Friday, 1 August 2014


Somerset House East Wing

Hand-knotted rugs, made of hand spun wool and mohair, 2.0 x 2.9m

I'm walking towards Somerset House. It's very hot. I pass a grid of floor-level fountains outside the Royal Festival Hall where water shoots up or disappears into the ground in unpredictable patterns. In the middle is a fully-clothed man with a waterproof knapsack on his back playing with his children. I look again. There are other adults splashing around, laughing, soaked to the skin. I cross Waterloo Bridge . Somerset House has 55 fountains dancing in its beautiful courtyard (in the winter it's turned into an ice skating rink) but here it's only children and they are more circumspect.

I turn into the cool of Somerset House and wonder how am I going to interest you in a book published  over 50 years ago, a gloss-painted door and some rugs hanging on the wall?

The artist Gary Hume came across Interaction of Colour (1963), by the artist Josef Albers early in his career and has been an admirer of Albers’ work ever since. In 1988 his  Goldsmiths paintings were based on hospital doors rendered in high gloss, but where one might have expected bureaucratic creams and browns, there were pinks and golden tans,  panels and roundels, hand and foot plates picked out garishly. I first saw some of Hume's doors displayed down the sides of a long thin  room  (I don't know where) in the 1990s, and have never forgotten the experience. Doors are heavy with meaning. They are silent and blind but some you open with delight, others with dread. Fairy tales make the most of forbidden doors: Bluebeard's bring death in a dungeon. Goldilocks sneaks past one to steal porridge in a bowl. If you need to be convinced of the power of doors, even in everyday life, turn to Blog 53, Mark Wallinger's  Threshold to the Kingdom.

Form Through Colour is cerebral and challenging, designed to showcase the innovative and imaginative use of colour in art inspired by Albers. If you have time, there is a short explanatory video showing his passion as a teacher who believed that art is an experience, not an object. 'I don't give answers because I'd be depriving you of finding out for yourself...I have not taught painting, I have taught seeing...'  Not for him the colour-supplement agony of trying to match colours, obeying firm rules about what 'goes with' what. Consider, he said, the power of  disharmony in music. 

The contemporary rug and fabric company of Christopher Farr has collaborated with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, and with Gary Hume, to produce hand-crafted rugs, tapestries and fabric installations. Take time to experience the shift of shades depending on how the light falls, the direction of the pile and the shadows formed by sections which stand out in relief.

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