London is gearing up for a textile firework display later this month when an exhibition of designs by textile artist Kaffe Fassett and his collective goes on display at Bermondsey’s Fashion and Textile Museum.
“Kaffe Fassett: The Power of Pattern,” opens Sept. 23, and will feature more than 70 textile designs — mostly quilts — and spotlight centuries-old crafts like knitting, needlework and patchwork.
The show aims to “explore Kaffe’s artistic eye” through an immersive visual experience, according to curator Dennis Nothdruft, the museum’s head of exhibitions, who worked with Newham College London on the show.
Color, pattern and texture pulsate at the center of this widescreen display by California-born Fassett, 84, a flower child if ever there was one. He began his career as a painter and later moved into knitwear design, working with names such as Bill Gibb, Missoni and Designers Guild.
Since then, Fassett has focused on 3D textile design and is best known today for his bright quilts and for inspiring people around the world to pick up their craft needles and fabric squares and get to work.
“He is a rock star of the textile world, an artist who makes people see the world in different ways. And it inspires people to do things,” says Nothdruft.
Fassett spent his childhood in Big Sur, California, drawing inspiration in his early years from the state’s beaches, mountains and dramatic nature. He has lived and worked in London since the early 60s, and the home and studio where he and his collaborators work is known as Color Lab.
Nothdruft says the show is not a retrospective of the artist’s career, but a complete immersion in his world. It is designed so that visitors can “step into the looking glass” of Fassett’s designs, and those of other creators in his collective and his worldwide followers.
“The response people have to his work is almost visceral — it prompts them to make their own,” says Nothdruft, who wrote the book accompanying the show, Kaffe Fassett: The Artist’s Eye (Yale University Press).
The show’s timing is right, Nothdruft adds, as Fassett remains “one of the most prolific and influential textile artists alive today. Throughout his long career, Kaffe has encouraged people all over the world to make and experience color and pattern in exciting and new ways,” he says.
Zandra Rhodes, who founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2003, says Fassett has a cult-like following and always has people “queuing around the block” when one of his shows is in town.
“Kaffe’s work is a living art, and he’s helping to keep the art of the hand alive,” says Rhodes, who first met Fassett through Gibb in the late ’60s. She said his life and work have taken on a new vigor since COVID-19, when many people turned to crafts during the lockdown.
For the past 30 years, Fassett has worked with a group of textile designers, including his husband and manager Brandon Mably and Philip Jacobs, to develop quilted printed fabric collections under the Kaffe Fassett Collective umbrella.
Fassett has said he believes the pattern is “the best way to express the magical qualities of colour, and the exhibition reveals the power of printed textiles”.
The exhibit will open in the museum’s lobby with “vibrant color and texture” that greets visitors as they walk through the door, according to Nothdruft. One room will become “a taut oasis” of Fassett fabrics showing a video of the artist discussing textile design with his collaborators, Mably and Jacobs.
The ground floor gallery focuses primarily on quilts by Fassett and other artists, while the main gallery will have a giant painted quilt on the floor, which Rhodes described as “an explosion of color and pattern.”
Upstairs, the floor will be covered in a patchwork design and the room will be filled with creations from Fassett’s collaborators, who work specifically with quilting.
There will also be clothing lines adorned with clothing constructed from Kaffe Fassett fabrics and a wall of pincushion pillows from Mably and Fassett.
Quilters have sent work from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Africa and Taiwan to create a dynamic display. An entire room is plastered with images of the Kaffe Fassett Collective’s hand-painted designs.
There will also be an exhibition showing Fassett’s process for designing the fabric used in the quilts on display in London. There will also be a room filled with Fassett’s paintings from early in his decades-long career.