With names like ‘Gyration’ and ‘Frequency’, much of Brown’s work shares common ground with the optical techniques that were being explored in visual art in the 1960s. The Whitworth show, which opens today, is the first major solo exhibition of her work in the UK.
Born in 1932, Brown attended Canterbury College of Art and enrolled at the Royal Collage of Art in 1953. According to the University of Brighton’s Design Archive, “before leaving the RCA, Brown had sold her first fabric to Heal’s and subsequently designed for them for the next two decades.”
The Heal’s website recalls the text of a Fabrics brochure produced in 1967 that declared that “Barbara Brown has become the golden girl of Heal’s Fabrics”.
Brown was originally commissioned by Heal’s Fabric Director, Tom Worthington, and during the 1960s and 70s she designed numerous textiles for the company. Her patterns also won numerous awards – three CoID Awards between 1968-70 – and the designer went on to create patterns for tableware (for Midwinter Pottery) and teach at several art colleges including Medway, Guildford and Hornsey.
According to the Lawson Park Collection, Brown reportedly said that “she never consciously designs with either fashion or the commercial market in mind, but works more like a painter, in that her designs – all of which have a characteristic three-dimensional quality – evolve and develop over a period of time.”
Barbara Brown opens today at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester and runs until December. See whitworth.manchester.ac.uk