One of our biggest customers in England was Heals in Tottenham Court Road. It was quite an achievement to sell there - sometimes we sold between six and eight designs per year - because the director, Tom Worthington, had a very astute idea. He would go to the Royal College of Art and there he would meet students who had been producing half a dozen designs over a two year period. He would pick out the best of them and present them in his collection and very often they won prizes - the same kind of prizes that I had just been winning. I remember one boy gained both the Cotton Board Award and the Design Centre Award in the same year and, of course, those students at college, having had such an early contact with industry, thought that their careers were made when they left the college. But the teaching at that time at the college did not take into account the needs of industry and it didn't prepare the students for the problems which they would encounter in the outside world. Obviously one expected the boy who won these two awards to have a brilliant career, but within two years of leaving college he was disillusioned. He couldn't sell enough to support himself and he ended up teaching in an obscure art school in Northampton. That was the state of the industry. Although we were enormously successful, nevertheless, when we finally ceased making designs for industry some eleven years later, we were not missed. Nobody called to find out why we were not presenting our twice-yearly collections. Incidentally, if I remember rightly, the name of the designer who opted out from the industrial rat race was Howard Carter.
When I come to think about it, I spent a tremendous amount of time in my Anglo-Swedish relations in introducing a large number of Swedish designers to the English market and English designers to the Swedish market. In the case of the Swedes, I actually included many of their designs in our collection and, with the English designers, I not only arranged tours and contacts and introductions but actually included one or two on our rare royalty contracts. The question of royalty and contracts, plagiarism and copyright, could merit a small book of its own. We had many disagreements with firms and organizations on these questions. One can see what an absurdity it is to apply copyright law to individual designs when, for example, in the case of a vertical design of leaves it is only necessary to turn one leaf down to circumvent the copyright.
When I started to design, I quickly realized that there was a potential market in industry but the activity had to be kept separate from the painting activity, even though it would run parallel. I also realized that art, like politics, was concerned with power but had to be tempered with compromise. Therefore, I compromised with design, but was very uncompromising with paint. Nevertheless, we fought many battles with industry. We were not prepared to compromise completely because our designs had to have a certain rightness; a rightness for the situation, a rightness for the kind of use that was to be made of them.
Regarding the buying of art for factory use or for public display in an environmental situation, I think UNESCO formulated some rules which were similar to my idea, that is to say, scrapping the outdated copyright question and substituting the question of buying the work of art outright. Both in Sweden and in England we negotiated for a contract to be drawn up which said briefly that industry - that is the manufacturer - did not own the design, and that he couldn't
dispose of it as he wished but instead that he could only buy and own the right of use in the specific situation that the design was made for. Then later, we fought for the decorative pieces and the murals so that they should not be moved to another situation without permission from the artist and, when their use in that situation came to an end, that they should not be destroyed but should be reverted back to the ownership and care of the artist. This means that the art, as an idea, is always the property of the artist and will not be prostituted or perverted, degraded or demolished, by clients and patrons simply because they have the money and the power to own the product. Incidentally, I don't care who copies me, so to speak, as long as they do it better. But of course doing it better means that they are doing something different, so it is no longer a copy for, as Bomberg once said, "he who follows someone's lead, will never surpass him."
Concerning the rights of the designer, copyright and the right of use, here is an article which I wrote at the time when we were in conflict with the lawyer representing our design organization.
In these days when so many people are involved in Freedom movements it comes as a surprise that there has been no reaction regarding the proposal to register designs put forward at a meeting, Vastra Kretsen, KIF, 11th April 1967 in Goteborg, by our advocate Inga Lindstedt-Piltz. At that meeting mine was the only dissenting voice.
Of course the idea sounds good. A register of designs. Each design registered to be paid for according to size, quality, value and length of time to be protected. Thus designer's creative rights will be protected for a small fee and his economic security assured. If, however, the question is examined we find that the idea is expensive, unworkable and contrary to the best interests of creative design. Put into practice this scheme would spell the death of design as it has been practiced throughout history. Of course we all know the problem. It is an economic one. It is an attempt to protect a designer's labours, to give more reward for the job, to cheat the stealers and give a greater degree of participation. In all these things it will fail. The real thieves will go on thieving, but relationships, trust and tolerance between designers will deteriorate. The fact is that the special problems of design, as design is a creative act, cannot be solved economically or legally ... it is more of a moral problem.
As a designer, one is not selling a quantity of things and operating like a salesman, classifying, numbering, checking, labeling etc. One is selling an idea ... the value of which is sometimes unknown, even to the originator, at the time of creation. The idea might be a small one or it might change and influence a whole era.
After all, we are dealing primarily with fashion and fashion presupposes similarities. A good bottle of Champagne is still a good bottle of Champagne, whether it is called Champagne or champagne type. It is not the ingredients or even the recipe that is registered and protected but the name. This kind of commercial practice is outside the province of the designer.
How could protection work? Who can judge the unique quality of a design? Does the uniqueness lie in the fact of it being a prototype and how could one register a style, a manner or a technique?
Registration will lead to all kinds of unfair treatment ... the more articulate, business minded, ruthless type of designer (and the one with the most spare capital) will
be the first to rush to register. We all know that two designs can be made simultaneously in different parts of the world, such coincidences often occur in art and science. The rich or the successful designer is not always the best designer. The designer who places design before business could quickly be destroyed by the producers, the design coordinators and the bureaucrats of design. It is for this reason the S.I.A. in England has banned paid advertising. Therefore instead of pushing each other to the wall, let everything exist ... the best will survive ultimately. If designs are accidentally produced simultaneously in New York, Vienna and Madrid, who is at fault? Nobody. If the designs are bad, there is no problem. If they are good then they will surely compliment each other in different markets.
However, in rejecting registration of a particular design as being negative and destructive in the design context, nevertheless, we must be constantly aware of the economic problems that have a greater bearing on the status of the designer and the kind of reward that he can expect from his labours. These rewards do not stop at the point when the design is sold. There are countless problems to be solved ...
The whole designer/producer relationship should be re-examined. Whether a designer is on royalty or not, he is interested in the fate of his designs ... he has a right to participate and to be involved in the decision making. There are unsolved problems of professional behaviour around production, promotion, advertising, salesmanship, qualities and faults in materials, technical faults, wastage, exhibition, credits and the name of the originator. Designs can be made or destroyed by the decision making.
A design that is registered, protected and sold outright complete with full copyright, leaves the way open to abuse and lack of responsibility on both sides. The originator must have some form of protection, not only for his ideas but for the quality of his ideas. There must be some form of protection from incompetent producers who think their responsibility ends once a design is paid for.
The copyright of a design should never be sold. The copyright should always remain the property of the originator. The originator's right to dispose of his ideas as he sees fit should be jealously guarded. What the originator should sell is merely the right of use for a particular and defined purpose. This right is then ceded to the producer for this limited purpose and for a limited period. This clause in a contract enables the originator to exercise a greater degree of control over the design's production. It is possible for the originator to gain more reward for each design. If it is wrongly or badly produced due to an incompetent director etc. then the originator has the right to offer the design for a new fee to the same producer for another purpose or to another producer or even to a rival firm that is capable of a better production.
Imitation in design is never very good and results in a weakening of the idea. The history of the arts is littered with imitators. In art this is inevitable and the discerning few recognize the quality of the original. The mass usually follows the imitators that are less vital, charming and yet harmless. But of course it is just this mass following which is vital for the industrial production. It is for these reasons that very often a producer will buy a good revolutionary prototype with no intention of putting it into production. Instead that prototype will form the basis and the inspiration for a whole series of designs from the factory studio. A whole new style or manner can be created from this prototype. It could enhance the designers reputation but it might also destroy him if the imitations are continually preferred and exploited in preference to the original idea.
The designer has a right to participate and to receive some reward for his efforts. But there is little one can do to enforce his rights other than through contract, royalties and by raising prices and withholding copyright. It is a moral rather than a legal question. It is for the mutual advantage of both designer and producer to iron out some of these problems. There will always be those that do and those that imitate. No amount of legislation will change that. Let us therefore echo Sigvard Bernadotte in his speech during the British Week at the Design Symposium: "I don't mind who imitates me as long as they do it better."
The English designers we introduced to Sweden were Eddie Pond, John Wright, Robert Dodd, Francis Milward, Hume Chadwick, Althea McNish and her colleague from Trinidad, and thereafter almost yearly together with John Wiess, we arranged tours and introductions and actual selling points. I carried out a market research with the help of the Design Centre in England and found that there were about 150 possible outlets for flat surface design, that is textiles, wallpapers, carpets, paper coverings and so on. The Design Centre tried to be helpful by sending us out to visit customers all over the country. But nearly always it was a waste of time because, in drawing up the list of potential customers, they never distinguished between the various needs of the market. On the one hand there was the modern end of the market which we were interested in, but on the other hand the majority of the factories were churning out the same old-fashioned designs of the kind which my grandfather had once made (in fact they were still using some of his designs, even then).
One day I bought some beautiful and colourful African textiles in the Portobello Road and I took them to a Manchester factory where I asked why they couldn't print designs as exciting as these ones which had come from Africa. But they laughed at me and said that they did. They had, in fact, printed them. They were printed especially for the African market. They wouldn't have tried to market these designs in England because their salesmen had decided that they would not conform to British taste. They never did any market research to explore how British taste might be cultivated. Instead they imposed their own tastes on the public and so they continued to prefer old-fashioned designs. And so, out of the 150 possible outlets, there were perhaps only 20 or 30 that could be counted as actual potential customers for our work. Of these there were no more than 10 who were regular customers, buying on average between three and five designs per year.
The crisis came in the middle 60's with the big take-overs. The big companies like Sandersons, ICI and Courtaulds, annexed most of the small companies with the result that almost overnight the number of one's clients was drastically reduced but they did not increase the number of designs they bought. They were always wary, always careful, always knowing that they should not buy too many designs from one designer because there was always the next designer coming along with the possibility of a better design, or at least a more saleable design.
Apart from ICI, one of the worst culprits was Sandersons and at that point my friend Eddie Pond became studio manager with a director's responsibility. His philosophy was that the design which sells the most is the best design. I love the man but I hate his philosophy. Among others, he was responsible not only for reducing the market but for lowering the standards in the industry. It was a triumph of the economic men, but in one sense this was false. The Busby brothers - one at Sandersons and the other controlling the firm Lightbown Aspinall at Bredbury in Stockport - produced the Palladio Architectural range which was an absolutely fabulous range. Eddie Pond not only threw out both Busby brothers from the Sanderson studio but, also,
Derek Healey. This act shocked most designers but it turned out quite lucky for Healey as he then set up his own colour consultancy which soon became an international success with offices not only in London but also in Geneva and Tokyo. Pond actually stopped production of the last range of the Palladio designs. It was argued that the Palladio range, although it appealed to architects, nevertheless made a loss. But they failed to realize that this range was, shall we say, a shop window, which raised standards all round and which increased sales of the so-called "bread and butter" ranges.
There were very few left in the industry outside this monopoly. But, because the monopoly lowered the standard of design, it gave the opportunity for several enterprising people who were concerned with quality design to start up small businesses. They were able to find a gap in the market by supplying quality design which the monopoly was neglecting. One or two very small firms started up new businesses, for example, people like Hull Traders. There were a few good people who were already established who managed to resist the take-overs. In textiles there was Edinburgh Weavers and in wallpapers we worked with Shand Kydd, which was run by two brothers from their premises in Kentish Town. Peter Shand Kydd retired from the business and went off to Australia where he was a sheep farmer and subequently he married Princess Diana's mother.
Of course, quality design in England was never marketed properly. To illustrate this, I will tell a little story which concerned my sister. She was redecorating her house so I suggested that we go to the big store in Manchester, Kendal Milne on Deansgate, where just at that moment whole windows in two streets were filled with our designs. There was our wallpaper from Sandersons - one of our prize-winning wallpapers - and several curtains from Heals and Edinburgh Weavers. So I went into the store with my sister to order curtains and wallpaper but, to our dismay, we were told they had no stock and that it would take two to three months for them to get a supply from London. This story is typical of an industry which largely regarded the designer as being hopelessly romantic, idealistic and out of touch with the real economic problem. This is what I mean by the shop window attitude to the Palladio Architectural range which was used as a means of selling the "bread and butter" designs. People were attracted into the shop but, when there, they were only confronted with the kind of product that the salesman thought they needed.
There are similar stories in Sweden where designs were bought by the head designer in the factory and offered to the salesmen who would say that they couldn't sell them or who would refuse even to try to sell them and, in one particular case, the designer herself went out and offered them for sale with a very positive result. These, and many other stories, illustrate and confirm the sad fact that the economic man is the manipulator of public taste. The designer in question did not stay in the industry. She had a very varied freelance career in different spheres and has ended up by being head of the Konstfack Skolan in Stockholm, which is the Swedish industrial design and handicraft school. Her name is Inez Svensson. This is a typical example. It happens over and over again where the industry loses valuable people to salesmanship, distribution and education. One can ask what is the point of being educated to produce a product which society does not want, so that even in the design sphere we are back to that ridiculous situation of teachers teaching teachers to be teachers.
During all the years of designing textiles and wallpapers for industry, we developed a lot of very good and interesting relationships but they were very short-lived because of the type of activity we were involved in. The directors and buyers within the various firms were always looking to the next designer. In fact when we stopped that kind of activity, that is to say going out with a collection of designs twice a year, we were quite astonished to find that we were not
missed. But we continued to work, taking on one-off commissions where we might do a few thousand metres of textile. We worked with our own hands on a Boozer machine in a textile factory (called Ljungberg's Textile Fabric) which was owned and run by Erik Ljungberg, who had previously been Lisa's teacher when she was at the Design School. We had a very close relationship and I admired all his technical expertise. He could do things that I couldn't do in print, but at the same time he admired me because I did things that he couldn't do. So we had quite a unique collaboration for many years until his death.
We also used a factory in London called Ivo Prints. This was a one family business owned and run by a Czechoslovakian family but, before this family took over and developed the business, it had been run by a man called Ivan Tonder. Tonder had developed a reputation for very exclusive short runs of printed textiles and he was always open and willing to experiment. He had relatives who were involved in a firm called Hull Traders which moved from London up to Colne in Lancashire. On his retirement to the south of France he had sold the business to his relatives, the Haas family, Victor and Ellen. Victor is now dead. He ran the office and Ellen ran the design studio. Their son, Michael, organized the workshop area and, since his father's death, he is now in charge. It was the most extraordinary family relationship which also extended to their employees. Among their employees were Indians, Jews and Arabs, as well as the Irish and the English - and they all worked in perfect harmony.
There were times during the early and middle 60's when we were asked to do one-off hand printed special designs. We were urged to expand into mass production while still retaining the hand production in our studio. I rejected this idea because it would have entailed employing several assistants and this would have meant that, in the end, I would have become a director instead of being a creator or innovator.
In 1969, we made a kind of compromise. We found out that by using prints which had been made on glass fibre or on a special chemically impregnated paper, we could have the designs laminated into trays. The idea was to produce 40,000 a year which would have given us a living. Each tray was to be different, both in colour and composition, even though it had the same motif. It was a constant variation on a theme; the mark of quality was differentiation. But the salesmen misunderstood this and their mark of quality was sameness - everything should be identical, as in mass production. This was contrary to our idea which was to use mass production and make it appear as though it was a hand produced product, which in fact it was. Our idea was to bring back the use of the hands in the machine mass production so that each product was distinguished by differences and so that both the creator and the consumer escaped the boredom of sameness. At that time, ordinary one-coloured trays of very simple designs were selling at around ten shillings each, whereas our tray had to sell at between £5 and £10 each. Because of the stupidity of the salesmen, we never achieved a mass selling but we could sell one by one from our studio or from one or two specialized shops and what we found was that people bought them. But they did not really use them as trays. Instead they hung them on the wall as works of art so that finally we found that we could sell the printed glass fibre or printed paper more expensively than the finished tray product.
Commissions through architects for projects for public buildings started in the early sixties. These one-off projects started through a commission from the architects Rolf and Margareta Aberg. In the late 50's there were no jobs for architects and both Rolf and Margareta worked as consultants to a wallpaper factory. They came to our studio to buy designs and, because these were so successful, the architects commissioned us to design a special wallpaper for the Lorensbergs restaurant which was part of the Park Avenue Hotel in Gothenburg. This
was a printed wallpaper which we printed ourselves by borrowing a factory, namely Ljungbergs printing factory. Then later we were commissioned by the Abergs to make a Balderkin (a textile which is suspended horizontally) for the same hotel, this being the first hand-printed textile executed in our studio.
This led to a special hand-printed wallpaper for the Swedish American Line ship M/S Gripsholm and this was the first time we used lines in rhythm which indicated the flight of birds. The following year, 1964, again with the Abergs, we were asked to work with the last of the great transatlantic ships of the Swedish American Line. The ship was called M/S Kungsholm. Our task was to decorate the restaurant on the ship and, at that time, this was the largest restaurant in Europe either on land or afloat. It entailed 16 decorations made with Perstorp Laminate which is the Swedish equivalent of Formica. This was the first time we experimented with this medium. We also made 16 decorations on velvet with the motif of birds in flight. Over the years since then the Kungsholm has been reorganized and the interiors renovated many times. Finally it was owned by the P&O Line and, up to last year, we heard that our decorations in the big restaurant were intact. As an example of how we would respond to the brief on projects like this, here is a description of the Kungsholm job:
'M/S Kungsholm 1964 - 65'
Our brief for the decoration for the 1st and 2nd class dining rooms of M/S Kungsholm was to create a milieu which stemmed from the period of 1700 in Swedish shipping, namely the East India period. The mood was set by a group of Chinese porcelain which is now housed in glass cases in the centre of the room. This porcelain is traditional to the Swedish American Line and has been used in earlier ships. Our problem was to create this oriental feeling without actually copying a set of Chinese panels.
In addition our brief required that we create a set of forms which not only continued this mood but suggested a contact with the Swedish nature. At the same time, in practical terms, the form had to be designed to give a feeling of the extension of space and light in a large low room virtually devoid of natural light. In other words, we did not set out to hang the decorations like so many postage stamps on to the architecture of the ship, but strove to work organically so that every form and movement was so completely integrated with the architecture that they were in fact an extension of it, which means that the decorations are part of the structure of the boat and not merely an embellishment.
Every mark on the velvet and laminated panels (32 in all) has been calculated to enhance the feeling of space which in itself gives a feeling of contentment and well-being to the passengers. This is the main reason why each panel is composed in a different way with different colours and varied motifs, so that they constitute a counterpoint of forms in related rhythms unified into the whole. Such an idea gives interest from different parts of the room and the interest varies at different distances from the motifs ... from the over-all rhythm to local detail and surface texture.
The birds, on the panels between the port-holes, are silk-screen printed by hand on velvet and they are intended as foils instead of curtains which are superfluous as they cannot function in space within the restricted area of a ships interior. Velvet was chosen as the material because of the rich possibilities of the print quality. It was possible to
over-lay colours and screen-print in depth on the pile ... so that the changing light at different angles over the surface gives a constant change of tone from light to dark. The birds are composed in such a way that the observer is engaged in a whole gamut of feeling which ranges from the abstract to the naturalistic. The birds twist and turn, dive and hover, in the way they do when following ships (in this case the models were the seagulls massing over the fish harbour in Marstrand). The shapes of the birds are formed and composed so that the spectator has the feeling that he is sometimes looking at a specific bird in flight, that can be identified and named, and sometimes these shapes become more abstract and dissolve into mist or cloud formations or the waves of the sea. The colour range from sunrise to sunset, from clear weather to storm, or the metallic look of the sea on a dull calm day. A conditioning factor was that the colour had obviously to be dictated by the necessity of harmonizing and contrasting with the surrounding wood paneling, chairs, pillars, carpet etc. While we were working, during the many months of preparation, of drawings and technicalities, we were always acutely conscious of the nuances of colour between the sky and the rocks of Bohuslän, the province on the west coast of Sweden. Our studio is situated on the rocky island of Marstrand, on this coast-line which is unique in the world and dear to the hearts of most Swedes. The backgrounds to the birds are therefore almost identical to the colour of these local rocks.
The laminated panels, dividing the dining room in the form of a series of screens which are both durable and washable, are again silk-screen printed by hand at Marstrand and laminated by Perstorp AB. Special techniques of hand printing, which have been developed by Cliff Holden and Lisa Gronwall during the last ten years, have been used in close collaboration with the technical methods of Perstorp AB. These printing techniques, used by Marstrand Designers, are similar in intention to American Action and Tachist painting ... the emphasis is always on the physical and the tache or mark that is made is always in relation to the materials used. In common with much of modern painting, from Van Gogh to Sam Francis, we had, for many years, been consciously working with that physical relation between the motif and the evocative mark which is characteristic of much of Chinese calligraphy. It was mainly for this reason that the architects S.I.R., Margareta and Rolf Aberg, commissioned us to execute the decorations. As our methods were already established it was not therefore necessary to copy Chinese motifs or to imitate Chinese hand-writing. The motifs we have used, although they have a Chinese flavour, are nevertheless, taken directly from the nature ... the ripples and shadows of water that we see every day from our studio, the shattered stunted vegetation, reeds and windblown trees that are typical of this island of Marstrand.
The laminated wall-paper on the stairs, appropriately called 'Calligraphy' was designed as a wall-paper by Marstrand Designers, produced in England by Sandersons, and was one of the Sandersons Centenary Competition prize winners which subsequently became a best seller in England, second only to designs by William Morris.
I would like to stress, at this point, that this kind of work raised all kinds of problems, not only of copyright and royalty and the originator's rights, but also in matters of taste, of style and of good design. Our work raised the problem of what is good design and what is bad design and whether good design is good business. This, of course, was a popular idea which is patently not true. It used to be said within the industry that to receive a Design Centre Award was
equivalent to the commercial kiss of death. This was not strictly true either because there were some good Design Award winners that were commercially successful. I have considered suspect these notions of good and bad, both in art and in design. It is much more a question of morality and a question of function. Does it function or not?
If we consider the UNESCO building in Paris, even Jean Arp was astonished and disappointed that the architects could not spare the time to discuss with the painters and sculptors how their work was to be conceived as part of the general plan. Although the patron was a corporate body and had commissioned a group of artists (that included Miro, Moore, Picasso and Tomao) to decorate the building for a well defined purpose, nevertheless, the method they used was to leave the artist to himself so he might follow his own individual will. As Edgar Wind in his book Art and Anarchy (Faber and Faber, 1963, p.95) pointed out the result was that in this building, which was devoted to the cultural work of the United Nations, the arts "loiter about the place without function, distracted and disunited."
In our architectural projects we have often observed that architects tend to prefer walls that remain as dull as their houses. They seem to regard surface design as no more than a kind of graffitti which is a blemish on their space. However, houses are not only for keeping the rain out and the warm in. A house has other functions and walls and surfaces should be used to give people a happier feeling, a feeling of contentment. A house should give a feeling of fullness, space, and well being. It is false to assume, as many architects do, that gray and gray or inconspicuous dots and lines or badly drawn pretty roses enlarge the space in a room. It is a fact that they diminish the space and, in diminishing the space, people become nervous; they feel distressed, and, of course, finally, it can only be a bore.
Mostly a matter of taste has to do with security; people hate to move away from the environment where they feel secure. A change of taste or style often comes about through boredom. So, not only do we need design and designers to relieve boredom (the design being created as an escape from boredom) but also the design must be functional in the sense that, in the case of flat surface design, it creates a space relationship with architecture which contributes to the well being and contentment of the people placed in that environment. Such activity is not strictly commercial because the people concerned, that is to say the public, are often quite unaware of the source of that contentment.
One can say that good design in the aesthetic sense is not always related to good design in the functional sense. It is very difficult to demonstrate the success of functional design. Design which does not function diminishes the architectural space which results in people becoming nervous or irritable. This, of course, is something which is difficult to talk about and even more difficult to demonstrate so that, in order to preserve his moral integrity with his client, a designer has to often fool both the client and public in order to operate in an efficient and therefore functional way (that is, with the maximum efficiency).
Question 3.8: Are there special problems for murals in ships interiors? The biggest problem with ships is the time factor. It is not possible to come on board at an early date to set up the project because there are so many other activities going on at the same time. On a stairway, for example, it is all clogged up with pipes and cables, there are people running up and down carrying material and the air is full of dust. Even if it was physically possible to set it up there is always the danger of it being destroyed before the boat is complete. So there is a very short time to do this kind of work and yet, at the same time, the job must be completed on schedule because the boat is due to sail away. For these reasons it is a completely different situation to working, say, in a hotel or a factory or a bank.
Of course, there are quite a lot of technical problems to do with the planning, especially on the stair walls, where we work on a very large scale, six or seven metres wide and some seventeen metres high running through all the decks. In these situations the mural is viewed on different levels and it must be interesting at a close distance as well as from a very long distance and it must compete with stair rails, which very often interfere with the direct viewing. Then also on many ships we have designed special curtains for the cabins. Here the curtains cover the portholes and the biggest problem is working on such a very short height. Working with normal length curtains in public rooms is a much easier matter.
Question 3.7: How did the commissions for work on ships begin? I think we have dealt with this previously, but briefly, it arose out of working with the architects Margaretta and Rolf Aberg. It was through our relationship with the Abergs that we came to work on the M/S Kungsholm. The Swedish American Line was owned by the Brostrom family who were based in Gothenburg and, as a result of this job, we became personal friends and we did many other jobs for them including decorations for their offices. When we were doing the decorations for the M/S Kungsholm we became friends with the overall interior architect, Robert Tillberg, and we have worked with him on other ships ever since. We have been friends of the Tillberg family now for over 30 years. Claes Feder is another friend who we met when we were doing the Kungsholm job. He was the designer of the ship and, later, he gave us a job making laminated panels for the interior of the Swedish Lloyd hovercraft, built on the Isle of Wight and operating from Ramsgate.
In the early 1970's we met the architects from the Royal Building Committee in Stockholm, Kunglia Bygnad-Styrelsen. The coordinating architect of this organization was Goran Faust and we were introduced to him by his assistant, Bjorn Hulten, who was a freelance architect based in Gothenburg. Some years earlier Bjorn Hulten had seen our contribution to a design exhibition at Liljevalchs in Stockholm. He told us to go and present ourselves to Goran Faust, who then commissioned us to make a screen for the Swedish Embassy in London. It was a difficult task which involved placing a modern design in an Adams interior. After this Goran Faust gave us one or two jobs per year with Swedish embassies and consulates around the world and this work continued for over 15 years.
We no longer have those jobs because some five or six years ago, power was taken away from the architects themselves, who were no longer allowed to give out jobs to the artists of their choice. Instead the choice had to be made by a committee of artists. The result was that they gave the jobs to their friends in the capital city, Stockholm. It was the artists' own organization, K.R.O. (The National Union of Artists), which forced through this issue. It was a democracy by committee, which was not only a totally false attitude to democracy.This also opened the way for corruption, leaving no room for a value judgment and no room for the needs of the artist who could do the job in the right way, at the right time and at the right price.
We have worked with many architects in many countries; not only in Sweden but also in Norway, Denmark and Germany. A few of them have become very special friends. A very fine collaboration was with the Myrsten family, owners of the Viking shipping line whose home base is at Slite on the island of Gotland. This is a long established shipping family and the son is now taking over from the family. We worked with one of their ships and, subsequently, with other ships at what I would think is the most modern shipyard in Europe, at Papenberg in Germany, run by the Meyer family. Again this was an old established family business with the old father still turning up at the yard at 7 o'clock every morning when he was well over 90.
I would like to add another name to the list of good working relationships - Hans Ahlinder. I had made one or two decorative pieces in the house of very good friends, both doctors, called Marcus and Marcia Skogh. Barbara and Hans Ahlinder lived next door. They admired the pieces we had made for the Skoghs and asked us to make a special piece for their home. This I did and it was a great success. At that time Hans was chief of the missile section at the Saab factory in Linkoping. He then invited me to meet his architects because they were just completing the new offices and we were delighted to be able to work on three walls in the reception area of the office building.
There are numerous other friends acting in a professional capacity and even private friends who have helped and sustained us over the years, but it was Renquist and the Abergs and the Tillbergs who at each point changed the course of my life. Of course that is not the whole story and there is the other side of the coin; those people with their negative attitudes and aggressions and lies, who succeeded in pushing me in a particular direction which was not my chosen path.
Official financial help has been sparse. I have only ever had one stipendium or grant in all the years that I have been here and that was a very small one indeed - 18,000 Swedish Crowns - whereas most Swedish painters get one or two grants per year of a much greater order, 50,000 or 100,000 Crowns for example. The question is, do I lack the right kind of friends or is it because I am a foreigner? Or is it because my art is not quite in tune with the norms of the day? Or is it because I have refused to fit in with the collective decision making which is typical in Sweden and which I consider to be a perversion of democracy?
On a personal level, rather than on a professional level, I had a lot of support and backing from various leading families in Sweden. This did not take the form of buying my art, which they did not understand. Instead they gave me cash loans and, during the difficult years, they gave me financial backing for the enormous bank loans which I was forced to take in order to survive and continue my activity. This support culminated in the formation of the 'Cliff Holden Foundation', a charitable organization which served to protect the interests of both myself and Marstrand Designers and all the activities connected with that name. These benefactors included Eric Von Sydof, who was special ambassador to the European Community, his brother, Christian Von Sydof, the Brostrom family and the Wallenberg family, even though that family is distinguished by being totally uninterested in any form of culture. I should also mention Lars Hjorne, owner and editor of the most influential west coast newspaper Goteborgs Tidningen and his brother-in-law, Per Gyllenhammer, the chief of Volvo. And, of course, there were numerous people who gave us tremendous moral support and who passionately believed in our art and especially in our decoration, but who had no power to help either economically or with the prestige representation.
There are many other relationships which have been both very positive and very negative. For example, for many years we worked with laminates at the Swedish Perstorp factory where, after some fifteen years of close working relationship, I was never given any proper credit and my name was used sometimes without permission and in the wrong situations. I had experimented for several years and finally I was able to make prints (and also to paint) with acrylics so that it was possible then to laminate them. But our collaboration with Perstorp ended over fifteen years ago and we have not worked together since. This was partly because they would not acknowledge my contribution to the development of these new techniques and partly because we were not benefitting enough financially from the arrangement. This was because
the process of lamination was not always reliable and when one panel in a mural had not been laminated successfully then we had to remake all the adjoining panels so that the colour would match along the joins. As a result our costs were greatly increased and each time we had to pay Perstorp for the lamination process whether it was successful or not. Finally I gave them an ultimatum that we would only continue to work with them if they would press the panels without charging us for it. As we had given them so much free publicity this would have amounted to a small percentage of what they were already paying out for their advertising.
I am quite sure that it was my experience in printing with acrylics which prompted Tom Rowney's paint company to experiment along similar lines and to produce their more fluid flow acrylics which they used as the basis for a printing set.
This came about as a result of my contact with Tom Rowney after I had asked whether they could develop an acrylic retarder which would extend the time for using the screens before they became blocked. Their response was that they could not produce such a retarder and the only solution was to keep the air humid. They invited me to the factory in Bracknell and, on my arrival, I was taken to the laboratory where a young boy was printing on a small screen. After fifteen minutes the screen blocked and I asked Tom Rowney what they did in such a situation. He said that they had to throw away the screen. My reply was that I could print for two or three hours before blocking and that, when the screen was blocked, I had found a way of cleaning and unblocking it by soaking and scrubbing with thinners. Tom Rowney and his laboratory technician both said that this was impossible. Nothing, they said, could remove acrylics once they had dried and I told them that I had been doing this every day for the last five years. However they still insisted that this was impossible.
When I had first spoken to Tom Rowney he had suggested that his company might use me in their advertising brochures and he was intending to visit my studio in Sweden where I could demonstrate the process. But he never did visit me and his company used Peter Blake instead of me for their advertising. To this day I have still never received any acknowledgment or credit for my technical innovations from Rowney or from Perstorp.
We now come to Question 3.6: Can I give an account of the well known Volvo mural? The fact is that it is not so well known, but it has a place in our hearts for the way it came about. It was the first and one of those very rare occasions where a client comes into the studio and orders directly. There was a tap on the window and a man waved to us, we opened the door and he entered, then he raised his hat, we shook hands and he said, "My name is Engellau." It was Gunnar Engellau, the chief of Volvo. "Perhaps you would like to do a job for me," he said. "Here is my card and here is the name of my architect in the firm of Lund & Valentine. Call them on Monday and set up a meeting."
This was the beginning of quite a long collaboration for, having first made a wall in the personnel entrance, we also went on to make 20 laminated decorative panels for all the areas where the 1300 employees would sit to pause and drink coffee in what was the biggest open plan office in Sweden at that time. Later we made decorative walls around the coffee areas in the very secret technical centre. Then there was the conference room which was devoid of all decoration; we were asked to liven it up but we thought each area was beautiful in itself. The one space which we thought could afford decoration was a dividing moving wall and so one hot summer we spent a month printing directly onto this wall, making a composition of hanging willow leaves. Also, at that time, we made a series of one colour panels which had to be a special blue - a kind of variation on ultra-marine. This blue was so successful it became known as the 'Volvo Blue' and it was stolen from us by the laminate factory Perstorp. They continued to manufacture and sell it without giving us any credit or any remuneration.
This only illustrates the difficulty of working outside the establishment and outside existing power groups. The power groups have the resources for promotion, for advertising, for representation and for presentation and, as a isolated individual freelancer, you are completely powerless to influence any decisions. Because of this we devised a contract to control the use of our product so that the factory or client did not buy our design or our decoration outright. As I have already explained this contract allowed our clients to buy the 'right of use' of our product and the terms of the contract stipulated that, before they used our product in another situation or moved it into another environment or broke it up altogether, they had to have our permission. In fact, when the design or decoration was no longer useful and no longer fulfilled the purpose for which it was made, it was intended that it would then be returned to the artist. However our experience was that these contracts were never really adhered to and it would have been very difficult to enforce them without incurring legal costs which were beyond our means.
We now come to Question 3.10: Are there some sorts of commissions which you would like to undertake, perhaps for an airport or a London underground station? Yes, there are many commissions that I would love to do. For example, I would like to do a church. I once collaborated with Per Lindekrantz and we made drawings and prototypes of some glass windows for a church, but we failed to get the commission. The interesting thing about this question is that it mentions an airport and an underground station. The only time I have asked for a job and made some kind of representation in order to get a job, was for some spaces around London Airport and for the underground network in Hong Kong. To this end, I brought the two potential clients to Sweden. They were Jane Freedman, who was then coordinating interior architect for London Airport, and June Fraser, who is a past president of the Chartered Society of Designers and who was engaged on the project for the underground network in Hong Kong. I gave them an intensive tour of some of my projects in Sweden and introduced them to the Perstorp Laminate factory where we were wined and dined. We spent several days with them, but without any result. The airport job went to a company called Tattersfield and something (I cannot quite remember the name), who presented an idea which instead of being a drawing or a mock-up was merely a blow-up from an existing drawing which was an illustration in a book. For this presentation they charged something like £10,000 and the job itself was worth at least a million. It was for the very long walls beside the moving walkway from the new Jubilee Line into the Airport - very long walls - and we had some interesting ideas using a motif of birds. In fact the people who got the job used a bird, which was a single bird in flight like an illustration of a bird's wing movement, and I thought this was a very boring result. The other wall was a series of illustrated silhouettes of various capitals of the world.
I tried to get the Charing Cross underground but that went to David Gentleman who did a series of blown-up illustrations. In my view a similar mistake was made at Baker Street station. Because Baker Street was the address of Sherlock Holmes, the designer was given the brief to make a design from a series of illustrations on the theme of Sherlock Holmes. I think this is a very naive attitude to decorating public places. Illustrations should be kept in books and not blown up onto public walls like so many posters.
I must say that I was very shocked when I first saw the decoration of the Tottenham Court Road underground station. This is a mosaic made by Eduardo Paolozzi which to me is much overdone. It looks like a mass of unorganized jewelry with typically British garish colours, more or less, red, white and blue. I have been told that he didn't actually do the work himself. He had to import Italian experts. It is rather interesting to compare the pathetic effort to decorate London underground stations with many of those in Stockholm and Moscow, although I have only seen the Moscow ones in reproduction.
So yes, of course, this is an unrealized dream of mine - to have a commission where one would be left free (as Matisse was, for example, with the Barnes Foundation project) to choose the subject and the manner and the design of a commission for a special project. I have always painted figures and I would very much like to make a great figure composition. I once took part in a competition for a wall in the town hall of Vasteras in Sweden. I submitted some drawings and prototypes of the wall with masses of figures but my proposal was rejected in favour of another artist who had submitted a more abstract and decorative design.
© Cliff Holden
|[Previous Chapter] [Next Chapter]|
|[Page last updated: 11th January 2006]||[Home] [Documents Index] [Top of Page]|