In the era of the design superstar and big-name design collaborations, revisiting the Omega Workshops of almost a century ago offers an intriguing glimpse into an alternative working process. Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 at The Courtauld Gallery, London, explores the six years of the workshop’s brief existence and its particular design process. Founded by artist Roger Fry in 1913 as a limited company, Omega was a laboratory of radical design ideas, with anonymous collaboration as its first principle. Fry encouraged amateurs to participate in the artistic and manufacturing processes, and while poor finish achieved from unskilled handiwork was deemed by some contemporaries to be a sign of lack of craftsmanship, Fry encouraged what he called this ‘freedom and vitality’. As Akiko Kato points out in the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Fry was ‘far more focused on facilitating the accidental and spontaneous results arising from such collaboration than on adding a primitive flavour to the surface of interior decoration’. Omega designers were also encouraged to turn to highly skilled professionals, but ‘more usually the Omega approach was deliberately and even provocatively devoid of technique’, says Kato. Omega fabric patterns, such as Mechtilde, White and Amenophis, for example, reproduced the irregular lines and uneven tones of the original drawings through traditional printing methods. As striking and pertinent as Omega’s bold work still seems today, its design process seems equally relevant.
Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 is on at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2 from 18 June to 20 September