Victoria Art Gallery has taken two colourfully creative American friends and given them an exhibition. It’s not the first time they have exhibited together in Bath, with previous shows pulling in big crowds. We ask artist and textile designer Kaffe Fassett and artist and mosaicist Candace Bahouth to tell us more about their work, their collaboration and the forthcoming shows Kaffe Fassett: Timeless Themes – New Quilts and Candace Bahouth: Enchanted Visions.
Which came first, your Timeless Quilts book or the exhibition? And what was the idea behind the theme of Timeless Quilts? The book came first. It’s been almost two years in the planning and in the making and photographing of the quilts. When I look back over our 20 odd years of quilt-making and designing fabrics, I saw that we returned over and over to certain themes – vases and baskets of flowers, and stripes both classically regular and more quirky, and organic has been a recurring theme. I felt that emphasising the various themes would be a stimulating way of helping makers to refresh their imagination with a good visual starting point.
There are 23 large new quilts in the exhibition. That sounds like a lot of work! It is indeed a lot of work, which delights me. I never asked for an easy life and feel most alive when tackling a new project. The quilts in the exhibition cover themes including stripes, circles, geometrics, botanicals, wild paisleys and retro zig zags.
You used your archive of photographs to research the quilts you used. Are photographs your first point of inspiration as a designer? We have an extensive archive of photos. Brandon, my partner, and I travel for about a third of each year and he photographs many of the great ideas we encounter around the world. Photos are a great inspiration and a reminder of the good ideas we spot, but we also bring home objects like ribbons, fans, beaded items and decorated china.
You are especially known for your quilting. What is it about this art form that thrills you? I am very drawn to patchwork and quilting – mostly because it is quick to construct and very expressive of the colour passion I experience and try to communicate to my audience. I wouldn’t say it is my only or even main means of expression. I still knit a lot and find it a great therapeutic way of communicating colour ideas. I also do many needlepoint designs each year and also find mosaic is a great medium for colour and pattern.
How have the quilts in your new book been photographed? I choose any background to photograph my quilts against that helps people to experience the colour in a juicier way. We search the world looking for colourful backgrounds to enhance our quilts. In the book it was mainly a colourful street in the East End of London and the tile panels of Rupert Spira. I hope you agree that the backgrounds help you see the colours better in the quilts.
How do the early stages of planning a quilt work? Designing is a very organic process. Sometimes the prints lead the way. Mostly we have a colour mood to follow or a good quilt layout from a vintage quilt book. I try to keep the layouts as simple as possible and let our intricate prints do the work.
If you had to create a quilt with just one motif, what would it be? I would say that flowers are my most returned-to theme as they carry such lush colour and beautiful forms.
In my Enchanted Visions show there will be 10 Rococo mirrors and 15 fanciful candelabras. The recurrent theme for these pieces is ‘Moments of Poetry’. As Virginia Woof said, “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
My influences are instinctive and eclectic… and all around me. I absorb them all: nature, found objects, provocative art works. I just get on with the work… I don’t plan but I do collect, arrange, think and imagine, and I believe that all will evolve. And I trust my eye. It’s organic and now it’s second nature.
When I proposed the exhibition, I wanted it to reflect our passions, interests and enthusiasms. It has evolved since, but retains the essence of our inspirations.
When my son was young, we would walk to the village stream and find and collect blue and white shards of china. We covered an outside windowsill with the fragments, because that was as high as my son could reach … (he’s now 6ft 6in). A Moorcroft director saw the windowsill and commissioned me to do a mosaic picture of the Stoke-on-Trent factory with wine bottle chimneys using old Moorcroft shards. It was serendipity… as was meeting Kaffe.
I don’t pay much attention to current trends – I work in my own world. But I delight seeing what other artists are creating. Especially with ‘rubbish’, like Nick Cave and Philippa Barlow. I delight in transforming discarded ceramics into something playful, works that create and bring joy. I create freely and only please myself!
When I work with others on a commission it propels me in another direction – such as with an exhibition like this one.
KAFFE & CANDACE
CB: Kaffe and I met decades ago, and our work continually overlaps with needlepoints, mosaic and sophisticated colour. We complement each other and share essential elements… We travel the same road.
CB: We met through Hugh Ehrman, the King of Needlepoint. The connections between Kaffe and I seem endless – we are both American, positive personalities, we love beauty in all its forms – flowers, rugs, faces – and are both fans of outsider art.
CB: Kaffe has such an optimistic approach. With a bold sense of colour and pattern he taps into the long tradition of old world crafts, knitting and quilts, and he speaks eloquently and powerfully to his audience.
KF: Many people come visit my studio but few actually ‘see’ what I’m trying to achieve. About 20 years ago Candace visited and I had the unique experience of watching someone who really got what Brandon and I were trying to do in our work. When I visited her in her treasure trove of a studio house, I knew she was a kindred spirit. We did a book together after she taught me how to mosaic.
KF: I’d like anyone who comes to our show to feel inspired to create their own flight of fancy after seeing how exciting the very doable crafts of mosaic and patchwork can be, and how gorgeously expressive.
See Kaffe Fassett: Timeless Themes – New Quilts and Candace Bahouth: Enchanted Visions at Victoria Art Gallery from 1 July – 1 October. victoriagal.org.uk