Kaffe Fassett has often said that his mission in life is to “banish the fear of color.” He plays with rainbow hues the same way a painter mixes shades on a palette, using needlepoint, patchwork, painting, knitting, and ceramics to create a veritable feast of color.
An exhibition of his work, titled “The Colorful World of Kaffe Fassett,” is on display at the American Museum in Britain until November 2. Laura Beresford, the exhibition’s curator, describes the show as “textile art.”
The spectacle begins at the entrance to the exhibit area, where knitted strands decorate the garden lamps and multicolored pom-poms hang from an aged tree like jewel-bright fruit. Once inside, the visitor is treated to even more dramatic visual treasures: a royal red Chinese vase presides over other scarlet-hued creations, a deep blue patchwork rug replicates Turkish tile flooring, and crisp green vegetable patterns (from artichokes through onions to cabbages and leeks) are woven into cushions with startling detail.
The author of more than thirty books, Kaffe Fassett has hosted TV and radio program for the BBC and Channel 4 in the UK, where he currently resides. In 1988 his design and color work was the subject of a one-man show at London’s prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum, marking the first time a living fabric artist had a dedicated show there. The same show went on to tour nine countries. He has designed stage props and costumes for the Royal Shakespeare Company and exhibited his quilts, knitting, and needlepoint at the Modemuseum Hasselt, Belgium in 2007. Not surprisingly, his autobiography is titled ‘Dreaming in Color.’
Among the items on display at the American Museum is a knitted bodice and skirt with flowing and dotted sleeves that he created with UK designer Bill Gibb, walls of hand-knitted sweaters made from silk and alpaca, and a vibrant full-sleeved coat that Fassett knitted after seeing Rudolf Nureyev in a ballet of “Romeo and Juliet.” The exhibition also includes Fassett’s pen-and-ink drawings from 1964, which hang in a room dedicated to artwork from the 17th century.
Fassett, whose self-proclaimed motto is “When in doubt- add twenty more colors” has even made his famous craft-related quotes part of the exhibition. They have been printed on posters and hung on a multicolored wall, silently reminding visitors of the philosophy that drives his vision.
The American Museum was founded in 1961 to showcase American artwork and crafts. Situated inside a 19th-century manor, it features wood-panelled rooms full of handcrafted furniture from Connecticut or Massachusetts. A collection of more than 250 patchwork quilts provided plenty of color to offset the neutral shades of the Shakers.
When asked about future exhibition dates and details, Fassett smiles affably and shrugs his shoulders beneath a multicolored shirt. He wears a purple sweater tied around his neck and deep green corduroy trousers. This vagueness about date and place is understandable from an artist who turned his back on black and white long ago and has remained staunchly faithful to a playful color credo.
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