When thinking about artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol it is easy to imagine their most important creations: drawings, paintings and collages are easy to remember but few people know about their involvement in the world of fashion. While it is known that their art has – directly or indirectly – influenced the collections of the most famous designers, not much is known about their importance when it comes to art in textiles. The exhibition Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum traces the history of 20th century art in textiles, presenting works by Dalí, Picasso and Warhol, as well as Henri Matisse and Joan Miró.
From the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries textile design was seen as an art form, and many believed there was no difference between fine and applied art. Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy and Orphist artist Sonia Delaunay were the first artist in the 20th century to become involved in producing textile designs, paving the way for many more and in the 1940s important textile companies such as Aschers in London and Wesley Simpson in New York City started using famous artists to create their designs. Despite these top-end brands taking them on and the fame of those who created them, dresses by Joan Miro and ties by Salvador Dalí were never meant to be elitist.
Starting after the war, the movement to create ‘a masterpiece in every home’ meant that artists made their work more accessible to everyone: the majority of the textiles on display were industrially manufactured and could be found on the mass market, testifying how ordinary people were able to engage with modern art through their clothing. By the 1960s Picasso himself was allowing his paintings to be printed on almost any fabric, and dresses and skirts depicting bulls and signature cubist images were circulating in both the United Kingdom and the USA.
…the textiles and designs were fun and not too serious…
The most important art movements of the time were all represented on fabric: Fauvism, Cubism, Abstraction, Surrealism and Pop Art are displayed chronologically throughout the exhibition and all are easily distinguishable from one another. A characteristic they have in common however is colour. Even during the period of World War II the textiles and designs were fun and not too serious, which can be seen throughout the exhibition, from Sonia Delaunay’s designs dating back to the early twentieth century to most recent textiles such as Dalí’s Number Please?, Picasso’s Notes and Warhol’s Watermelons.
While the trend of using art to create textile designs ended abruptly in the middle of the 1960s, looking at how fashion was not only influenced but directly related to art is extremely fascinating. Whether a fashion enthusiast, a Picasso fan or simply curious about how different art forms correlate, the exhibition Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol is one of a kind, making it a must-see exhibition.