Finding Home Inspiration in London Art Galleries
Art galleries are my favourite place to go when I've got free time and I've always found Art a really inspiring place to start for interiors and home decor. I guess it's natural to look here for colour combinations or texture variations and even galleries themselves inspire with mood, atmosphere and grand architecture. It has been quite a while since I've been able to really soak up all that a London museum has to offer but last week I got to spend a blissful morning at the Tate Britain. If you keep reading I hope you'll discover how it can help you improve your rooms.
I'm going to start with a terrible confession. Until my father-in-law recently voiced his interest in visiting this exhibition a couple of months ago I had not actually acquainted myself all that well with David Hockney. But when I started to do my research I was instantly intrigued by and drawn to his colourful sixties paintings and realised I shouldn't miss it after some amazing recommendations from friends. So after failing to book a ticket in time my only choice was to arrive there early and queue with a restless toddler. I thankfully succeeded!
Even if there was not one piece of art in this building, the grandiose Tate Britain site is one of complete beauty both inside and outside. The Millbank location had previously been a penitentiary for convicts being deported to Australia but the core building as it is now was erected in 1897. Funny to think that suppressed freedom was exchanged for artistic freedom of expression! The exterior is extremely classical in terms of architecture which before modernism was deemed the 'best' way to build but inside there are modern treasures and stunning interior decor. Wide open spaces and wonderfully coloured walls. There is an art deco feel that is quite subtle and there is a slight Scandi feel to it all. There are also some stunning skirting boards which of course I thoroughly enjoyed looking at!
As I enter the Duveen Galleries I almost feel I am back at the Pantheon in Rome but as I keep walking and look up I see a circular and rectangular light tube suspended in the air. Then as I keep going I am suddenly hit by hundreds of lighting strips bending and curving in every direction and it's almost like a bright scribble in the air. I have no idea what it's about and completely understand the 'mess' at the same time. This is the brilliant work of Cerith Wyn Evans and I've never seen anything like modern lighting strips juxtaposed against classical lines and grandeur work so well. And this is something that I'm realising is my distinct decorating style. I love a bit of vintage furniture or quintessential traditional paint colours like greens and dark greys but used in conjunction with modern elements. I think that's why I love the Industrial look so much as it works for modern homes but also harks to the past.
My next step was to release Ethan (who is 16 months) from the buggy and basically follow him around and talk about what he points at and show him things he might be interested in. Maybe you've never taken your kids to art galleries. If not give it a go! I'll never forget 13 month old Jack, newly on his feet just running from those giant Tate Modern rooms, mesmerised by the Matisse cut-outs just pointing and shrieking at the coloured splodges in delight. Even now at 3 he will respond if I ask him what do you like about this picture? Or what do you think is happening here? Ethan's favourite Tate Britain moment however was the white statues which he pointed to emphatically and made the security men laugh. And yes they were naked! Last year we visited the incredible Uffizi gallery in Florence and we joked how all the chubby cherubs looked like baby Ethan and Jack then decided the lazily strewn half naked women on a chaise lounge was me (probably because I would breastfeed Ethan laying on the sofa)! The kids have always shared our love and interest in art which brings me great joy.
Having wandered around the shop already I had a few glimpses of what was in store for the David Hockney exhibition. But I was unprepared by the amount of works spanning his career I was about to see and the huge volumes of people I was sharing this experience with. His curated collection is quite eclectic ranging from early pencil drawings to paintings and photographs and ending with moving image and even iPads as his medium. I was completely struck by his British interpretation of California and the Grand Canyon, probably because of my own experiences there. I could almost smell the dusty roads and feel the warm breeze on my forehead. His preoccupation with America in the sixties where he lived for part of his career was by far the highlight of the exhibition for me. I love colour and these bright, mid-century hued delights could have entertained me for hours. The cubist-inspired and angular images of outdoor scenes which are so quintessentially Californian have a modernist simplicity and geometry that I find aesthetically pleasing. It's like he captures the newly discovered American dream in all its colour and glory and even celebrates its newest inventions such as lawn sprinklers. Each image is like a snapshot from a domestic scene with a sense of activity that something has happened before and something will happen afterwards. They are still and yet somehow alive. For me there is a wonderful use and balance of space that he creates in his paintings which is something that is crucial to consider in interior styling. All the works of this period remind me of Mad Men which is by far my favourite TV series as I love the American sixties in term of its design and interesting historical events that took place as well as the changing role of women. And although I like to think I'd be the bohemian Megan character, I'd probably be a version of Penny Olsen determined to make a career for herself in a man's world, a little bit geeky and constantly fumbling along the way!
Hockney's work later in the sixties towards Naturalism is also important for interiors as each painted image of a room is carefully styled with men and women interacting in a still scene. It looks like a scene from a play but quite minimalist in nature and often there is detail or action in the background, in another room or out of the window drawing your eye into the distance. They all have at least two people in them which inevitably invites you to connect them and ponder what their relationship might be. And they give unique insight to sixties decor.
There is so much more that I witnessed and could discuss but one last highlight I need to mention is a time lapse of the four seasons of which each is on nine large screens and the camera panning out in each. Winter, autumn, spring and summer are placed on each wall of the room and each scene is of the same road. An incredibly serene, immersive live experience of art. How I felt in that space is something that I want to feel when I design a room. I want it to wow not because it has expensive things in it but that all the elements such as colour, texture and spatial awareness come together to create the desired mood for that space.
So what does this mean for our homes? How have I been inspired by a few hours in a magnificent building?
1. Colour Inspiration
I have been always been drawn to mid-century colours with their fun and subtle brightness. They are colourful but not too bold and there is a satisfying symmetry and order to the minimalist design pieces of this time. A colour I have my eye on is Arsenic by Farrow and Ball a mid mint green that I'm hoping to use for my Mad Men inspired reception room in the near future. Watch this space!
2. Uses for Scandi
I am not a fan of white walls. I have seen great rooms that have been painted white and dressed with colour (see the above examples from Pinterest) but I don't think I can ever bring myself to put white on my walls. For this reason I've never been a fan of the Scandinavian look as its bit too stark and moodless for me (I love colour too much), but its subtle marriage with Art Deco in the incredible Tate Britain building has made me see that it's clutter free and clean lines are principles that most rooms can benefit from. I think that a white room needs strong direction and theming in its wall styling, furniture and textiles to really work.
In the Tate Britain's Djanogly Café I was reminded of the effective use of large, round, diffused sources of light as a fantastic way to light a room without too much brightness or harsh shadows. In our previous flat we had some single pendant ikea lights similar to these which really set off the room. My husband is a Director of Photographer so spends most of his days considering how to shoot with flattering daylight or where to set lights for a scene. He's obsessed with light and how it behaves and a lot of this rubs off onto me and into our home. Large sources of soft diffused light can give you the bright light you may need for a room (in this case a dark basement) without the harsh shadows or it hurting your eyes.
4. Wall Styling
Besides the excellent wall colours and placement of the ornate gold picture frames (which I'll say again look great on ANY wall), I have been utterly inspired to get some real art on my walls! I love colour and would love an original piece of art that has personal meaning to us but I need some ideas (that won't break the bank). If you've got any suggestions please send them my way!
After a perfect morning, leaving the serene and stunningly beautiful Tate Britain and pottering down Vauxhall Bridge Road to Victoria literally felt like ripping a plaster off! From a peaceful, focussed morning surrounded by beauty and colour I was suddenly transported to modern grey concrete and neon signs on a busy road. It made me realise the sacredness of these places and made me recall so many enjoyable romantic moments spent with my husband in our favourite galleries across the world. Art inspires because it itself has been inspired to represent humanity in a unique and interesting way. And so in my opinion it doesn't only inspire our homes but also our lives. Which gallery are you going to go to next?