Oddly, within the context of this blog, William Morris has not been an example or Master in my experience as an artist. More than that, as a painter I wanted to write about Goya instead (and beautiful pieces about Goya have indeed been written on this blog). However, as my work continuously changes and moves into various pathways, new people and new sources of inspiration appear. In this way I discovered the magical world of William Morris.
In search of abstraction, I had been working on patterns for a while, when a friend showed me a book about Morris. Wow, it was beautiful. And impossible to equal. But I identified with the dynamic playfulness in his designs.
Probably, William Morris has been the most important designer in the 19th century. His style was placed in the 'Fantasy'genre. It consists of romantic, dreamy, fairytalelike images, which attract me very much. You can get lost in them, while they stay fresh and tight.
Corncockle furnishing fabrik
Besides his elaborate and ceaseless designs, there are more reasons why I look at William Morris as a remarkable Master. One of them is his idealistic view on society and his longing for equality of all people. To his own frustration, he could not live up to his ideals – his designs were popular especially with the richer circles, which led to higher pricetags. However, he tried to compensate for this by treating his laborers as equal to himself and he created a good working atmosphere in his studio.
William Morris is especially known as the spiritual father of the Arts and Crafts movement in Western Europe. In this role, he was a multifaceted man, which is another reason for his remarkableness. He was involved in literature by designing, printing and publishing books. He designed wallpapers, textiles, tiles, carpets, furniture, leaded glass and interiors. Many renowned artists were connected to his firm – Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co (Source: Wikipedia/ William Morris).
From looking at Islamic as well as western sources he saw the beauty of repetition, symmetry and simplification. The beauty of a William Morris pattern, that the Google doodle captures very well, lies in its combination of simplicity and richness.
The patterns he designed are still famous worldwide and cherished particularly within wealthy classes. The patterns are patented, but they are continuously reprinted on utensils as blankets and pillows. Still, walls are being decorated charmingly for substantial sums of money with the patterns of this Master, beds are being spread with fairytalelike scenes, and couches are being seated on surrounded by gracious pillows. This way, his designs stay in existence and appear as ageless among the wealthy. But would William Morris, with his aversion for mass production and class societies, not turn in his grave if he would be able to see this endless reprinting of his patterns for the rich?
Frequently, animals play an important role within his interweaved flowery patterns. Birds, peacocks, but rabbits as well. One of his famous designs is called 'Brer Rabbit'. This brother rabbit reminds me of the dreamworld full with animals by the cartoonist Winsor McCay. Would McCay have been inspired by William Morris? He, likewise, had a distinctively elegant, tight and strong handwriting. In comic books, he assembled perspectives in ingenious ways, like a kind of Alice in Wonderland.
Wild Patterns (detail)
ink on paper, wallrelief
In my own work, in search for a more abstract way of thinking, I have started thinking in patterns more and more. Recently, I was able to apply this for a commission in which I transformed a small piece of forest into an enchanting place. I wanted a homely atmosphere to arise in the dark, which would lean towards spookiness.
I particularly wanted the patterns to break out of their frames, in order to take shape as overgrowth. Instantaneously, this is what clearly distinguishes my patterns from Williams patterns. His patterns neatly stay within its twodimensional boundaries, whereas my patterns need their three-dimensional escapes.
Charlotte Mouwens, 2016
special thanks to Julia Heuwekemeijer
Charlotte Mouwens (NL)
during summer 2014
residency in the Van Gogh studio, Zundert