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Monday, 20 June 2011

Colour blocking - summer trend, or art for all ages?

 Style isn’t all waffling on about frocks. Which is why Looking Our Best wants to demonstrate links with what is touted as the big fashion trend of summer, i.e. colour blocking, with two fascinating art exhibitions she visited over the weekend. A kind of brag post, if you will.
Vivid colours are something a lot of women of a certain age are wary of. We generally prefer to see them on generously proportioned canvases rather than our own ample, mid-life bodies. So here comes the art history bit.  There are intrinsic links between fashion and art - although most of us would be taxed to find one between little Cheryl Cole and the Aesthetic Movement of the latter half of the 19th century.  But the primary colours of her much commented on ensemble of coral top, turquoise waist clinching belt, and violet trousers (worn for her arrival in Los Angeles last month) 
came to mind when LOB visited The Cult of Beauty, a major exhibition currently running (until mid July) in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The labyrinthine interior of the V & A proved a haven away from the torrential rain last Friday – and also kept LOB a safe distance from the summer sales. This exhibition, funnily enough, features the work of artists who also wanted an escape – in this case the ‘ugliness and materialism’ of Victorian England.  It includes many of the paintings of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which capture the Art for Art’s Sake mission of the Aesthetic Movement. Prominently featured are heavily romanticized portraits of dreamy young women, clothed in jewel coloured dresses of a vaguely medieval style such as in the painting, ‘Laus Veneris’ by Edward Burne-Jones (1868).
Several of the artists went so far as to design flowing gowns, made to be worn without restricting corsets, and which draped luxuriously.  Like Cole and her extended big hair, the pale young models in these pictures have abundant tresses. But again it was colour, as much as quantity, that inspired the painters who became fixated on ethereal redheads such as Lizzie Siddal and Jane Morris. The peacock, with its vivid blue and gold decorative plumage, became a recurring symbol, and can be seen in the wallpapers and textiles of William Morris, and also the signature prints in kimonos and embroidered bags beginning to appear in Liberty. LOB of course can never quite resist the temptation of any gallery shop and the V & A has a blue, pure silk, peacock feather print ‘Hera’ scarf from Liberty as part of the exhibition. 
The Regent Street store itself currently has up to 60% off its classic scarves - but they are still pricey little gems (the cheapest one spotted was £49). 

Back in Dublin on Sunday, LOB had a look at a new exhibition of the work one of her favourite artists. The Art Books of Henri Matisse (running at the Chester Beatty Library until 25th September) features much of his later works, including illustrations for a limited edition of Ulysses. The etchings, with their simple lines and flowing forms, undoubtedly inspired subsequent fashion illustrators, and also the cut-outs he used when he became to ill to paint or draw. 

 But it’s his signature cobalt blues, along with vivid greens and hot tangerines, that dazzle the viewer. 
For a moment, LOB felt she was standing at the window of a sun soaked villa in Nice, rather than an artificially lit museum in grey, rainy Dublin. “A colorist makes his presence known even in a single charcoal drawing,”  Matisse famously said. For those of us grown-up style-seekers averse to the whims of fashion trends, looking at art which endures, rather than wearing it,  is way plenty in terms of colour blocking this summer.

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