taught at many of the UK's leading art schools. She was awarded the Chaconia gold medal in Trinidad for her contributions to art and design, and in 2006 an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, where she mentored many of its student designers.

Even in her final years she continued to share her vast knowledge and experience of textile design with students and the wider public.  She died in 2020, aged 95, 2 years after her jewellery designer husband, John Weiss.

This exhibition is on until 11 September 2022. Well worth a visit!


Liberty have a range of Althea McNish fabrics (Tana Lawn and silk satin) for sale on the roll in store and online.  Some cut lengths are available in the William Morris Gallery shop.

The William Morris Gallery has a pleasant cafe.  The gallery is in Lloyd Park in Walthamstow and so is surrounded by green space.

Monday 16 May 2022

Mixed Media with Josie Beszant at ArtisOn

Josie Beszant

Had a lovely day recently at ArtisOn near Masham attending a mixed media workshop led by Josie Beszant.  Josie is a mixed media and collage artist who also runs Masham Gallery (which is well worth a look if you're in the area). We spent a pleasant day making samples some of which you can see below...

Watercolour & resist

Watercolour & resist

Watercolour & charcoal


Gouache & oil pastels

Gouache & oil pastels

We learnt about layering, mixing, spattering and scraping and then moved on to stamping, printing with plants, collage and transfer techniques... 


Printing with plants

Josie had an abundance of vintage postcards and I was on a roll collaging on those.  Here are a few...

Collaged postcards

Collaged postcards

Collaged postcards

Josie had lots of materials for us to use and was very generous with them. 

Gaynor and Sue who run ArtisOn are very friendly and welcoming and we had a spectacular 2 course lunch prepared by Vanessa. Throughout the day we were plied with plenty of tea, biscuits and cake.  It was all splendid!  You can check out all the workshops that ArtisOn put on here.  Josie also runs art and wellbeing experiences at Happy House Masham.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

Louise Bourgeois at the Hayward Gallery

Louise Bourgeois - Spider
Steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold, bone

Louise Bourgeois' exhibition "The Woven Child" is on at the Hayward Gallery until 15 May 2022 so if you're quick you've still got time to visit! 

Louise Bourgeois - Untitled
Needlepoint and aluminium

Louise Bourgeois was born on Christmas Day 1911.  She was the daughter of tapestry repairers and helped out from an early age. Louise first studied Philosophy at the University of Paris before deciding to become an artist.  In the 1930s she studied at a number of artists' studios and academies in Paris including with Fernand Léger, developing 3D work as well as paintings and drawings. In 1938 she opened her own gallery, met art historian Robert Goldwater, married and moved to New York.  She brought up 3 sons and had her first solo show in 1945 in New York and began exhibiting in shows with the Abstract Expressionists - Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning. Throughout her career she worked with many materials including wood, bronze, latex, plaster and marble.  In her 80s Bourgeois began to work with textiles especially those belonging to herself and her mother that she had saved.  Imagery relating to sewing, mending and the tools of that trade remained important in her work until her death, aged 98, in 2010. It is this work from her later years that forms the basis of "The Woven Child". 

Made from clothes that had significance from her life and hanging on bones, Bourgeois made the piece below to evoke the memory of people, places and events. Welded to the base are the words "Seamstress, Mistress, Distress, Stress" - words that reference her family history and the effect it had on her.

Louise Bourgeois - Untitled
Cloth, bone and steel

Bourgeois made many room-like pieces called cells containing compositions of personal items and sculptural elements relating to her personal history. In Cell VII a bronze model of her home together with both her and her mother's garments hanging in the room-like space suggest haunting memories...

Louise Bourgeois - Cell VII (detail)
Metal, glass, fabric, bronze, steel,wood, bones, wax & thread

Many of the composite works such as Eugénie Grandet, made up of 16 mixed media pieces (see the selection below) were my favourites.  Bourgeois was fascinated by the heroine of Balzac's novel - Eugénie Grandet.  Bourgeois thought her father was trying to turn her into Eugénie.  These pieces were made from hankies and tea towels from Bourgeois' trousseau to which she added haberdashery, artificial flowers and items from her clothing and her sewing box that she had kept, evoking unrealised desires and the passing of time...

Louise Bourgeois - Eugénie Grandet (part)

and I particularly liked her fabric books...

Louise Bourgeois - The Woven Child
Fabric and lithograph book

Louise Bourgeois - Ode a l'Oubli
Fabric and lithograph book

Fascinated by needles, Bougeois said, "When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I've always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle.  The needle is used to repair the damage.  It's a claim to forgiveness. It's never aggressive, it's not a pin."

Louise Bourgeois - Needle
Steel, flax, mirror & wood

These are just a small selection of the work on show at the Hayward.  Go see while there's still time.

The Hayward Gallery is on London's South Bank.  It has a nice cafe and a small shop.