My blog has moved and changed name to DESIGN SODA, I’d love it if you followed along with my new content there.
I love Piero Fornasetti, he is a full on design crush for me, from hot air balloons to his obsession with Lina Cavalieri, his designs rarely fail to amuse me. If anyone was ever silly enough to give me a couple of grand to spend on an object for the home it would probably go on a vintage Fornasetti piece, maybe one of these umbrella stands:
Cole & Son have just produced a new range of his designs put to their exquisite papers. I think they are so successful at this, they always curate his work with humour and authenticity. In much the same way that Liberty of London so successfully trawls its archive of print patterns and reproduces them on objects and items with a modern spirit, Cole and Sons interpretation of Fornasetti is both sympathetic and unique. In celebration of this, I am casting my longing gaze back over his prolific output.
Short bio – Fornasetti was an Italian painter and designer who started his workshop in 1938 in Milan. He was influenced by the architectural design strategy of the Bauhaus collective and though he could not speak German it was through Bauhaus publications his creative vision was born. Fornasetti’s work also nods to Surrealism and he is known for his whimsical reference to this, his love of architecture and his obsession with the face of nineteenth century operatic soprano Lina Cavalieri whose face he reproduced over 500 times in his life’s work series ‘Tema e Variazioni’:
In his lifetime Fornasetti produced over 11,000 pieces of work, with usually very high end prices and indeed I feel fairly certain they work best in grand settings where statement pieces become a part of the tapestry of a room.
Our flat is neither grand nor high spec, however when we bought our first flat 5 years ago I knew we had to have something of my much loved Fornasetti in it. The general feel of our study is modernist – grey walls, dark leather, Bauhaus prints, metal filing cabinets (sadly sold on during the last move when I saw the massive profit signs) and my personal favourite home design cliche – industrial task lighting.I thought Fornasetti’s dream cityscape wallpaper Riflesso (above) would fit well within the general masculine, functional feel of the room. Now it comes in at an exorbitant cost (£83 per meter with a minimum pattern repeat of 1.3m) so I knew that if we were to invest it was not going to be on a wall but on something portable. I picked up a fairly battered old forties desk on eBay which I’d painted in places with Farrow & Ball’s French Grey and was contemplating gold leafing the drawers. However the desk top was the perfect size on which to mount the non-reflected side of the print, I think the result was successful:
I also love the aforementioned Lina designs in ‘Theme & Variations’. Sometimes I find them a little crass or obvious and I’m not sure I am convinced by the use of gold in some of the currently produced pieces but there must be at least 50 of the designs that I just adore. Her face was recreated so tirelessly by Fornasetti over a 50 year period that it has become a grand love letter to a face never beheld in real life. And yet despite the mass production, her face is still not overexposed and the aura of Fornasetti’s work still speaks from each piece. I think this is no mean feat, it seems to fly in the face of Walter Benjamin’s argument about The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.
Arching my brow as I say this, as I can feel the potential for this to be pretentious – is there a difference in the integrity of certain mass produced objects? Mass production is clearly a large component of meaning in Warhol, and his work has been endlessly reproduced on many mediums, but I don’t think this detracts from being able to stand and contemplate his work, say Double Elvis, with the same aura as traditional art. Whatever the answer, Lina’s face may be a one trick pony, but I like the trick. I will never fork out £100 for one of the plate designs of her face but there is a canny company from Brighton called LoveFrankie who sell lampshades on eBay that they have made from the original Fornasetti wallpaper collection. We have one in our hallway, I think its wonderfully charming, I really like that the Lina designs are on the inside and only appear when lit up:
And finally, to finish where I started, here are some examples of the latest Cole & Son Collection – Fornasetti II. If someone gave me a bribe and a big house I feel certain the outcome would include something of this: