Sunday, 11 May 2008

Morris and Co.

The Christchurch City Art Gallery has Morris and Co: The World of William Morris until June 29th. It's a beautiful show, with printed textiles, wallpaper, embroidery, furniture, carpets, books, ceramics, and the centerpiece of the show, the vast, jewel-like tapestry of The Adoration of the Magi. It's worth seeing the show for that alone - no photograph can adequately convey the shining, rippling surface of millions of tiny stitches. And while the symbolism is rather laboured, the rich colour harmonies and beautifully-observed naturalistic detail in the plants and faces and objects is exciting to look at.

One thing that would have increased my enjoyment of the Morris designs was more technical information about how they were printed and made. I was tantalised by a photograph of the Morris workshop printing chintz fabric, with stacks of wooden printing blocks visible in the photo, but no indication of how such a method was used to produce such fine, continuous, printed pattern. And how were the inks made? I gather they were derived from plants, but I'd love to know the details.

And how did the cost of producing Morris designs by hand compare with the cost of factory production? How different did they look? What are the economics of hand-printing today? Morris's revolt against mass-production and worker exploitation seems highly relevant to the globalised market we have today. But I wonder how many people could afford to surround themselves with beautiful hand-printed, hand-crafted objects.

I was pleased to see more information on Morris's book-printing techniques given on the gallery website, and the links they make to artisan-printing in New Zealand.

The exhibition is accompanied by a huge range of events, from lectures to performances, demonstrations, and even workshops in Morris-style embroidery, wallpaper- printing, and life-drawing!

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