Curious Trends


Retro sea shanty style in art and interiors

Design art and interiors are increasingly taking their inspiration from the sea, retro maritime memorabilia, fishing boats, fishermen and seafarers. Here are some examples from past and present:

Susan Hiller, currently showing at the Tate Britain, is probably best known for her work Dedicated to the Unknown Artists (1972-6), a collection of over 300 postcards depicting waves crashing onto shores around Britain, each one bearing the legend, ‘Rough Sea.’ A major piece of early conceptual art, this turns the curiously British genre of postcard (and obsession with the weather) into the subject of pseudo-scientific analysis.

Hiller recently made two more sea inspired pieces in homage to Marcel Broodthaers. These refer back to her rough sea works and also to Broodthaer’s 1974 film, A Voyage on the North Sea. Voyage: Homage to Marcel Broodthaers 2009 consists of 24 digital prints with the use of unexpected repetitions of images and unnatural colour. Voyage on a Rough Sea: Homage to Marcel Broodthaers 2009 consists of 20 larger digital prints.

Ship of Fools, Figure of Gold, by Bill Woodrow in 1984 (at the Waddington Gallery until 16th April) has a stricken vessel floating on a sea that’s a blue car-bonnet, riddled with holes. Knives, forks and spoons jut out from the ship’s masts and a human figure flails about hopelessly in the water.

Marcus Harvey’s ceramic and glaze bust of Nelson (2010) was shown by FAS Contemporary at The London Art Fair this year. An untitled relief by Ana Maria Pachero also features a rowing boat.

Elsewhere, fishing and boat related artefacts like lobster pots and floats are used for decorative purposes in shops and restaurants.

The latest fabrics and furnishings from William Yeoward’s Polperro range include retro fishermen’s smock type stripes and nautical motifs. Traditional fishing boat models and fishing gear have become fashionable – seen here in the touristy Paris based seafood restaurant, Marius and Janette. Fish shaped lighting and unusual objets d’art have also been spotted at trade fairs.

Peter Blake’s collection of retro shell boxes and holiday memorabilia was recently on show at the Museum of Everything. In the early 1990s, when he was artist in residence at the National Gallery, every morning going to the station he walked past a number of charity shops, which he says “always have a box covered in shells.” He started buying them and then progressed on to anything covered in shells including the “terrible little animals. The kind you can still buy in Padstow and St Ives.”

Finally, for inspiration, these old wine merchants’ signs feature fashionable 18th century sailing boats (from the Carnavalet Museum in Paris).

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