Pattern vs. Function

Morley tutor Rachel Marsden discusses her passion for pattern and her work that led her to creating the course Patterns of Modernism …

While studying History of Modern Art and Architecture at university, I was swayed by Adolf Loos’ assertion that as a modern society, we have “out-grown” ornament.

Louis Sullivan’s maxim of the 1890’s that form follows function set the tone in architecture. Similarly Leo Tolstoy in What is Art? asserted that “real art, like the wife of an affectionate husband, needs no ornaments. But counterfeit art, like a prostitute, must always be decked out”. A rather hostile environment then to consider exploring the world of surface pattern and ornament.

However, while studying on the Textile Foundation at Morley in 2014, I discovered that creating pattern is not simply a means to enhance a dull interior or disguise a poorly conceived design. Instead, it is a deeply satisfying and rewarding form of creativity. Experimentation is key and, as you are not confined to a single medium or style, the results are often unexpected and exciting. Far from being a fatuous embellishment, even the most simplistic motif generally has a rich depth of exploration and experimentation behind it.

Creating surface pattern also provides the perfect excuse to expose yourself to as much art, nature and architecture as possible. The motif I created for my final major project at Morley College (pictured) was drawn from visits to the Palm House at Kew and Deane and Woodward’s Natural History Museum in Oxford – places where nature and architecture exist as one. At Kew, verdant leaves unfurl creating capitals for cast iron columns while at the Oxford museum, sinuous tracery and skeletal arches encase the collections displayed below. This combination of architectural and organic structure and, more specifically, the intentional and incidental shapes these structures create in space, provided pages and pages of sketches which were then distilled into a single, representative motif.

Pattern can be something static which is simply applied to an existing surface. However, it can also inform an object’s design or reveal a buildings structure. The ways in which you use the patterns you create is limitless. For this project, I constructed wallpaper panels rather than using printed lengths. Therefore this normally fixed and immobile object is freed from the wall allowing it to be reversed, re-arranged and removed at will. Choosing patterns to live with becomes an interactive process prompted by mood and occasion rather than a conclusive decision dictated by existing decor.

In order to share my enthusiasm for both surface pattern and modern art and architecture, I have created a new course titled Patterns of Modernism. Through this unlikely combination, the work of modern artists and architects (some who embraced pattern and others for whom it was nothing short of criminal) shall serve as a rich and compelling source of inspiration and discussion.

Morley tutor Rachel Marsden discusses her passion for pattern and her work that led her to creating the new course Patterns of Modernism…

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