Fashion and Textile Museum
83 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3XF
28th Jan – 7th May 2017
By Josie Mills
The Fashion and Textile Museum brings us yet another brilliant exhibition in their modest but incredibly well curated space on Bermondsey Street. On till the 7th May 2017, the Fashion and Textile Museum is celebrating the work of Austrian architect and designer Josef Frank (1885 – 1967), whose textile designs continue to inspire with their ‘unabashed colour and optimism’. Frank is best known for his amazingly bright, bold fabric and wallpapers and his distinctive furniture designs for Svenskt Tenn.
Frank left his home in Vienna in 1933 due to growing anti-Semitism and the rise of Nazism, and went to live with his wife in Sweden. Frank has remained an enduring symbol of hope through his bright and bold designs, managing to create worlds, stories and hope through textiles in an otherwise dark interwar period and world war. His textiles are dominated by beautifully coloured birds, butterflies, plants and above all, life, at a time when the world was bleak.
The first display at the Fashion and Textile Museum was a compilation of Josef Frank’s work. Pictured above you can clearly see a culmination of Josef Frank’s work, from his ‘Hawaii’ textile print to the right, his beautifully patterned carpet and exquisite Florabyra (floral chest of draws). Here Frank’s unique take on modernism is clear, he argued decoration added richness ‘The monochromatic surface appears uneasy, while patterns are calming’, ‘the monochromatic surface doesn’t invite any further interest and therefore one is immediately finished with it’.
Frank was a firm believer in ‘accidentalism’, the philosophy of objects working together in a room even if it looked as though they didn’t. Frank believed that the important thing about a room was that you were the unifying factor – if the object was beautiful to you, then it belonged in the room.
Dreaming in Textiles
Frank’s enduring optimism throughout the war period shone through in his textile designs. When he and his family were exiled to New York in 1941 his bold prints reached new heights. His design ‘Italian Dinner’ (1943-45) for example (pictured below) displays a dream like world in which Frank visualises an Italian Dinner he desires yet could not have due to wartime. Whilst this could be perceived negatively, Frank’s bold colours give a clear optimism with fruits growing, indicating life, growth and opportunity – a glimmer of hope for the new world after war.
Unknown Watercolours of Josef Frank
Aside from his work in architecture and designing, perhaps lesser known is Frank’s love of watercolours. In his latter years, he completed more than 400 watercolour paintings, the majority of which are untitled. The subject of his paintings were realistic, exploring landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes. The works represent Frank’s private life, the watercolour paintings were for himself, painting made him happy.
Frank’s legacy and outstanding designs continue to inspire today. Perhaps most obviously, Swedish design company IKEA remain loyal to his designs, and you can still find influences from Frank in their work.