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Philosophy

The Scarf Gallery is the place where art and fashion meet. Our aim is to showcase the work of contemporary artists on the printed scarf.

Participating artists are asked to consider the scarf as a canvas on which to express their unique vision. Our job is to gently advise them about the technicalities of printing on silk . Together we endeavour to create beautiful and timeless works of art that are both a joy to wear and to own.

The Scarf is one of the most enduring articles of clothing and its history dates back to Ancient Egypt. Its endurance is probably explained by its versatility and uniquely expressive qualities.

The Artist Scarf has a noble history too. Many past masters including Picasso, Matisse, Dufy, Moore and Warhol appreciated the creative possibilities of printing on silk and many examples are now highly valued and sought after collectors items.

Our continual program of working with established and emerging artists will result in an increasingly diverse and exciting portfolio of Artist Scarves all of which will be available exclusively from The Scarf Gallery.

 

Artists, Textiles and the Artist Scarf

The way textiles are depicted with such relish, both in Renaissance painting and in Japanese wood blocks, gives us a clue to the delight many artists have taken in textiles and their fascination with the way patterns and colours change when draped over a human form.

Between 1880 and 1910 the ARTS AND CRAFTS movement gained prominence. This was Inspired by the writing of John Ruskin, artists and designers such as William Morris and Burne-Jones and later Charles Voysey and the Omega workshop group, determined to make their work relevant to the lives of ordinary people. However, they faced the obstacles both of negative and elitist cultural attitudes to new materials and inexpensive industrial manufacturing methods and the concept of a mass market.

To overcome these attitudes the artist-makers used their own manual creative methods. Morris further developed this idea insisting that no work was carried out in his workshops before he had mastered the techniques and materials himself. He said "without dignified creative human occupation people become disconnected from life"

Meanwhile in France the first record of contracted collaboration between an artist and a textile manufacturer was between the silk weaving house of Bianchini-Ferier (founded in Lyon in 1888) and the Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy. The collaboration would last from 1912 until 1928 in which time Dufy created over 4000 designs. 

Immediately after the First World War there was a dip in the interaction between artists and the applied arts. Then the hedonistic 1920s revived the desire for luxury commodities and individualistic items. One artist to gain recognition for textile designs was Ruth Reeves (1892-1966). W & J Sloane commissioned Reeves to design textiles and wall hangings for their display in the ‘Decorative Metalwork and Cotton Textiles’ section of the ‘Third International Exhibition of Contemporary Industrial Art’ in 1930.

In 1931, inspired by developments in textile design elsewhere, the painter Allan Walton and his brother Roger set up Allan Walton Textiles (a spin-off of their family company, the cotton manufacturer John Walton of Collyhurst Ltd). The development of the silk screen printing process by manufacturers such as Allan Walton Textiles was of major significance for the future success of artist-designed textiles in the post-war era.

Artist designed textiles in the 1930s had to battle against economic depression, increasing political crises and the influence of the anti-decorative stance of the International Modern Movement.  For example in 1933 the American textile manufacturer Onondaga Silk Company commissioned Raoul Dufy to design a series of fashion textiles but the results were not greatly admired.

The resurgence of artist-designed textiles came in mid-1940s. This reinvigoration can be credited to the British textile company Ascher Ltd. and Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics in the United States. The two companies almost simultaneously launched collections of fashion fabrics and headsquares with designs commissioned from renowned painters and sculptors.

Zika and Lida Ascher fled to London from the recently Nazi annexed Czechoslovakia in 1939. The couple set up a small company for the production of high quality textiles aimed at the couture end of the fashion market. The London haute couture trade was surprisingly thriving, largely the result of the cutting off of the Parisian couture houses.

In 1943, Zika Ascher commissioned his company’s first textile designs by artists including the sculptor Henry Moore and the émigré Polish painter Feliks Topolski. Apart from limiting the size of a headscarf to a 36 inch sq. he gave the artists involved free reign in their choice of subject matter.

Although some of Ascher’s artist designed textiles had been available since 1944 they did not earn widespread recognition until 1946 when the company showed part of the range at the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition.  Organised by the newly formed Council of Industrial Design it was the first major British post-war exhibition of design.

The success of this was followed in the autumn of 1947 by an exhibition of 37 Ascher Ltd. headsquares, all of which were designed by leading British and French artists, at the Lefevre Gallery, London. The exhibition garnered positive reactions from critics and public alike. The Aschers took the exhibition to New York in October 1947 and after this it toured internationally visiting venues in the Americas, Europe, Australia and South Africa.

Sacheverell Sitwell (1897-1988) commented after the 1947 show "It is after all, a method by which the sketches of great painters can be brought into many homes in England and abroad...Not a few of these Ascher scarves will be framed upon walls a hundred years from now, for they are among the best and most characteristic products of our day."

Hans and Elspeth Juda moved to London from Nazi Germany in 1933. On arrival in Britain he was appointed editor of Dutch owned International Textiles. This was later renamed the Ambassador. The couple were particularly significant in the successful post-war involvement of British artists with the textile industry and played a major role in the export trade of artist textiles in the 1950s/60s.

During the mid-20th century owning modern art  in whatever form, became seen as a social asset. Since the involvement of Dufy with Bianchini-Ferier in 1912, the collaboration between European avant-garde artists with the textile industry had become an accepted practice. Contrastingly, with the exception of Ruth Reeves, there had been few similar examples in America. However in 1946 Alan Gruskin, owner of Midtown Gallery, NY partnered up with American Silk company Onondaga to exhibit an artists’ textile project: ‘Contemporary American Artists Prints’. The exhibition also toured nationally.

Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics Inc. directly commissioned designs for fashion yardage and scarves from a number of avant-garde artists. This list included Salvador Dali (1947 designed ‘Flower Ballet’) and Marcel Vertes.

This design by Dali, commissioned by Simpson fabrics, was derived from a Destino – an unfinished surrealist animation for Walt Disney.

By the 1950s manufacturers in both Britain and United States had convinced some of the most internationally eminent artists to take part in collaborations. This lead to artist designed textiles becoming ‘high art’.

During the 1950s Fuller Fabrics Inc. developed a project known as ‘Modern Master Prints’.  The list of artists included Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger and Marc Chagall. The basis of the project was the selection by the artist of motifs from their oeuvre followed by 2 years of cooperation between each artist and Fullers fabrics’ design and production teams in order to best translate the chosen motifs into textile designs.

  

The 1960s saw the introduction of the Pop aesthetic into textile design by artists and designers such as Andy Warhol and Zandra Rhodes. Rhodes designed silk scarves influenced by pop culture, using bright and daring designs and Warhol seamlessly translated his images from canvas to silk.

   

1970s saw a diminished interaction between artists and the textile industry. The 1960s Pop art aesthetic was in stark contrast with the punk movement and anti-establishment culture of the 1970s. In the U.K. Industry was in decline many textile manufacturers were closing and the “three-day week” was introduced. Meanwhile Fine Art was moving towards conceptualism and performance art.

In the 1980's artist textiles re-emerged with artist-designer-makers such as Georgina Von Etzdorf, Timney Fowler, The Cloth, Furphy-Simpson and English Eccentrics gaining international acclaim. 

Currently the 21st century is becoming a new age of the artist-designed silk scarf and the desire of many artists to improve accessibility of fine art to the public is returning. Sitwell’s prediction was correct - many artist scarves are now viewed as art in their own right, and sell for vast sums of money at auction houses.

In 2012 Grayson Perry designed a very popular scarf for the Tate and early in 2014 a fantastic exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum London celebrated artist textiles. This exhibition is now on tour. It traces the history of 20th century art in textiles. Highlights include work by Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Sonia Delaunay, Raoul Dufy, Barbara Hepworth, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Ben Nicholson and Andy Warhol.