An innovative exhibition of Irish artists and artisans will coincide with the public reopening of Eileen Gray's E1027 villa next month in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France.
A chance encounter between London-based Irish designer Richard Malone and Cathy Giangrande, development head of Cap Moderne, the charitable body set up to restore the villa in the south of France, led to the creation of the exhibition. After its French debut, it will travel to Collins Barracks in September and to Wexford in Spring 2022.
Making and Momentum: In Conversation with Eileen Gray, curated by Malone, brings together six Irish multidisciplinary artists and makers celebrating the legacy of modernism in Ireland and one of the most celebrated and influential designers of the 20th century.
“It takes away the barriers between what is considered fine art and craft,” says Malone. “Gray’s cross-disciplinary approach placed equal importance on craft and fine art, radically blurring the boundaries between disciplines.”
Those taking part include ceramicist Sara Flynn (a Loewe prize finalist and now on the judging panel of this major international craft accolade), sculptor and Venice Biennale contributor Niamh O'Malley, artist Laura Gannon (who made a film of Gray's house in 2007), rugmakers Ceadogan, abstract painter Mainie Jellett, weavers Mourne Textiles and Malone who is an award-winning fine artist and fashion designer.
Winner of the International Woolmark Prize in 2020 for his “radically transparent” work practices, Malone’s cross-disciplinary approach includes sculpture, performance art, illustration and photography. As well as his biannual shows at London Fashion Week, his work has become highly collectible and can be found in the permanent collections of some of the world’s leading museums and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Design Museum in London and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
A staunch supporter of sustainable practices and against mass production in the fashion industry, he is a fearless advocate of women’s rights and was one of the most vocal public supporters of Repeal the 8th campaign in Ireland. As well as showing biannually at London Fashion Week, he has dressed clients ranging from art and fashion industry executives to celebrities Tilda Swinton, Roisin Murphy, Bjork, Debbie Harry, Rihanna, Kate Moss and Beyonce.
“Gray was always in the ether as I grew up – a sort of artistic legend and daring queer undefinable female maker who happened to come from the same rural part of Co Wexford as me. I saw Gray’s work before I could comprehend modernism, but it was the humanity, sensuality and functionality that always resonated with me,” says Malone, who has always championed creative female energy and pragmatism and who was greatly influenced by his grandmother growing up.
“She relished the fact that Gray was female, that she created opportunity for herself, that her design language was for nobody else. I expect she saw much of herself in Gray,” he says.
Of those taking part in the show, it is the spirit and ethos of Gray and her approach to making that is present in their new multidisciplinary visual artworks including ceramics, sculpture, handwoven rugs and wall hangings.
“All these crafts are part of our history and our present and are still alive and radically modern and important,” argues Malone whose own work crosses the boundaries between fine art and craft “and so curating the exhibition felt really natural to me”.
Mourne Textiles, for example, are exhibiting 1950 textiles from their archives as well as new work while Malone is showing soft, ruched textiles for imposing wall hangings made from recycled fabrics rather than exhibiting fashion items. Sara Flynn is working on an assemblage of abstract porcelain vessels in a rich cerulean blue, a colour she has not used before, and Niamh O’Malley is showing a series of works in metal and glass. Ceadogan in collaboration with Malone is making an abstract shaped rug never made before in a nod to Gray’s forms while Laura Gannon is creating oil on linen wall-hangings in metallic and matte colours.
Cap Moderne, the charitable foundation with which Malone is collaborating on this project, was set up in 2014 to restore the Cap Martin site in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and open it to visitors. Now a Unesco world heritage site linked by the Etoile de Mer seaside pub and holiday cottages, it is managed by the Centre of National Monuments (CMN) and contains two masterpieces of modern architecture, the Eileen Gray E1027 seaside villa and Le Corbusier’s Cabanon, both listed historic monuments. It has taken nearly 20 years and considerable investment by the French state, regional authorities and fundraising to complete the restoration of the house and its free-standing furniture, lamps and decoration, the designed interiors recreated as they were in 1929.
Making and Momentum at the town hall of Roquebrune alongside the refurbished E1027 modernist villa, a stone’s throw away, will be unveiled at a gala fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday, June 16th (Bloomsday) co-hosted by the Irish Ambassador to France, Patricia O’Brien. An online platform at makingandmomentum.com will be home to an array of commissioned educational content aimed at introducing a new generation to Gray’s archive.
For Malone, the show’s title – Making and Momentum – “speaks deliberately of process and time, something ever changing and always moving”.
“It has been an incredible honour to be tasked with such an undertaking, especially in conversation with persons whose work I so admire.”