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Abstract Expressionism at the RA

Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy is focused on the movement in the 20th Century away from literal observation to the abstract, giving a spotlight to the materials used. Suddenly the texture of paint, the blend of colours and the designs created were more important and exciting than any literal depiction could offer. The scale was vast and the compositions were bold, giving the paintings on show a dramatic quality that cannot help but to incite a reaction from the viewer; from the contemplative moody tones of Rothko to the splashy bright collages of Clyfford Still (above) that are full of vitality. The show documents this massively influential artistic movement with themes of creative expression and a new way of seeing the world.

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As a designer, this era is fascinating to draw inspiration from as the images are so abstract they border on print – the focus on combination of colours and composition is akin to the qualities you’d work on for a fabric design. Certainly with an artist like Robert Motherwell (above), whose use of bold monochrome strokes with pops of vibrant colour is a palette I can come back to time and again for wardrobe inspiration….

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This movement was dominated by men, as there was a focus on this idea of the artist as a ‘genius’ (every brush stroke created was marketed by critics like Clement Greenberg as a ‘master’ stroke) and people in the 1950s were simply happier to accept that idea from a man! However the female influence was ever present in small doses; Lee Krasner (Jackson Pollock’s better half) is a favourite from this body of work, as she created shapes and patterns that were both intriguing and graceful. Also, one of my favourite works was a Pollock mural (above) commissioned by the formidable Peggy Guggenheim for her Manhattan apartment and the colours she chose are just heavenly – think muted pastels, rich jewel tones and splashes of monochrome. Bringing these ideas back into the realm of contemporary fashion, Paul Smith nailed this sophisticated palette in his SS17 show and on the high street Jigsaw are currently offering some beautiful prints in these colours too. It highlights for me the sophistication of the work from this era that these designs and tones are still so relevant and beautiful. This movement was nothing if not aesthetically pleasing and by reducing down the elements of any work to the form and colour these ideas became elevated and held enough beauty to render any realism unnecessary.

The exhibition closes on 2nd January 2017 so grab your chance to see these works before the New Year and perhaps you can find elements of colour and print to inspire your festive wardrobe….