Thursday, 18 November 2010

Oh my Dali!

Eye of the time brooch - Salvador Dali
Taken at an exhibition currently showing at MNAC Gallery in Barcelona
The other night I was watching, 'Turn Back Time - The High Street' , a program about a study of  Britain's high street and how, over the eras, the face, style and needs of the high street have changed. Essentially there is a 'cast' of everyday people who, for a week, must embrace the way of life of a particular time period and stock their shops  with the wares of that time.
This week it was about the 1930's experience and showed how quickly, patrons of the high street were starting to embrace the notion of mass produced products that were beginning to be sold in most shops.
At the end of the program, the shop owners are judged on how much money  they make and the methods they use to make that money. Naturally, the shops selling products that are readily available were the ones who not only sold the most stock, but were also the ones who worked less hours and therefore enjoyed a better quality of life. 
The toy maker, bakers and dress maker, who all relied on their skills in producing labour intensive goods were the ones who fared less well. At the end of the program, the dress maker who had spent countless hours producing 3 bespoke dresses for her customers, was slightly criticised for having not sold one, 'off the peg ' dress in the whole week. She had though, as one presenter pointed out, shown that there was a demand for a dressmaker who would and could make special, one-off pieces for her clients.
After watching I was left with the sense that as Artists, Makers and Designers we could  so often be tempted and encouraged to take the easy route by buying mass produced components and reassembling them and selling them as our own work; but thankfully there is a drive and strong sense of individuality that prevents many of us from doing just that. 
Dali, with his extraordinary imagination and skill (although he was the Designer but not Artisan of these jewellery pieces), reminds me that it is so important to have people who are willing to push the boundaries and produce bespoke, original, inspiring and sometimes totally, 'over the top' pieces of work.

Ruby lips and teeth like pearls brooch - Salvador Dali
Taken at an exhibition currently showing at MNAC Gallery in Barcelona


BlueTerracotta said...

I would love to have seen the program! It seems to me that the makers probably took great pleasure and pride in creating, and possibly, even though they worked longer hours, had a better quality of life. Anyway, I didn't see the show, but I hope we're coming back to an appreciation for handmade, one-of-a-kind, beautiful objects.

kriket said...

Yes that is the one thing about the BBC iplayer - you have to be in the country to watch past episodes, it goes on for a few weeks - really interesting. They did enjoy it but it was interesting how the focus was on the money, as always!

Miss Blue said...

I think there's a balance to be found in artist merit and production for the masses. I worked for a company who owned the retail licence to the artwork of a well-renowned, well-respected and extremely well-loved children's illustrator. He created very distinctive designs, which were recreated as merchandise and sold all over the world. But to that point, he'd only ever given permission for the creation of high quality, luxury items, which were sold by exclusive, high-end retailers and cost a fortune. When my company approached him about creating a less-expensive range of merch to be distributed by a massive (and I mean *massive*) US retailer, he refused on the basis that such 'mass-production' would cheapen his artistic creations and he wasn't about to 'sell out'. He was already a millionaire and not interested in making any more money from his work than he already did.

What he hadn't considered, however, was that the merchandise based on his creations, which he worked so hard to make inclusive, for all children, which he continues to create WITH children in his local community, by holding workshops in his home studio and the museum dedicated to his life's work, were so prohibitively expensive that the only children who got to own them were those with affluent parents. When we pointed out that lowering the price and expanding the range into non-luxury items and distributing them through one of the world's largest department store chains would mean that children of all income levels could afford to own them, he changed his mind.

Obviously quality control was still paramount (no slapping of badly printed vinyl images onto a $2 lunchbox), so we had him approve each and every merchandise item. Now when I see these items in stores, I smile, not just because of how much I enjoy his creations, but because I know now that the balance of artist merit and mass production we found for his art means that children of ordinary families, not just the wealthy, could enjoy them too.

prue said...

I'm one of the makers in One Craft Gallery, the shop with the green sign at the beginning of 'Turn Back Time'. We're a co-operative with 14 varied makers so watching the filming, and now the programmes has really been fascinating. And as I spend long hours making my precious metal jewellery and catch up on TBT in the cracks between workshop hours it strikes a real chord when they comment on the change from handmade items on the High Street owing to the long hours of work. But running a shop co-operatively is a good model for making it work again and to offer the public items made with soul and individuality. I also sell through craft shows and there are some really excellent ones around where you can meet the makers, buy individual pieces or commission something really special. And buying from the makers makes it so much more affordable given that galleries put on hefty commission, and often make an awful lot more than the makers!
Come and visit us in the centre of Shepton - its a lovely little town, some of the shop-fronts from the series are still in place and there are a number of shops that are the modern-day equivalent of the shops in the series.

kriket said...

Hi Prue,
yes I agree, a co-op is a great way to spread the load of running a space and giving the public an opportunity to buy from the makers direct. I also agree that selling through galleries can be a compromise as you do pay a high commission rate - but then again it does offer great exposure. Finding the middle ground as a designer/maker is the ongoing struggle we all have! Must be fantastic to be able to watch the filming like that- lucky you!

prue said...

It really hit home to me how different it could be when I went to Venice this year. Loads of makers with tiny shops selling their beautiful work in prestigeous locations! Their High Street doesn't seem ruled by landlords offering large units at rents inflated by chain stores. Too many small businesses die at rent review time. Reviving the High Street also needs pressure on landlords to make it viable. Shepton has a big landlord and few of his shops seem to be let.

christina said...

I think you have a massively valid point that is not just about landlords of shop space but of property, too. I live in the Rhondda and sadly work for a supermarket that has just closed our last fruiterers in town. Although our high street hasn't been helped by the fact that our local council have allowed almost all the shops to be taken over by takeaway businesses. I don't know how there is enough business for them all to survive but survive they do, unfortunately.

Most people will go to Cardiff for their shopping of non-food items and supermarkets for everything else. I am just worried for the day that supermarkets are the only places to shop - because when they are, they can up the prices of everything, after all they would only be in competition with each other and could do as they please. They pretty much already do.