Nine Opinions

James Kirkwood - Artist

James Kirkwood

My grandmother Molly Rhodes re-covered her pale olive-green living room sofa and two chairs when she was in her eighties with a large scale William Morris pattern that I thought extremely bold... in fact, I was quite shocked! She never liked ‘granny’ patterns, as she called them (although I secretly quite like them myself), and it struck me then that that was the beauty of Morris’s designs. She liked it because it looked modern and striking and to be sure it gave the room an amazing lift. She didn’t think of it as old fashioned. The pattern had a dense organic style and clear, rich colours that really looked great.

Mark Stocker - Associate professor of art history and theory, University of Otago

Mark Stocker

If you care about beautiful things, about nature and about humanity, then William Morris will speak to your heart – and your head. You don’t have to be a Socialist (what’s that?), a Victorian art fanatic or even a connoisseur of epic Icelandic-inspired verse to respond to him, though they were all integral to his fascinating and inspiring life. His designs are superb, and while the values behind them were consistent, they were forever changing. Some may prefer his early gothic sincerity; others (like me) prefer the luxuriance of his late stained glass, tapestries and printed books. Whatever, I eagerly await this exhibition and the opportunity to say hello to Morris in Christchurch.

Bernadette Muir - Exhibition designer for Morris & Co.

Mark Stocker

I’ve always had a thing for Morris – you never get tired of looking at his designs. They’re lovely in themselves, but what I really like is when you put them together – the way they affect each other. It’s the layering of them that creates their own exquisite world. In the exhibition I’ve tried to present the objects in a way that allows their individual beauty to be seen – but when you experience the pieces together there’s a luxuriousness and energy that you don’t necessarily get from one piece alone.

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins - Design writer, curator and critic

Mark Stocker

Should Morris return today he’d see a society that would seem to him disappointingly unchanged from the one he’d left behind. We have become very much like the mid-nineteenth-century Victorian – consumed with the concept of material status and obsessed with the acquisition of consumer goods that buoy up the illusion of status. We opt for plasma screens and expensive cars, ostentatious furniture, indifferent art and grandiose houses to put them in. I suspect he’d knuckle down and start all over again.

Sara Hughes - Artist

Mark Stocker

Pattern can be found in every part of our lives – mathematics, science, economics, fashion, psychology, history, visual arts. My practice is often entangled in investigating pattern’s forms, functions and meanings. Living in New York for six months recently, my new surroundings spurred interest in patterns of human behaviour and patterns from ancient antiquities. I live in a different time and I have different interests to William Morris, and it’s sometimes hard for me to separate his work from the greeting card and calendar plethora that has landed upon him, but when I do I’m intrigued not only by his use of pattern but also his intense use of colour, his strong graphic use of line and his complex compositions.

Claire Regnault - Concept Development Manager at The New Dowse

Mark Stocker

Morris’s designs may go in and out of fashion, but the question that prompted him to found Morris & Co. – ‘How shall we live?’ – is still relevant. Morris understood that we can design ourselves into situations, and that, as industry reshaped the world, thinking about how people wanted to live was imperative. In the twenty-first century, where technology has become ‘remarkable on means but hazy about ends’ (John Thackara), Morris’s desire, if not his answers, for ethical, people-centred design solutions remains pertinent.

Mark Francis - Professor of political science at the University of Canterbury

Mark Stocker

Morris was the greatest radical visionary of the nineteenth century, vividly imagining an attractive future world in which labour would be done with joy and satisfaction. He not only dreamed about tomorrow, he designed and printed beautiful books which graphically showed its image. In News From Nowhere and The Dream of John Ball he created a revolutionary aesthetic which severed civilisation from the leisured classes and joined it to the workers. His journal Commonweal wove together the various strands of socialism and anarchism of the 1880s. It was in these printed works that Morris crafted his generation’s vigorous opposition to capitalism. While most socialists were content with propagating scientific treatises on economics, he provided social justice with a soul.

Tim Main - Artist

Mark Stocker

I think the pattern designs of Morris are still a great teacher. To my eye, he understood perfectly the tension created by the fiction that is nature presented on a flat surface. Despite the density and botanical clarity of the work, it’s pattern that’s firmly in control through a careful set of constraints that impose culture and a sense of order. I reckon he’ll remain relevant because the perception of pattern doesn’t change, it’s a fundamental instinct that an artist today needs to understand just as he did.

Chris Reddington - Sculptor

Mark Stocker

In 2006 I was commissioned by Christchurch City Council to produce a sculpture of Morris’s predecessor, John Ruskin, for Ruskin Street in Addington. Both Victorians shared a philosophy that stressed an extreme love of truth which prevailed over beauty. In the face of the industrial revolution, both warned that the decline of art was a sign of general cultural crisis. I find in their ideas many relevant questions that can provide challenges to our own art community today