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Transcending the tinselly clichés of Christmas

The craft exhibition where Christmas comes with a twist

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Transcending the tinselly clichés of Christmas

November 16 2011
Dominic Lutyens

Tellingly, the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery (CAA), which is holding a Christmas exhibition called Present Collectables from November 18 to January 7, bills itself as selling “decorations” but doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” in the same breath. The suggestion is that the participating craftspeople want to avoid creating hackneyed, conventional festive trinkets like the plague. Their offerings certainly bear this out.

CAA is a charity with a gallery in London’s Fitzrovia that provides craftspeople with a highly prized showcase in central London. For this show, each participant has produced five limited-edition decorations, which are generally smaller in scale than the work they normally make, yet representative of its aesthetic. After all, some visitors to the show, including collectors, will be fans of their work and want to buy pieces in their signature style. Yet the event should have a broad audience since the 500 pieces or so for sale are relatively affordably priced at £50 each.

With the exhibitors taking a highly individualistic approach, the work is inevitably varied. Some designers do allude to Christmas imagery, albeit in an ultra-stylised, clean-lined way. Diana Greenwood’s brass decorations feature motifs such as holly leaves yet are crisply laser-cut. They hang from a single green ribbon – a cleverly understated way of evoking Christmas (they’re also scented). Sarah Kay’s wooden, totem-like ornaments (second picture) also subtly hint at it with their wafer-thin bands of red and green paint. If Neil Bottle’s cushions, made of sari fabrics combined with digitally printed textiles, refer to Christmas, it’s only because they are opulent. Less abstract are Caroline Sharp’s elegantly skeletal representations of Christmas trees made of willow twigs (first picture) and Michelle Holden’s stars fashioned out of elaborately stitched paper maps combined with remnants of fabrics.

A Christmas exhibition is the perfect opportunity for craftspeople to to exercise their imaginations – to flaunt how successfully their ideas transcend the tinselly clichés of the festive season.