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Living the Dream: El Lissitzky

In design circles, the Dutch town of Eindhoven is best known for its excellent Design Academy – which has produced some of the biggest names in the field over the past decade.

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Tony Cragg, in profile

Recently Ihad the pleasure of speaking at Lisson Gallery, which has an exhibition of recent work by the British sculptor Tony Cragg. The works on view are astounding from the point of view of fabrication. Like a handful of other contemporary sculptors in the UK- RachelWhiteread, Anish Kapoor and Richard Deacon spring to mind – Cragg has become a master of production values. He moves with seeming effortlessness from material to material, creating similar forms in stainless steel, resin, stone, and plywood. Here are two works from the Lisson show, one in steel and one in wood. Cragg's sculptures remind …

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Size Does Matter

`Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice. `I'm opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!' (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). `Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I'm sure Ishan't be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can. – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland With Alice in Wonderland in the news, thanks to …

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Duly Noted

Among the prize exhibits in the V&A's new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries are the so-called Forster Codices, a trio of notebooks kept by Leonardo da Vinci. They got me thinking about the books that artists and designers use for sketching. One of the interesting features of the Leonardo volumes is that they include five separate notebooks, set into three bindings. It's a reminder that in the early modern period, the relation between a book's pages and its covers was quite flexible. Right up until the 18th century, you had to get your loose leaves of paper from a bookseller, and …

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Disembodied

It's not surprising that when a fashion designer sits down to draw, the emphasis is usually on the clothing. Flip through a couturier's sketchbook and you're likely to find a series of interchangeable, blandly beautiful women or men, dressed up and maybe given new haircuts. These examples from the V&A's collection of 1940s sketches by the British fashion designer Marjorie Field make the point pretty well. Though the renderings are wonderful, they remind me of a child dressing up a paper doll in different outfits. The same attitude is evident in this terrific 17th century miniature, which allows you to …

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Absent Minded 2: Caroline Slotte

After I put up the last post on the subject of erasure a little while back, the artist Caroline Slotte got in touch to show me this new piece of hers, entitled Going Blank Again. I 've known Slotte's work for a while and am a big fan.She uses only one technique:the removal of material from old china, usually plates printed with a 'Willow' pattern or other Chinese landscape design. The V&Ahas one of her works (on view in the new ceramics galleries), from a series in which she cuts all the way through her plates and then stacks them. …

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Absent Minded

Sometimes, the most powerful expressive act is to take something away. This is a familiar idea to historians of twentieth century art, because of Robert Rauschenberg's famous Erased DeKooning of 1953. A young artist's gesture of insurrection against the previous generation, Rauschenberg's work also draws on a long tradition of iconoclasm.The V&A's British Galleries includes a fascinating display of objects defaced by early Protestants, who were taught to abhor 'graven images.' I'm a curator, so Iguess I'm supposed to prize original condition. But I bet I'm not the only one who finds medieval stained glass or paintings like the ones …

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A Work in Progress: The Design and Printing of Eighteenth-Century Trade Cards

This post has been contributed by special guest star Dr. Philippa Hubbard, Institute of Advanced Study, University of Warwick. This endearing pen and ink sketch, from around 1770, of drawing-master Thomas Johnson is a draft design for Johnson’s advertising trade card. Trade cards were typically single-sheet engraved or etched prints that combined text and image to promote the goods or services for a wide variety of individual tradesmen and shopkeepers. These black and white images were popular in Britain from the middle of the seventeenth century until the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when intaglio engraving techniques were superseded …

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Fold Along Dotted Line

Since beginning this blog early in 2009, Ihave been trying to come up with examples in which preparatory sketches have a direct impact on a finished design. But only now, as 2010 is upon us, has it finally occurred to me to write about the activity in which this happens most directly of all:folding. With no tools at all, you can take a piece of paper, marked in all the right places, and turn it into a sculpture. The most sophisticated type of folding there is, of course, is the East Asian craft of origami. Normally the papers used are …

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License to Drill

This post has been contributed by Polly Hunter, a second-year MAstudent on the V&A/RCACourse in the History of Design. In it she discusses two extraordinary promotional images that she discovered in the course of her research, which focuses on design in extreme environments, such as oil drilling platforms. (Images courtesy of British Petroleum Plc.) Recently, in the BP (British Petroleum) archive at the University of Warwick, I ran across this unusual watercolour: Little information was attached to it, but I could determine that it was an artist's impression of a drilling and production platform, originally designed for use in 1970s …

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