Art | Need To Now

Celebrating the duo behind a host of bold prints

An exhibition of the artworks that inspired 50 years of joyously colourful textiles

Celebrating the duo behind a host of bold prints

May 26 2011
Dominic Lutyens

Sisters Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell – known since 1980 as textile design duo Collier Campbell – have long been fêted in the design community for their sensual, joyously colourful work. But there are many others who won’t have heard of them and yet who will be familiar with their unmistakable, popular prints found on anything from scarves to curtains – especially those sold by Liberty of London, for whom Collier and Campbell produced many designs in the 1960s and 1970s.

One of Collier Campbell’s most iconic designs is the furnishing fabric Bauhaus, a jazzy tribute to the already vibrant tapestries of the Bauhaus design school’s weaving tutor Gunta Stölzl. Collier Campbell was innovative for introducing bold, abstract prints such as this one to Liberty (usually synonymous with spriggy prints) for the first time.

The sisters went into business together in 1961. To celebrate this 50-year anniversary, The National Theatre London is holding an exhibition of 110 original paintings (mostly in gouache) – the starting point for their textiles. Sadly, Susan Collier died this month of cancer, which will give this show added poignancy.

The verve of Fauve artists Matisse and Derain – and Dufy and Picasso – hugely inspired their prints (also created for Yves Saint Laurent, Cacharel, Habitat and others). “These artists were tremendously decorative, which is not to denigrate them,” says Campbell. “We always loved the fact that the energy and quality of colour in their paintings is palpable.” Folk art and botanical drawings were other influences.

A free, loose quality and uninhibited yet harmonious colour combinations are hallmarks of Collier Campbell’s textiles, which, even when machine-printed, which some are, look hand-painted.

Artworks will cost from £180; the most expensive, a large painting of the design Tambourine, is £9,600. Just as exuberant, though, are the new range of Collier Campbell-designed scarves (from £79) and bags (£19.99) launched to coincide with the show.

Pictured: Quicksilver silk scarf, £79.