Erotic Pattern – Wallpapers & Fabrics
By Sarah Jane Palmer
Erotic pattern design wasn’t something I particularity planned as a career move. It evolved from a billboard commission that naturally evolved into a series of private commissions for hand-printed wallpapers and has continued to grow into a joyful process of creativity.
I have always had a passion for designing and creating pattern. As a child I was obsessed with making folded snowflakes and later, after discovering the work of Bridget Riley, I started to explore a mathematical approach and painted large pattern murals on huge backdrops. I love drawing on ideas of humour and the element of surprise that can come from the process of creating pattern. It’s both predictable to the mind and yet is somehow unpredictable to the eye. Pattern has the power to trick us and confuse us: it can create the illusion of movement when there is none. Like smoke and mirrors, patterns can be very tricky, we think we see something and at the same time we often miss the core element. That is was I love so much about pattern: you can play around with perceptions and take the viewer on an unexpected journey through the intricacies of line and form.
Despite such a strong passion for playing with pattern, for quite a while I had somehow considered it to be a guilty pleasure and kept it hidden from what I would call my professional contemporary art practice. Then one day I discovered, during my masters research, that my great, great grandfather was a Nottingham lace designer, raising the intriguing possibility that I have inherited or unconsciously absorbed a fascination with pattern through my family history. So ever since I have been on a journey exploring historical and contemporary lace production together with the nature of lace itself:
‘In concealing nature, the cover, of course, make nature all the more titillating. The cover invites exposure; it always bears resemblance of the striptease. The impulse towards control manifested in these Victorian hobbies seems systematic of the double nature of Victorian sexuality – the simultaneous urge towards repression and licentiousness which resulted in both a specific moral code and a blossoming taste for pornography and distanced desire.’¹
I love that old-fashioned ‘veil’ over everything. The Victorians loved the erotic, and they were so artful in disguising it. The more I explored how the erotic manifested historically, the more playful I found we’ve always been, even centuries ago, and how creatively we’ve used art to tell sensuous tales, and to titillate and entertain. Lace acts as a covering that conceals and at the same time reveals, it is light and it is shadow, it is innocence and it is erotic.
Which leads onto this new production of fabric for the Monkey Puzzle Tree. The lace fabric design was created after this surprising discovery of my historical family connections to the Nottingham lace industry. I had been designing pattern for many years and a lot of designs really lent themselves to lace design. My erotic designs seemed to sit beautifully with the whole concept of lace, how it reveals yet at the same time conceals. The figures in the lace design are inspired by the figures depicted on a famous erotic Greek plate from the 5th century. It is a modern design inspired by the lace from the turn of the century made on lever machines exactly like the ones my great-great-grandfather used over 100 years ago. The ‘Body Lace’ design was originally developed during a year-long residency in the same building he had worked in, now the Lace Market Gallery, culminating in my first solo exhibition there in 2014.
‘During the Victorian era, Christian women, as part of their charity work, would wander the streets trying to convince other women to give up prostitution and take up sewing instead.’ ²
What originally started as a playful and humorous reflection inspired by my observations of explicit images used on advertising billboards has developed into a collection of hand-printed erotic wallpaper designs and the new lace fabric with commissions coming in from private clients around the world. Through this process, I’ve realised the importance of changing our perceptions around the art of making love, recognising the power that this union has over us and seeing it as an intricate and delicate dance between two (or more) beings that can be celebrated. My designs and artworks aim to continue to reflect that celebration through intricate patterns hidden within the surface of the design, creating the element of surprise which delights the viewer if they take the time to really look.
- Susan Stuart (1993) On Longing; Narratives of the Miniature, the gigantic, the souvenir, the collection. Duke university Press, London Pg. 114
- A. N Wilson (2003) The Victorians. Arrow Books, London. Pg.533