The New Artisans review by Angela Hunt

Posted by on December 9th, 2011 No Comments

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The New Artisans, Olivier Dupon

Pub. Thames and Hudson 2011. ISBN 978-0-500-51585-3

£24.95

Reviewed by Angela Hunt

Senior Lecturer in Creative Industries, Shetland College.

The New Artisans, researched and collated by Olivier Dupon, is an elegant and thoughtfully designed book which profiles 75 contemporary creative makers from around the world in a selection which Dupon states is “the antithesis of uniformized, mass-produced, disposable, anonymous and low quality goods we are saturated with.” The publication is timely with the imminent closure on the nations’ high streets of several hundred retail outlets selling “fast fashion” by the Arcadia group and a number of home furnishings stores. There could never be a better time to test the public mood and desire to  purchase and value unique hand made objects, which product designer Sarah Cihat of the USA suggests aim at “challenging the commercial culture of buy, buy, throw it away; get the next new thing”

Dupon’s ability to select has been honed through his career as a retail buyer and product manager which began at Christian Dior and more recently through his blog:  www.Dossier37.tumblr.com And the internet plays a role in the book, with each designer profiled having their websites included. Whilst compilations of new designer/artist profiles have become common place, for example those published by Taschen and Phaidon such as “Fashion Now 2,” this is a genuinely new hybrid: paper publishing with web links.

The New Artisans is raised above what could have been a designer shopping catalogue by the integrity of the makers, many of whom are committed to ecological ideals and are engaged in the examination of human relationships, class and gender through decorative symbolism and above all, an exciting investigation into the development of materials and processes to create art and craft imbued with fresh thinking.

Lithuanian artist Severiga Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičnė drills into car hoods to embroider with cross-stitch. Her rusting frying pan embroidered with three fried eggs is an extraordinary celebration of ordinary life. Ann Wood creates imaginative outcomes from unassuming materials, and her piece“The Cardboard Castle,” is made from salvaged boxes. Swiss artist and silversmith Wiebke Meurer combines precious metals with porcelain to subvert designs which once represented the power and wealth of the ruling classes of eighteenth-century Europe. Her seductive and beautiful artworks encourage contemplation of why gold continues to confer status in the luxury goods market.

12 makers from the UK have been selected, and remarkably 2 of the artisans originate from Whalsay, Shetland. Andrea Williamson creates her lively product range of knitted textiles from her garden studio on the island, and Jen Deschênes (neé Irvine), designs and makes in her studio in Lochaber in the Scottish Highlands. Deschênes re-works vintage fabrics and uses her strong drawing skills to transfer images through embroidery and silk screen printing to interior products and vintage silk stockings, each piece she creates is unique and brings carefully selected historical reference to life.

Williamson photographed her Russian doll cushions and knitted cuckoo clocks on a bright pink mantelpiece found in an empty play house on Whalsay; this surprise element of colour and cheerfulness is an antidote to cliché fictions of a landscape of windswept bleakness and gives the reader a glimpse of Shetland’s special quirkiness.  She describes her combination of machine knitting and hand embellishment with refreshing honesty and has an equal enjoyment of the high and low-tech processes.

The book’s 850 illustrations are supplied by the selected artists, designers and artisans and the quality of these images underpin the success of the publication for they enable the inclusion in each profile of scenes from studios and of the makers’ tools.

The photographs evidence the transferable skills of visual communication in design education, which let established art publisher Thames and Hudson take a risk rather than commission photographs. It would be impossible to finance a photographer to travel the globe to visit these studio spaces to produce this book at the accessible retail price of £24.95.

Care has also been taken with the design and typography to ensure the book works as an object which feels good to hold. The cover reproduction of embroidery on Belgian linen is a sympathetic translation of Richard McAdam’s one-off art piece to mass production.

Dupon is passionate about the artisans and their works, and the language of the introduction can verge on the fetishistic “They represent the epitome of customization, a love declaration: an object made for you, just for you”.

These are extravagant claims, but if ever a product could inflame pagan adoration it would be “Recipe bowl”, made by Australian ceramicist Mel Robson; an exquisite tracing paper thin translucent membrane of slipcast porcelain holds the indigo tattoo of a hand written recipe text and it glows with light like a winter moon.

The commitment to strong ideals of quality, care and consideration evidenced in the book will ensure the artworks and artisans continue to be cherished long after the epithet of new wears off.

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