Worlds Within Worlds

Worlds Within Worlds

Taken from Issue 6

Words Antonia Marsh
Photographer Andrew Nuding

Snakes, moons, shells, sea urchins, arrows and stars speckle artist Faye Wei Wei’s four towering paintings, immersing the viewer in clouds of paint and brushwork. Suspended above a soft powder-blue carpet and beneath the celestial cupola of the Swiss Church in London, these canvases served as the striking backdrop for the latest collection from designer Hannah Weiland’s Shrimps. Seamlessly choreographed into a horseshoe formation, a stream of models drenched in colour and texture seemed to step out of the paintings as if mermaids floating a top a cerulean sea. A sprinkled print of acid green, cornflower blue and the brightest yellow adorn a rippling, white faux fur train, while elsewhere ruched silken sleeves and collars meet bejewelled silver detailing. Sustaining Weiland’s distinctive devotion to material diverseness, embroidery, patent, denim and pearls all abound in an explosion of playful exuberance.

Rising behind them, Faye Wei Wei’s series borrows its title, Aristotle’s Lantern, from the name that illustrates the mouth of a sea urchin, discovered for the first time by the ancient Greek philosopher.

These underwater creatures, the stars of the sea, boast special metaphorical significance for the artist. Describing love, desire, lust and vulnerability, these comprise her most ambitious works to date.

Working from collected treasures, torn-out book pages, memory and her imagination, the artist combines a hungry fascination for the dreamlike fragmentation of poetry and compositional devices from early Renaissance fresco painters, such as Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico.>>

<< Weiland equally bolsters her research practice with art history investigations, looking instead to modernist sources such as Picasso, Matisse and Mary Fedden. Speaking with curator Antonia Marsh, the artist and designer discuss the collaboration, their creative process and the certainty that their relationship will thrive in the future.

Antonia: The paintings and the collection looked fantastic together.

Hannah: They looked so good together.

Antonia: It’s wonderful how much you trusted one another even though you didn’t really inform each others’ work nor give each other direction. Faye, you listened to Hannah discuss her inspirations and what the collection was about, but you still made your own choices for your paintings. And it was the same with you

Hannah; you didn’t give her any specific direction to go with her work. How did you find the process of collaborating?

Hannah: What I liked about our process was that even though you knew the colours of the collection, you still didn’t match them in the paintings. You can see that the paintings weren’t made for the collection specifically, but made as paintings in their own right, and I think this is key to why they worked so well together. I didn’t know until the day of the presentation that it would, but because we’d had so many meetings, I knew we were on the same wavelength.

Faye: You didn’t give me any direct instructions, and it was really nice to have that freedom.

Hannah: I think that’s so much more natural. Because I obviously love your paintings so much, so there was no point trying to control what they looked like.

Antonia: I’m trying to remember how you first met, where I introduced you and how it all began.

Hannah: We met at your show, Antonia. Faye had just had her solo exhibition at Cob Gallery, and then I told her I absolutely love her paintings, and then did you say you’d love to do a set one day? And I just jumped on that!

Faye: We were just talking and it came about. It was such an amazing challenge to do those big paintings. I’m so excited to start painting again now because I can handle space and composition so much better; it’s taught me so much. I remember the first time we met at the studio I’d just been looking at David Hockney’s theatre sets and Picasso’s backdrops for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, and I realised that all these artists I really admire painted sets at some point in their lives.

Antonia: Perhaps it doesn’t feel natural to an artist at first to do something so theatrical?

Hannah: I suppose it’s sort of going out of your comfort zone with canvases that big.

Antonia: Not to mention working with another artist who has their own vision.

Hannah: Exactly. Obviously, I know what the clothes are going to look like, but then working with another creative, opens out that unknown, but you have trust in each other.

Faye: We had to trust that the result would be really beautiful, even though we didn’t know, until the day, just how well the paintings and the collection would work together. I was so nervous but it was so exciting.

Hannah: It was amazing seeing it come together, and we did update each other throughout the design and painting process, but then it was so wonderful to see the paintings coming to life.

Faye: I was so nervous sending you things.

Hannah: There’s not one of your paintings that I don’t love. I wasn’t worried about it at all. Sometimes before I’ve seen a set I’ve thought, ‘What if it’s not how I’ve imagined?’ This was better than I imagined, which has never happened. It’s so exciting to see your collection in your dream space, a space that you love.

Faye: The church was so beautiful.

Hannah: I love the idea of creating a world and diving into it. Looking back at the photos of the show, I love the images where you don’t see anything apart from the painting, the carpet and the girls. You can’t see any of the walls or the people in the background, and it becomes a world that you would want to stay in forever.

Antonia: Not to mention working with another artist who has their own vision.

Hannah: Exactly. Obviously, I know what the clothes are going to look like, but then working with another creative, opens out that unknown, but you have trust in each other.

Faye: We had to trust that the result would be really beautiful, even though we didn’t know, until the day, just how well the paintings and the collection would work together. I was so nervous but it was so exciting.

Hannah: It was amazing seeing it come together, and we did update each other throughout the design and painting process, but then it was so wonderful to see the paintings coming to life.

Faye: I was so nervous sending you things.

Hannah: There’s not one of your paintings that I don’t love. I wasn’t worried about it at all. Sometimes before I’ve seen a set I’ve thought, ‘What if it’s not how I’ve imagined?’ This was better than I imagined, which has never happened. It’s so exciting to see your collection in your dream space, a space that you love.

Faye: The church was so beautiful.

Hannah: I love the idea of creating a world and diving into it. Looking back at the photos of the show, I love the images where you don’t see anything apart from the painting, the carpet and the girls. You can’t see any of the walls or the people in the background, and it becomes a world that you would want to stay in forever.

Faye: It really was like a world with an invisible force where everybody  looked inwards into it.

Antonia: It’s such a nice change from what we are faced with outside as well, to go into that kind of fantastic landscape.

Hannah: A lot of people commented about the colours this year, actually. They kept saying, ‘Oh, you’ve used such bright colours.’ Because the world is in such a bad place at the moment and everything feels so unhappy and difficult, so I wanted to create colour and a joy, which is so different to what’s outside on the street.

Antonia: Especially when it was a rainy, grey day in London, to go into the Swiss Church and see all of that was so brightening.

Hannah: It just all came together, everything complemented the next thing so well. For you it’s such a different way to show your work, it must have been quite exciting. For me I’d never done a presentation that combined art and fashion so happily. When people asked me about the paintings I absolutely loved it, showing them the sea urchins and the shells and the prince.

Hannah: It just all came together, everything complemented the next thing so well. For you it’s such a different way to show your work, it must have been quite exciting. For me I’d never done a presentation that combined art and fashion so happily. When people asked me about the paintings I absolutely loved it, showing them the sea urchins and the shells and the prince.

Faye: It’s so nice that you are so involved in my world as well.

Antonia: Hannah, you’re always looking at art as inspiration for your collections aren’t you?

Hannah: If I start a new collection and I haven’t been to an exhibition or discovered a new artist I get a kind of block.

Antonia: You looked at Mary Fedden for this collection: her work is mostly still lifes, which I know you are drawn to in particular.

Hannah: I love still lifes. You never know the size of the objects as soon as they’re painted, so they become surreal. The everyday object becomes special once it’s painted. I love all your references as well, Faye. I was talking to one woman and telling her that when I went to your studio and I saw everything you collect and she asked, ‘What do you collect?’ And I said, ‘Oh you know these little bears and I love doll’s house toys and little ceramics. And she said, ‘I collect miniatures too!’

Faye: I have so many plastic, miniature Japanese foods.

Hannah: I had this little silver pot where I kept things that were really special to me when I was growing up. I get so attached to objects.

Antonia: Faye, you always say you can’t talk about your work unless you’re surrounded by all your things. Hannah, what do you look at when you need inspiration? When you get a block, what do you do?

Hannah: I love art books. I love how they make you feel when you open a new one. Recently, I got really into old teddy bears. Each season it’s different; this time I was looking at pumpkins, which came from Mary Fedden’s paintings. And then I got into Fabergé animals, and then shells. But you don’t really change your objects; you’re repeatedly inspired by the same thing and that continuity really makes a brand or an artist’s style.

Faye: We work in a really similar way then both in terms of the same kind of influences we surround ourselves with. We both collect and look at objects and books.

Hannah: Me too! I love those!

Faye: We should do a show and tell.

Hannah: That’s what I felt was happening when I went to your studio.

Antonia: I love visiting your studio too because you show me all the little bits and bobs you’ve been collecting. It’s almost like your personal treasures take on such a different quality when they’re up their painted on those scenes, as if they are elevated in some way.

Faye: I take objects from memory and throw them up onto the canvas to arrange my compositions. In the painting with the kneeling masked figure, people always ask me about the object in the top left-hand corner. It’s the jaw of a fish from a meal at a restaurant in Hong Kong that my ​mum wouldn’t let me take with me, so I hid it in my mouth until I got home and spat it out and washed it and I think I still have it somewhere. I just loved it.

Antonia: Now that you’ve done this collection, do you think Faye’s painting will keep coming back into your work in the future?

Hannah: I think it will. All the colours you use, your brushstrokes and objects. When I’m obsessed with an artist, it never goes away. Each collection I look at different artists, but then I always go back to my favourites. So Faye Wei Wei is always going to inspire me.

Antonia: And unlike many of the artists you look at, Faye is still at the very beginning of her career.

Hannah: It’s think important for designers and artists to have relationships. I think you stay together for life.

Antonia: In my mind, even while you and Faye grow and develop together, the paintings will always stay suspended in the Swiss Church with all those models pouring out of them, almost like the show stays in a bubble that will never burst, frozen within a snow globe.

Faye: That’s always how I’ll remember them.

Make-Up Alex reader using NARS Cosmetics
Hair Tomomi Roppongi using Bumble and bumble
Photography Assistant Mary Clohisey
Clothes throughout Shrimps

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