Glaser plays with an age-old mandala theme and re-purposes to it to fit a more modern sensibility.
It's always exciting to witness a master's exploration in a new medium. At 82 years old, legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser reminds us that it's never too late to become a student of a new field. His recent work with Lapchi, an Oregon-based carpet company that specializes in hand-woven, hand-dyed custom-made rugs made in Nepal, explores the traditional art of rugmaking. The result of this collaboration, a new 34-piece rug collection, is now on view (for one week only) at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in Los Angeles. To see the artist's virtuosity in a new light has an uplifting effect.
Milton Glaser for Lapchi: An Exploration of Pattern Making and Color Effects in Textiles is Milton's mind on display. It flits from an exploration of mystical Tibetan symbolism to a contemplation of nature, expressionist sensibility to bold, playful freeform. "I look upon this collection almost as a portrait of Milton. There isn't one theme, but all themes point out to his different interests and his character," says Andrew Neave, Lapchi's artistic director.
Milton Glaser's collection has about five or six themes that express his current interests.
The Milton Glaser collection is the largest Lapchi has ever produced and represents six years of collaboration between the two. Juggling Glaser's busy schedule, commissioning small samples to be made in Nepal and revisions to be approved, the new collection celebrates Glaser's mastery of color and form, while exploiting the unique qualities of a textile medium.
Coming from a pixel-precise profession such as graphic design, Glaser first had to understand the technical limits of handweaving. "Some images are too small or too difficult to achieve, they're best used in a print medium." After an initial round of very complicated designs that were too difficult for handweavers to achieve, Glaser began to have a feel for the medium and its possibilities. Though it wasn't as exacting as graphic design, one can manipulate perception by changing the color, material, or method, which affects the way the light, bounces off the rug, explains Neave.
"Landscape" recalls a pond of water in a forest. The darker color palette lends the piece an air of grave solemnity, as opposed to the lighter color palette that changes the mood.
One cannot fully appreciate Glaser's exhibition without understanding the process that goes into making a handwoven rug. It is when Glaser's style and Lapchi's creative accommodations mesh that textile transforms itself into an exciting medium. "If you were to look at it in a fashion sense, this collection is almost like haute couture," says Neave.
"Dutch Grid," a black on black grid interrupted by bright lines of color playfully recalls the abstract simplicity of Pac-man's maze. Those familiar with Glaser's work will recognize the grid style from his other work. Despite what the eye perceives as two shades of black, there is actually only one type of black dye used throughout the rug. The grid was created by looping and cutting knots on the rug, changing the way light bounces off the same material.
In "Fruits of Labor," Glaser drew sumptuous peaches and other fruits in pastel on paper, which Lapchi then re-created in a sort of textile pointilism. Glaser designed this particular pattern especially to benefit the GoodWeave Foundation, an organization that works to end child labor in the carpet industry and offer educational opportunities to children in South Asia. A portion of sales from this pattern goes toward the organization and its efforts.
"Vines" in black captures the fun and child-like energy of making a crayon etching and recalls the energy Glaser infused into his iconic Bob Dylan poster. It also showcases the weaver's skill in preserving Glaser's expressive linework.
At the center of the whole collection is Glaser's re-interpretation of the classic mandala (above) referencing the elemental fire, water and earth. The complex geometry mesmerizes and his choice of color brings the piece to life. What's striking is also how the piece changes as one walks by it. As one enters, the colors are deep and solid, but as one approaches, the lights bounce off the silk and wool more and more and the rugs shimmer and glisten almost dematerializing.
Bright reds tempered with mythological Tantric creatures create a piece that's passionate and vibrant.
Milton Glaser for Lapchi is a unique meeting of two creative principles, one where both gain tremendously from the other. Each piece is a unique find in a sea of neutral, safe carpet colors readily available in the market. Neave adds, "It's going to make you think about the way the medium works now. It's going to push your buttons."
Milton Glaser for Lapchi: An Exploration of Pattern Making and Color Effects in Textiles
Santa Monica Museum of Art
Bergamot Station, Building G1
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, California
Through March 29th
Andrew Neave will be offering group tours of the collection on Monday, March 26 at 2 pm. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 310.967.0087.
The full Milton Glaser for Lacphi collection available at Atelier Lapchi, Suite G 176, the Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA.
In "Chinese Dragons," Glaser abstracted the wide-eyed, ever-curious Chinese dragons that roam the streets during Chinese new year.
Glaser created this pattern, "Monster," by playing with paper shapes. He also employs a traditional rugmaking technique by using a corner-mirroring method, which extends a symmetric pattern throughout the whole carpet.
This pattern was a result of Glaser tearing pieces of paper, much like Matisse in his later works.