Image: Debbie Patterson, Still Life of Jug of Flowers on Leaves, 2015
Today sees the launch of a new, immersive, visual experience at the Fashion and Textile Museum, in London. Kaffe Fassett: The Power of Pattern, presents over 70 original pieces, inviting visitors to celebrate one of the most prolific textile artists of our time, whose very name conjures visions of colour, pattern, and texture. Kaffe Fassett MBE has devoted the last 50 years of his life to the worlds of knitting, needlepoint, and patchwork, promoting these art forms through his own extensive oeuvre.
Image: Debbie Patterson: Kaffe Fassett with mosaics outside the front door of his studio
From a childhood spent roaming the beaches and mountains around California's Big Sur, Fassett's early artistic career explored painted landscapes, portraits, and still lifes through a variety of styles. The explosion of creative currents emerging from 1960s London led Fassett away from the vivid light and brilliant colours of his home, to Britain’s pearlescent atmosphere and subtle palette.
In the 1960s, a fortuitous encounter with Scottish fashion designer Bill Gibb led to long-term collaboration. Together they explored knitwear and textile design, bringing Fassett’s art to three-dimensional form. As his profile grew, further collaborations, with the likes of Missoni and Designers Guild, followed. He later took up needlepoint and quilting, focussing particularly on the latter throughout the second half of his career.
For the last 30 years, Kaffe Fassett has worked with a number of textile designers, including Brandon Mably and Philip Jacobs, to develop collections of printed quilting fabrics under the umbrella of the Kaffe Fassett Collective. Mably joined the studio, at Fassett’s home, in 1990 and began designing alongside the artist. Mably brought order to Fassett’s maximalist domestic sensibilities, and the studio quickly became known as the ‘Colour Lab’. Here they continue to create together, living and working in an ever-evolving environment, where the lines between art, design, and craft merge. Classically trained textile artist Philip Jacobs began to provide print designs after the successful introduction of Kaffe Fassett quilting fabrics, in the 1990s. Working collaboratively, Jacobs' lush floral designs are given extra life by Fassett’s colour schemes, whilst Mably’s unique and bold designs counterpoint the detailed and often pictorial designs of Fassett and Jacobs.
Kaffe Fassett: The Power of Pattern is not a retrospective, rather an immersive delve into Fassett’s artistic vision. At its heart is a selection of pieces by artists from around the world, chosen by Fassett to demonstrate the breadth of his influence. Visitors to the exhibition can expect to be greeted by a vibrant fusion of colour and texture in the foyer. Thanks to FreeSpirit Fabrics, the Small Gallery will be a tented oasis of Kaffe Fassett fabric, where a video shows the artist discussing textile design with Mably and Jacobs. The Main Gallery is entered through the kaleidoscope of Fassett’s Shot Stripes, the floor becoming a riot of colour and tumbling blocks.
The Ground Floor Gallery features quilts created by Kaffe Fassett, Liza Prior Lucy, and other artists. Of particular note is Taiwanese quilter Danny Amazonas’ cosmic masterpiece, Levitate. Inspired by sci-fi television, made up of Fassett’s fabrics, and standing at over six foot, the collage appears to float off the wall. American quilter Vicky Wozniak’s Garden Reflections breaks with traditional quilt form to depict an ethereal floral landscape. Award winning artist Victoria Finlay Wolfe’s American classic, Big Box Stars: Red, puts a Fassett spin on traditional 8-point star quilting.
In the Mezzanine Gallery, visitors journey over a pastel-coloured patchwork floor to discover the technique of appliqué quilting. An award-winning Australian artist, Kim McLean’s The Lollipop Tree re-imagines an antique quilt in modern colours. Meanwhile, British-born artist Sophie Standing is inspired by her 20 years in Africa for Tusker Bull; the quilt is a recreation of an image taken by wildlife photographer James Lewin, using Fassett fabric with free-hand embroidery. Clothes lines adorned with garments constructed from Fassett fabrics are displayed in cases, leading to a striking wall of intricate needlepoint cushions by Mably and Fassett. The exhibition concludes in the Fashion Studio. Covered in vast graphic reproductions of some of the Kaffe Fassett Collective’s many original painted works, this space describes the creative process of designing the fabric used in the quilts seen throughout the exhibition.
Image: Debbie Patterson: Shimmer Star from Quilts in Burano, 2020
The exhibition will tour to Edinburgh's Dovecote Studios (31 March - 8 July, 2023), and then to the Millesgarden Museum, Sweden (September 2023- February 2024). A book accompanies the exhibition: Kaffe Fassett: The Artist’s Eye is authored by the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Head of Exhibitions, Dennis Nothdruft, and published by Yale. For the first time, the book explores Fassett’s career and work in historical context, highlighting the wide scope of his output over more than five decades.
As Nothdruft says: "We wanted to do this exhibition now, as Kaffe remains as one of the most prolific and influential textile artists alive today. Throughout his long-standing career Kaffe has encouraged people all over the world to make, and experience colour and pattern in exciting and new ways. The exhibition is designed to embody that quality about Kaffe and to inspire its visitors to look around, engage and create. As well as being an be a manifestation of Kaffe’s vision, the exhibition celebrates the inspiration and influence the artist has on makers around the world."