William Morris, the Expression of Art as a Method of Social Protest and Outreach for All.
Life and inspiration
He was a British architect, designer, craftsman, translator, poet, novelist and a socialist activist. We dedicate today's blog to one man who excelled in many different aspects throughout his life, and we will tell you why we love his work.
William Morris came from a wealthy middle-class family from Britain. We say "wealthy" middle-class because he was in that position where even though his family was not explicitly wealthy, they still managed to perform significantly better than others.
Morris was aware of this, but he never felt completely comfortable in his environment. He was an avid critic of the industrial system, not because of the improvements of the system itself, but the form men were administrating it and particularly, their employees.
Due to this, he saw himself influenced by socialist ideals, and he considered them a fundamental part of his life. Therefore, he took a protagonist role in the fight for workers rights. He firmly believed that companies should be owned by their workers instead of one person who was profiting with their employees and not paying fairly for their work.
William Morris was indeed no ordinary man, and he was the leader of the British Arts and Crafts movement, a strong movement against industrialization in the second part of the XIX century. The Arts and Crafts current of thought was related to arts in general, but most importantly, to fine and decorative ones. This philosophy of thought covered what artists wanted to use as their way of expression. This movement was a direct response to industrialization for its mass production system and the flaws that the system had when replacing handwork by machines.
Morris was the most important representative of this movement, which tried to give protagonism back to people who were building, creating and making beautiful art decor but only in a local scenario. He was also a devoted critic of art for socialité, and his idea was to go back to simplicity and make art affordable for all.
"...I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few…"
In this quotation, we can see the principles which Morris had and how he put arts at the level of education and even freedom. It is important to remember that liberal arts were a symbol of expression of ideas and content, but mostly discontent, by the artists, especially in those years post-industrialization.
His remarkable style was, at the same time, complex and straightforward. An avid critic of royalties and the absurdities of building ridiculous expensive designs to brag about your last name and privileges back in time, he opted for something different. He went simple. And we say "simple" because he inspired himself by nature and everyday moments that all people live instead of fancy and exclusive designs for wealthy families.
We said his style was also tricky, but not only because of the design, but for the process of creation. To make his designs and wallpapers, Morris had to come up with an idea to make them happen. He worked with patterns. These patterns were a mix of different blocks which included a design, and they were combined to create one figure.
This process was called "block-printing" and to do this; Morris had all the designs in wooden blocks. The first figure was made in a wooden block. Later, he printed the model on paper. Next, he continued pressing the block design through the surface to the end. Then, the first colour of the pattern was left to dry so the process could continue with the second layer. He printed these colours one on top of the other and repeated this process till the final design was completed and finished the entire pattern. The total time varied depending on how many pieces he printed on the paper, but it could take up to a month to create just one of them.
These patterns Morris created them himself, and he presented them in a tone on tone pattern or in a multicolour one. The first pattern was more uncomplicated but still had its complexity since hehe had to take a pure colour and add grey, black or white to it. By doing this, the colour becomes clearer or darker -depending on the neutral colour added- and it becomes a "variety" of that colour. Green, light green, dark green, etc. are examples of what a tone can be.
However, this was just one way of creating the pattern and one of the two "sub techniques" by Morris. The other consisted of mixing different hues and making patterns as colourful as you can imagine. The image below represents one of the multicolour designs which looks exactly like an original William Morris Wallpaper.
Most significant works
Without a doubt, the most famous design by Morris that we have is the Strawberry Thief. A pattern which Morris treasured deeply. I took him months to complete since the conditions for printing the model at the time were not the best. The reason Morris deeply cherished this pattern was that it reminded him of thrushes stealing strawberries from his hometown.
Another big seller is the Blue Marigold by Morris. This wallpaper is from 1875, and it resembles the tranquillity and the right taste for such a great combination of colours. Its design is simple is clean and hypnotizing, and it is undeniably a perfect addition to your home decor.
Another classic from William Morris. The Apple Pattern Poster is a representation of the outstanding block print, which adds subtle but noticeable details of apples to it. This pattern has been reproduced in different tones, but the one we have available for you is the classic by him.
The design consists of different layers, but the three most important and noticeable are the first with light leaves printed uniformly. The second layer has more giant leaves, and they include a detailed internal design. Finally, there is a third layer with the apples which even though they are not the most noticeable object from the print, they are still observable to the viewer.
William Morris was without doubts one of the most influential people in the XIX century. He was a cultured man, and although he had almost everything, he was always thinking of how to bring art to all people. His works have been exhibited in many different museums across the world, including the MET Collection which we present you here and in the Vitoria and Albert Museum of Arts in London, UK.
"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
This is one of his most inspiring quotations and here at Kuriosis, we are delighted to have such a beautiful collection made by Morris, and we are tremendously jubilant to see how you welcome them. After more than one hundred years of his death, we are still bewildered by his words and his way of thinking. By reproducing his art, we hope we can bring these prints to all of you, so everyone has a chance to admire this whole artist and person.
What are your thoughts on William Morris art? Did you know about his work and life? If you have any comments or questions, we would be more than happy to answer them. Here you can access the whole Morris collection.