One of the highlights of high summer promises to be the Peter Blake show, which opens at The London Institute Gallery on 4 August. An artist who has always managed to combine his rare creative talents with design, the creator of the sleeve for The Beatles’ legendary album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band has much in common with the best designers, who do not limit themselves to a single medium.
Blake is not alone in crossing the line from art into design, and vice versa. Later in their careers the likes of Henri Matisse and Paul Chagall put their hand to interiors and theatre sets as readily as they picked up a paint brush. Meanwhile, our own Alan Fletcher and others have turned their designer’s eye to art – indeed, most of design’s highly influential old guard took the art school route at an early age. And then there’s Thomas Heatherwick, firmly in the design camp in his view, but more ‘artistic’ in his approach than most of his ilk.
But Blake’s show couldn’t have come at a better time as art is in the ascendancy in terms of public interest and its links with design at an all-time high. On the one hand, Charles Saatchi’s brat pack of British artists such as Tracy Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman are stealing the headlines in the popular media from supermodels and football heroes. On the other, graduate shows such as the recent Royal College of Art event indicate a distinct meshing between, say, textile design and art, and print-making and design. The boundaries are blurring in a way that is interesting and inspiring, partly because of the technologies being explored by both artists and designers and partly because influences are diverse and shared.
Last week’s Fresh Art showcase of rising art talent at London’s Business Design Centre bore this out. Though they are artists, you wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Graham Holland’s Citylife urban montages on the cover of an annual report or James O’Hanlon’s stylised painted ladies gracing Boots the Chemists’ teenage cosmetics ranges. Andrea Byrne, profiled in Design Week earlier this month, started out as a fashion illustrator, had great paintings on show at the BDC, while fellow exhibitor Alex Brown made no bones about displaying his spoof ads – deemed art – alongside real, commercial advertising.
It’s a great time to be in art, as the proliferation of galleries in areas such as London’s East End and a host of other art-related ventures demonstrate. But, as the corporate cookie crumbles, it’s also a good time for designers to be looking more to art as a source of knowledge and inspiration and to put the emotion back into their own work.