If you have an interest in fabrics textiles and love bright designs then head over the The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and pop in to see the Barbara Brown exhibition. I was recently lucky enough to attend the preview night of the exhibition (the first major solo exhibition of her work in the UK) and it just blew my mind. To begin with the sheer scale of the textile designs was something else (I’m talking the length of walls for some pieces!)
After studying at the Canterbury College of Art and then at then at the Royal College of Art, Barbara Brown was then spotted by Tom Worthington, the artistic director of Heals Fabrics, which led to the start of her incredible career. After the success of her first commercially printed fabric, Sweet Corn, in 1958, for the next 17 years Barbara was seen as Heal Fabrics golden girl for the 70s and 80s.
Starting off with abstract plant forms and geometric shapes, avoiding any kind of prettiness, her designs then moved to ‘brutalist, machine-age patterns’ that were either restricted to black and white or to three to seven colour ways on plain material. The change was with the time meaning that Barbara’s prints were never out of fashion. I’m especially a fan of the ‘Sweet Briar’ furnishing fabric print (left print below) due to the shapes created and the colours used forming almost tulip flowers.
Following this, Barbara Brown gained future success in the 1980s with her designs for machine knitting, which was where her strong sense of form and colour was combined with the West African strip weaving.
Barbara Browns career has helped push forward the British textile industry and created the way for many female artists in the 20th and 21st Century through the use of powerful and unusual patterned that were not expected at her time.
Pop down to The Whitworth before December 2017 to find out more.