Interview with Neisha Crosland15 March 2018
The Jigsaw collection for Artisans of Devizes
Neisha Crosland is an award-winning surface pattern designer. She was awarded the Honorary Fellow of University of Arts London in recognition of her outstanding contribution to textiles and design. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1984, her work has propelled her to the forefront of the design world.
Jigsaw is a new collaborative collection designed by Neisha Crosland for Artisans of Devizes. The collection plays with pattern and unusual tile shapes to fit together to create fabulous flooring and decorative walls.
Explain how the Jigsaw collection evolved and what your vision was for this range?
I have always worked on a square tile format, so I wanted to do something different. I wanted to find out what would happen if a pattern was designed to fit into an oblong or diamond, or hexagonal – would it create a secondary layer of interlocking pattern. How different would the same pattern look in a different shape. I discovered that some patterns ended up working better in some shapes than others, and naturally, I had to sort of mould the pattern to fit into the shape, which was fun and interesting. In the end, there was an ideal shape for each pattern where the pattern just made sense in the shape.
The overall mood I wanted to create was a sort of Quality Street, kaleidoscopic box of surprises – so I explored optic angles and stars, castellated edges, overlapping lines and dynamic geometric shapes. For the colours, I have taken my cue from the natural dusty dry nature of the encaustic tile that automatically gives any colour a soft delicate sort of beautiful powdery look.
Because of the nature of how the encaustic tiles are made (imagine a cookie cutter stencil to contain the colour pigment), it is impossible to get very fine lines, so I opted for bold, simple patterns. Inspiration came from various things such as; decorative marquetry, inlay and veneer, antique game boards, Renaissance paintings, and Moroccan architecture. Colour in the ancient world or the Medieval Renaissance was used more sensitively and so much more beautiful than modern colour. I really tried to infuse the collection with this sensitivity.
You studied textiles at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, followed by an MA at the RCA. When did you realise that textiles was the subject you wanted to specialise in?
I began painting and drawing from an early age and it made me look closely at things. Despite my fine art instincts, I didn’t think I’d make a career out of it, so a graphics course was my best bet. I enrolled at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts to study graphics.
However my ‘eureka moment’, which led me to study textiles, was at the age of 22, when I took a wrong turn at the V&A and I got lost in the Ottoman Empire textile gallery. I was suddenly surrounded by fifteenth and sixteenth century fabrics. Dots, crescents, tulip heads, repeating on and on, reproduced in different colourways, using different techniques: looking every bit as modern as the Russian Avant-Garde artists I so loved. I knew instantly that I’d made a mistake and that I should be studying textiles, so I went directly to the Principle to ask for a switch to textiles!
What historical site / place /era has had the most beautiful tiles that you have seen?
Iznik tiles from the Ottoman Empire that I have seen in books and museums like the Guimet Museum in Paris, V&A London and Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. Also the wall painting in Pompei and Herculaneum, the floors in the Renaissance paintings at the Uffizi and Pinacotheca Siena in Italy.
How do you think people should use tiles?
The Jigsaw collection is suitable for indoor walls and floors. But it would also work as a decorative border around a sink or behind a stove. In other words, you do not need to cover a whole wall or floor. You could, create a boarder around the edge of a room. I also like the idea of perhaps mixing colours on one wall or floor.
What is your first memory of pattern?
I am very short sighted, and only realised until I was seven or eight that I needed glasses, so everything was a haze unless I looked very closely. My first memory of pattern was getting very close up to a Fritillaria tulip – the ones with little checks on them – we had them in the garden. I must have been 10 when I first noticed the flowers appear one spring – they were covered in dew drops. I thought it looked as if a fairy had come and painted little checks on them over night.
Growing up, I was constantly on the lookout for pattern and decoration on everything; shells, feathers… the idea that pattern from nature could then decorate man-made objects came later.
But you could say that I was part of a repeat pattern as a child. I was the eldest of three sisters, a year apart each other, and my mother used to dress us identically, in sizes one, two and three. We dressed in colourful, patterned clothes, which she would buy on her travels as a stylist. Our hair was put up on the top of our heads in tightly pulled fountain-like ponytails. We were like three bouncing cockatiels.
I also remember as a very small child, sitting in the bath, surrounded by mirrored tiles on all three sides. Strange images of me went on and on, and I remember thinking, ‘where will it end?’ I suppose the chaos might have been frightening, but the kaleidoscope of shapes, endlessly repeating themselves on different planes, intrigued me. I’d spend hours trying to count them, taking great comfort in the escape of just looking and looking.
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