Patternity’s PATTERN POWER: Superstripe

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If you’re in or near London, you must run, not walk to catch Patternity’s fantastic exhibit about stripes, PATTERN POWER: Superstripe, ending April 21. As you may recall, I interviewed Patternity for “Print” last fall. We started with their work in textile and surface design but quickly veered into more fascinating territory: their ongoing exploration of pattern as it filters through many disciplines, from fashion and design to science and nature.

pattern power

This ongoing engagement with pattern drove their latest endeavor, which starts with a gallery exhibit but mushrooms—one is tempting to specify a particularly stripey genus—into a series of panel discussions, classes, film and dance events, and quite a bit else. (Want to incorporate pattern into your yoga practice? Learn about stripes as manifest in Saturn’s rings? Curious to delve into patterns in music? Patternity events and workshops covered all of this and more.)

The Patternity ladies are hatter-mad, in the very best sense, to plumb pattern’s many manifestations from practically every angle. And peering at the world through their unique lens is quite thrilling.

stripy jelly making

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I participated in the event’s very first “Patternitalk,” titled “Pattern in Practice: Matter, Mind & Materials.” Across a custom-designed, B&W-striped table adorned with lovely stripey teacups, I spoke with a broad cross-section of pattern-enthusiasts about how pattern (and particularly stripes) inform our respective practices. Talks were Pecha-Kucha-style, a fast-paced visual bombardment of 20 slides in fewer than seven minutes, which keeps the momentum humming and the visuals coming.

Among my favorite co-panelists were Richard Weston, architectural professor and long-time hobbyist of gorgeous striped rocks like agate, and Isamaya Ffrench, a makeup artist specializing in painting intricate patterns over face and body for fashion shoots. Below are two samples of their work. Isamaya has daubed her models in live flowers, threaded mushrooms into their beards and hair, caked them in delicate cracked mud and subsumed them in dreamy, unreal sunscapes. The result is so lovely you’d want to eat it up with a silver spoon, given half a chance.

isamaya ffrench flowers
isamaya ffrench black flowers

Richard’s fascination with the striped interiors of agates has taken him down some highly unusual paths. An obsessive collector and photographer of these crystalline rocks, a few years back he hit upon the idea of using digital photography to silk-screen agate patterns onto clothing and upholstered housewares. Flash-forward to the present, when Richard is steadily transitioning from his previous career as an academic at Cardiff University into an unlikely product design mogul. The first image below shows Richard swaddled in his own agate-pattern scarf for “Vogue UK.” The second is the cover of his book “Formations: Images From Rocks,” now fleetingly on sale at the Patternity exhibit gift shop.

richard weston
formation images from rocks

Of course, I took the opportunity to trot out my own percolating research into the deeper meanings of pattern, with a particular focus on stripes. In just seven minutes, I blazed through the Beast of Gévaudan, a striped menace responsible for killing over 90 women and children in pre-Revolutionary France; the encoded meanings embedded in Ghanaian kente cloth; a Japanese manifesto of aesthetics with very specific opinions about which stripes count as beautiful (and which don’t).

my patternitalk title page

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I also raced through the history of barcodes, the fool’s errand of making a construction-site newbie fetch some “striped paint,” and a few other striped baubles. I won’t spoil the surprise of all these treasures, since I’ll likely blog about each in future posts. For now, though, suffice it to say it was pure pleasure to talk stripes so intently to a packed audience at PATTERN POWER. Thanks, Anna, Grace and Gemma—let’s do it again soon!

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