From weavers to woodworkers, ceramacists to sculptors, the emerging batch of contemporary artists are putting fresh, attention-grabbing twists on age-old traditional techniques.
Sales for handmade furniture have soared by over 2,300 per cent on Etsy, and we’re in the midst of a revival textiles, with London Art Fair director Sarah Monk tapping tactile artworks such as wall hangings as a hot new trend in our recent interview.
If you’re bored of seeing the same mass-produced prints popping up in every Instagram post, and are craving something more unique and characterful for your home, it’s time you leveled up your art collection (or started one) and got acquainted with the cool kids of 2022.
The ideal place to start is the atmospherically derelict Safehouse in Peckham, where contemporary craft platform FELT is exhibiting original or limited edition work by 20 must-see makers from May 4 to 7.
Many of the featured artists have created joyful one-off pieces especially for the show, titled Sensational Beingswhich aims to “surprise and delight” at every turn.
Highlights include bold, large-scale artworks that can take center stage in a home, such as Deptford-based Amber Khan’s papier-mâché sculptures, as well as smaller takeaways, starting from under £ 100, such as sculptural lamps, illustrated plates and elongated patchwork cushions to slink along sofas or at the foot of a bed.
Entry is free and everything is shoppable, with artworks also available to buy online. This, as they say, is the modern way.
FELT’s founders, long-time friends Tintin Macdonald and Francesca Wilson, have backgrounds in art and fashion respectively. They both live in Peckham, three doors down from one another, and discover many of their artisans at the Copeland Gallery and Peckham Festival.
“Craft is often associated with that village hall, WI style, so we’re excited by the new energy around it,” they say. “These makers are using traditional skills to create something contemporary that reflects our culture today.
“Many are using recycled materials and natural dyes, or taking unloved objects and reinventing them, which adds so much character.”
When sourcing their collections, Tintin and Francesca look for pieces with a personality that have “the hand of the artist clearly running through them”.
Their favorites are usually quirky or humorous with intriguing textural qualities. “We like seeing rough edges and seams – a celebration of the materials.”
The pair believe that craft brings “spirit, originality and a feeling of warmth” to the home. “There’s no need to be an expert on a particular artist to fall in love with a piece and want to share that with other people,” they say.
“These artworks make great talking points; the sustainability movement means people are now much more interested in where something they’ve bought has come from and how it has been made. ”
Elsewhere, fashion and homewares retailer TOAST continues to run its New Makers program, which launched in 2019. Every year, a fresh cohort of five artists are chosen from over a thousand applicants.
They are mentored on how to develop their businesses and market their work, some of which is sold online and in five shops nationwide, including the Mayfair and Carnaby stores.
TOAST does not charge a commission on their sales, with full profits returned to them.
“Meeting these makers is an absolute delight because they’re so passionate about what they do,” says Suzie de Rohan Willner, CEO of TOAST. “We gain as much from their thinking about how to navigate art and craftsmanship as we hope they give them.
“It’s a joy to help the next generation of craftspeople, and probably the most exciting part of what we do.”
To whittle down its final five, TOAST looks for makers who share its sustainable values and are “moving craft on” in some way by breaking new ground in their field.
“You buy these things for the long-term; they have longevity, ”says Rohan Willner. “Instead of buying something, putting it aside and then buying something else, people are looking to curate beautiful pieces that are meaningful to them, that they can keep around and talk about with their friends and future generations of their family.”
Meet the makers
Part of FELT’s Sensational Beings collection, Sylvie Franquet hunts out old tapestries based on masterpieces and overlays them with brightly colored embroidery and calligraphy-style text sourced from philosophy, poetry or message from friends.
“I love how much I can change this imagery yet keep it recognizable,” she says. “I liken my work to a cross between traditional samplers and graffiti. It screams at you with thoughts about reconnecting with the natural world. ”
She started her unique practice about 11 years ago after inheriting three cupboards full of unfinished needleworks from her mother-in-law.
Inspired by the “unfettered freedom of traveling”, particularly around the Middle East, she is currently based in Brixton – “I can always find color here, even on a gray day” – and does much of her sewing on buses, trains and planes .
“The world we live in is so fast, plastic and throwaway that making things is a wonderful, conscious way of embracing a more sustainable life,” she says.
“It’s a sign of the times that people are looking for a slower, more enjoyable and more human way of living. Craft is a rebellion against all the speed and confusion of our society. ”
Painter and ceramicist Eliza Hopewell, who is also exhibiting with FELT, began her practice painting commissioned portraits onto dinner plates. Working from her south London studio, she has since expanded into everything from jugs and coffee tables to murals and wallpaper.
“I’m interested in creating playful objects that will look good in anyone’s home,” she says. “My pieces are sometimes quietly subversive when you look closely, but they always showcase great craftsmanship and carefully chosen imagery.”
Hopewell draws inspiration from interior designers like Beata Heuman and artists’ homes such as Charleston House, which is associated with the Bloomsbury Set.
“I get excited by designers and makers who treat homes as a canvas, creating objects or decoration that is utilitarian but also unique, handmade, colorful and well-considered.”
She has noticed a growing shift towards taking craft more seriously, especially given the need for more affordable artworks that people on an average salary might be able to acquire.
“Many property developers create stale, white-box type interiors that all look the same, but I believe people’s homes should be an expression of who they are,” she says. “The feeling of owning a unique object and has had love poured into it is an insurmountable pleasure.”
One of TOAST’s New Makers for 2022, textile artist Dalia James weaves wall hangings, placemats and rugs from her studio in Walthamstow.
She dip-dyes biodegradable yarns herself and is inspired by the geometric forms of the Bauhaus movement. “I’m a massive color fiend but I also really like angles,” she says. “Trigonometry was the only thing I liked about maths.”
James has noticed a drive to make things with our hands – “perhaps in response to how computerized the world has become” – and connect to the past.
“Every piece I make is unique. I couldn’t make them similar if I tried, both at the dyeing and weaving stages, ”she says.
“There’s interest in the surface patterns, but also in the woven structure itself, which gives these wall hangings more textural depth than, say, a painting.”
Woodworker Samuel Alexander is also part of TOAST’s New Makers gang this year. Self-taught, he makes spoons and vessels by refining raw wood that has been felled as part of local tree management.
Drawn to his “cathartic” craft six years ago after suffering from depression, he is inspired by the organic shapes of natural growth and harvest.
He lives on a boat on Regent’s Canal but can be found getting lost in his work at London Greenwood, a cooperative and community based in Hackney’s “vibrant, inspirationally fruitful”.
“I like to think of my pieces as objects of calm within the home,” he says. “The more I make, the happier I feel. I find the process of wood carving vicious, due to using an array of sharp tools, yet my style is refined and meticulous. Every finished form is unique. ”
Believing that, during the Covid lockdowns, many people looked inwards and discovered a lot about themselves creatively, Alexander is enjoying seeing their “incredible” output now.
“When someone buys a piece of craft for their house, they’re not only buying a beautiful object, but they’re also buying the time that has passed and was given, generously, by the maker.”
FELT’s Sensational Beings exhibition runs from 4 to 7 May at Safehouse, Peckham.
TOAST is collaborating with textile artist Jacob Monk to present an ikat exhibition and run drop-in paper weaving workshops as part of London Craft Week, at its menswear shop in Newburgh Street, Carnaby, from 9 to 15 May.