Leah Armstrong

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Enid Marx at Pallant House Gallery

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2012 at 08:58

Yesterday, I made my first visit to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and it was a real treat- from the beauty of the building itself and the excellently stocked bookshop, to the two stimulating exhibitions: Edward Burra and Enid Marx.

The Enid Marx exhibition opened last week in the De’Longhi Print Room. A range of Marx’s iconic work is on show, covering her 70 year career as a textiles designer and illustrator. This includes screenprints, illustrations, linocuts, greeting cards and other ‘ephemera’ from a collection presented to the gallery in 2006 by her executor Dr Eleanor Brewing and her official biographer Dr Matthew Eve.

The work is not presented in any obvious chronological or thematic sequence, so that you can enjoy Marx’s work outside any imposed strictures. Marx’s work is so striking and distinctive, that it is enjoyable to take in the beauty of the work on its own. However, I found myself being especially drawn to the works on show that held more obvious clues about Marx as a personality- an invitation to a cocktail party for example, or the New Years and Christmas cards she designed.

Upstairs at the end of the Edward Burra exhibition, in a video filmed at the end of his career, Burra asks the question ‘Why do people always want to know about the personalities? Why can’t we just show the pictures?’. It was in fact ironic that he made such a point of this issue, considering that the preceding (fantastic) exhibition of his work was decorated with many archival artefacts that satisfied our curiosity of Burra, the man, the artist, the personality.

This question upstairs in the gallery got me thinking about my own impulse to see more of Enid Marx, the personality, in the downstairs exhibition. Burra’s question was a good one. Why are we so interested in the act of being an artist, the lifestyle and the profession? Why is it not enough to just look at the work on its own?

Perhaps the reason I found myself looking so intently for Marx’s identity as a designer comes from my interest in the fascinating context that surrounds her work and progress as a professional designer in the inter-war period. Marx has figured as a prominent figure in the CSD archive, as a Fellow of the SIA in the 50s and 60s and a member of the particularly active SIA textiles group in that period. She has a uniquely interesting story to tell because of the circumstances in which she worked-as a woman designer at a time when the designer’s professional identity was consistently defined in masculine terms.

A forthcoming exhibition at the Fashion and Textiles Museum might be a good place to explore these issues. Entitled, ‘Designing Women’, the exhibition, opening March 17, is to focus on the ‘art of textile design in post-war period’ by designers Marion Mahler, Lucienne Day and Jacqueline Groag. In an introductory photographic display, curated by yours truly, I’ll present portraits of women designers in the post-war period to broaden the context and provoke questions about the professional identity of women designers, from Althea McNish to Barbara Jones. The pictures are selected from a unique holding of designer’s portraits from the Council of Industrial Design at the Design Archives, Brighton.

Burra is right- we always want to know the personalities. But I hope that this is in response to our desire to understand the context in which it was made and where it came from, as a means of appreciating the strength of the work on its own.

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‘Top 10 Lawyers’

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2012 at 13:40

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Great article in today’s guardian in adulation of ‘the lawyer’: the profession of all professions. 

It would be difficult to compile a similar ‘top ten’ for designers in popular imagination. Architecture might be easier- Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead springs to mind and gets a good mention in Andrew Saint’s book Image of the Architect. 

Can anyone think of fictionalised heroic figures of the design profession in popular culture?