>>> Fab fabric show

Famous artists took patterns to new levels

ARTIST TEXTILES: PICASSO TO WARHOL at the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre), to October 4. 416-599-5321. $15, srs $10, stu $6, pwyc Wednesday 5-8 pm. Rating: NNNN

It’s hard to imagine art stars like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst designing fabric. But this enjoyable show from the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, UK, demonstrates that throughout the 20th century, major modernists – from cubists and Russian constructivists to surrealists and pop artists – happily contributed designs for mass-produced yardage.

Raoul Dufy and Sonia Delaunay always had an affinity for textiles. Dufy’s linear style translated well into repeat patterns – see his tennis match scarf, a masterful adaptation of a drawing. Delaunay’s, subtly coloured geometric abstract paintings took inspiration from her work with textiles. 

Andy Warhol’s designs for fabric predate his fame. His cheerful, pretty butterfly prints were made in the 50s, before pop art exploded, when he was an in-demand commercial artist and illustrator. 

Constructivists designed textiles and clothing in their efforts to merge abstract art with the new Russian society, and Bloomsbury group members Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement, sought to erase the dichotomy between fine and applied arts. 

Modernism was hip after the Second World War, and the textile industry adapted artwork by Picasso, Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí (fantastic scarves), Henry Moore and others. Illustrators including Rockwell Kent and Saul Steinberg got into the act.

Perhaps the most successful marriage of modern art with repeat patterns that can be draped over furniture or the body comes from Britain. Eduardo Paolozzi produced stunning black-and-white prints, while couturier Zandra Rhodes did remarkable work with colour. And modernist prints gave pizzazz to charming shirtwaist frocks from Horrockses, worn by ordinary Brits and Princess Margaret.

Sadly – whether due to the varied media that artists now use, evolving concepts of the relationship of art and commerce or the art world’s increasing elitism – the idea of bringing art to the masses in the form of textile design may be a thing of the past.

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