Monday, 10 April 2017

A talk with textile designer Lisa Fine

The late American photographer Ansel Adams once said: 'You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.' His words apply to any kind of creative art and I used them to start an email conversation with textile designer Lisa Fine. On the blog I have described her as a designer with a sense of history; I stick to my words. She has a knack for colours, for patterns, and it feels as if each fabric by Lisa Fine Textiles tells a story. She was born and raised in Mississippi. Today she lives in New York with her dogs and travels widely, often to India and other exotic places. Miniature paintings have inspired her career, and so has painter Henri Matisse.

Wherever possible, also in direct quotes, I have added links to e.g. short essays on museum websites that I found interesting and educational. Except for the Matisse paintings, all the images were chosen by me.

[Fabrics by Lisa Fine Textiles shown in my top image (click each for info): Cairo, Kashgar,
Luxor, Malabar, Malula, Mandalay, Pasha, and Rajkot. For books, see further below]

Persian miniature: Mir Sayyid 'Ali, Night-time in a City, c. 1540, Tabriz, Iran, Safavid Period

To go back to Adams's words, what has left its mark on Lisa Fine (given how much she has discovered through her work and travels).
LF: My life is very much about people, however, books and art not only inspire and teach but are the best refuge.

My favorite painter is Matisse. I love his mix of color and pattern, especially in his orientalist portraits. Irving & Fine [collaboration with textile designer Carolina Irving] peasant blouses were very much inspired by his work. I also love the Fauvism movement.
Her other two favourite artists are Kees Van Dongen and Amedeo Modigliani.

Henri Matisse, Zorah on the Terrace, 1912

She doesn't have a favourite Matisse painting but said: 'I love his Moroccan period most, especially the portraits.' Later I found his work Zorah on the Terrace in my inbox with the words: 'Love Moroccan portraits.' The other two by Matisse followed, the one below with the words: 'Love odalisque series.'

Henri Matisse, Odalisque Sitting with Board, 1928

L&L: Every time I view your textiles my mind goes, This woman gets colours. What is it with you and colours? How come the colours in your design are so spot on?
LF: I love color. My greatest inspiration and designs come from Persian and Indian Miniature Paintings ... The Company School Painting is probably my absolute obsession. I discovered Miniature Paintings and The Company School when I started spending time in India.
When researching for this blog entry I found many interesting essays and features, e.g. Company Painting in Nineteenth-Century India on the website of the Met Museum and Miniature Painting on the website of the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, India.

Indian miniature: Rama's forest-dwelling in Panchavati, c. 1605, North India, Mughal Period

Miniature paintings have found their way to her mother's home in Dallas, which Lisa Fine designed, using some of her own fabrics to create a vibrant pattern-on-pattern effect. In the TV room, where she used the Malula (Coco) fabric, there is a gallery wall with miniature paintings (see another angle). She frequently visits her mother and sleeps in the guest room, decorated with her Pasha (Indian Ocean) fabric, an uplifting pattern with palm trees.

Miniatures on the TV room wall in her mother's home in Dallas, Lisa Fine design.
Pattern on wall and sofa: Malula; on ottoman: Baroda II

I was curious to know if any of her own patterns had a special meaning for her, if there was perhaps a story behind one of the designs that she treasured. She answered: 'I am very fickle about my designs. I guess it's sort of like a relationship. Today my favorite design is a new batik (Cambay) that just arrived.' You will find all the new fabrics on the blog later.

I also asked about her 'toolbox', what she used to create her designs. When I was expecting a list of sketchbooks and pens she gave such a straightforward answer, proof of her keen eye: 'Research, travel... I am always looking for beautiful patterns. I find some in museums, archives, markets, the streets of India...' Her Instagram account shows you what catches her attention when she's travelling. Just recently she was in India where there was no shortage of patterns and colours to inspire the designer and her followers.

Indian miniature: Four Women in a Palace Garden, mid-18th century, Bundi, India

L&L: I know you are a book person, that you e.g. are into travel writing and biographies. Do you have a list of favourites that you would like to share, books you wouldn't part with?
LF: Some travel books that come to mind are The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron and Mirrors of the Unseen Light by Jason Elliot ... memoirs are Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi and The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. I rarely read novels but I loved A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

Now I wish I hadn't removed Mistry's novel from my last reading list. I borrowed it at the library but at the last minute decided to wait and include it on an Indian reading list I have in mind.

When I asked about coffee table books she was very excited about one yet to be published: 'I cannot wait for Miguel Flores-Vianna's coffee table book by Vendome Press to come out this fall.' The book she is referring to is Haute Bohemians by the Argentine-born photographer Miguel Flores-Vianna (foreword by Amy Astley, the new editor in chief of Architectural Digest). It will be published in October and contains 250 illustrations. For a sneak peek, visit the Vendome Press website.

Indian miniature: Elephant and rider, c. 1640, North India, Mughal Period

Let us continue with coffee table books.
LF: I love any of the books produced by The Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedabad [in Gujarat, in the western part of India] and by Koç in Turkey. Both make beautiful books on textiles and on Islamic art ... The Calico Museum and The Bharany Collection in Delhi are my favorite places to look at antique textiles for inspiration.

The Koç family has a wonderful collection of Islamic art and a museum in Istanbul. They also produce beautiful art books. Two I like in particular are one on Ottoman tents and one on children's clothing in the Ottoman court. They can be purchased on the Cornucopia website.

Sacred cows of India on a cloth from the Bharany Collection

A few years ago, there was an exhibition of pieces from the aforementioned Bharany Collection (see cloth detail above, from Instagram). The publication of the book A Passionate Eye coincided with the exhibition. According to Lisa Fine, some of the Bharany Collection can be seen at the National Museum in New Delhi and some in their shop.

There are more places in India that inspire the textile designer: 'You may want to add outside the City Palace in Jaipur there is a great store with antique textiles.' (She shared a photo of the view from its top on her latest trip to India, in March.)

Henri Matisse, Moorish Screen, 1921

Lisa Fine is what I call a tastemaker par excellence. Her Paris flat and guest flat have been featured in interior magazines. When I asked why she set up a home in Paris her answer couldn't have been more laissez-faire: 'Paris, looking for a change and it was a three-month plan that lasted over ten years!'

A few years ago, Elle Decor visited her in Paris and the living room photo showed two ottomans that I haven't been able to get out of my mind. And why should I? She told me they were custom-made, covered in antique suzani and Moroccan embroidery. Gorgeous!

Napoléon III ottomans in Lisa Fine's Paris living room

Behind the velvet sofa is a Dutch leather screen painted by hand (those patterned cushions!). For more images of the two Paris flats and the Dallas home of Lisa Fine's mother, please take a look at the March 2017 archive on the Lunch & Latte Tumblr page (with links to sources).

I hope you have enjoyed getting to know textile designer Lisa Fine a little better. Soon you will find more of her fabrics on the blog.

Persian miniature detail. See in full above

top image by me | image credit: Persian miniature (+ detail) via Harvard Art Museums | Henri Matisse art via 1:, 2: WikiArt, 3: WikiArt | Indian miniatures via 1: Ashmolean Museum, 2: The David Collection, 3: Ashmolean Museum | Dallas TV room of Fine's mother via House Beautiful, November 2015 · Miguel Flores-Vianna | Bharany Collection detail via Lisa Fine Textiles (Instagram) | Fine's Paris living room via Elle Decor, November 2008 · Simon Upton

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