“Cézanne, cubism, artificial pattern, bricks, mosaics, stones, tiles, machinery… hieroglyphics, block printing, cloth making, and film, natural forms... miscellaneous fireworks, sign, lighting... Woolworths.”
Paul Nash – Draft Lecture on Pattern
Love, Peace and Happiness brings together a group of contemporary artists who share an interest in using vocabularies of the decorative in their work.
Decoration has always resisted boundaries. It speaks of cross-cultural appropriation and contamination, of mixed social and cultural histories. Its recurring motifs and patterns travel across continents and resurface in different objects, materials and spaces. It raises questions of aesthetic value from the rarefied to the kitsch and it appeals to senses beyond the visual with its dispersion into everyday environments and objects of use. Objects that might be held and touched, loved and worn, damaged and repaired.
In many of the works on show there’s a push-pull between surface, environment and support as the artists seek to liberate themselves from the logic of the frame. Paintings expand onto the surrounding walls and supports and patterns disperse onto domestic objects or sculptural forms within the paintings and without. There’s an exuberant appeal to colour, pattern and texture. The distinctions between inside and outside space are disrupted through the presence of natural forms and foliage. However, there’s no easy escape to the pastoral here as flowers and vegetation take over, becoming excessive in their Technicolour brilliance or darkly menacing in their allusions to the forgotten symbolisms of myth, magic and folklore.
Colour and pattern now infiltrate our lives in different ways through the growing impacts of new technologies, screen-based interactions and the invisible worlds of the algorithm. The re-discovery of craft and the handmade in contemporary art can be seen to counter these spaces of technological ‘progress’ and the shift towards dematerialised realms of production and distribution. Alternative histories of making and unmaking, of pattern and decoration, now find space with a new generation of artists. Multiple productive modes and material practices can exist within a single artwork and individual authorship is frequently coupled with collective forms of making and exhibiting.
The decorative has historically embodied utopian potential in its refusal to be contained, in its ability to slip between the high and low, the figurative and the abstract. Previous generations of artists from William Morris to the Constructivists, from the Omega Workshops to the 1960s Counterculture, have harnessed its power as a force for social change. We live now in a time of political cynicism when the simplicity of such ideas seems quaint. Yet, what the artists in this exhibition appear to acknowledge is the decorative’s persistence as a mode of enquiry in the contemporary, which, although no longer naively utopian in its aspirations, perhaps still embodies a space of endless possibility and positive promise.