Outre Gallery’s “Mid-Century Modern Curated” exhibition features original vintage paintings and prints from the Mid Century era. The exhibition will run until July 9th 2018 at 249-251 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.
In the lead up to this exhibition, I spoke to Martin McIntosh who has curated the show, asking him about his love for Mid Century art and design as well as styling tips for the home.
Q1) Outre Gallery will be hosting a new show that you have curated that is opening on Friday June 22nd. Could you tell me about the idea behind this project?
A1) This is a show that has organically evolved over the past few years – this is the fourth Mid-Century show I’ve curated in fact. It started out initially as an exhibition mixing original vintage architectural renderings and contemporary works inspired by the 1950s and 1960s era, and has organically evolved into this show which increases the breadth of what is shown. It will include original vintage 1950s and 60s era artworks from Scandinavia, original Modernist architectural renderings, vintage 1960s Syd Mead prints, and contemporary artworks by Steve Millington (UK), Chris Turnham (US) Bren Luke (AU) inspired by the era. Vintage Scandinavian artworks courtesy of gallery midlandia in Collingwood.
Q2) In your own words, how would you describe Mid Century art and design?
A2) Crisp, playful, fun. The mid-20th century was such a rich period for art and design. The influence of an art movements such as Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and the Bauhaus on 20th Century were great and I love how their influence was distilled into other incarnations. For example an artist such as Piet Mondrian from the 1930s influenced the look of architecture and design in the years that followed with his strong lines, bold colour and definite composition translating so well to design (such as the famous Yves Saint Laurent dress), and to popular culture with manifestations such as 1960s LP covers (such as the Beach Boys All Summer Long cover).
Q3) What is the typical colour palette associated with Mid Century artworks?
A3) A very broad spectrum but lots of colour.
Q4) Which artists and designers can we expect to see in this exhibition?
A4) Many and varied! We have vintage works from Scandinavia from artists including Fabian Lundqvist and Axel Salto courtesy of gallery midlandia who specialise in original artworks roughly from 1940-1970, architectural renderings from Palm Springs architect William Krisel, space age futuristic prints by Syd Mead for US Steel from the 1960s
In regards to contemporary artists we have Steve Millington from the UK and from the US works inspired by the mid century urban (and suburban) landscape by Chris Turnham, and new local artist to the gallery Bren Luke whose fine crosshatch work is simultaneously precise and dreamy .
I love how these vintage and contemporary works contrast yet sit together so well.
Q5) You have a personal love for the mid century era as many other Melbournians do, how do you feel this exhibition resonates with those who may not have been exposed to mid century design?
Although varied and complex, I think the works have an over riding sense of optimism – one of the defining elements of the era. There was an optimism about the future, and how art, design and architecture could all improve an individual’s and community’s life. Today that optimism is perhaps more potent retrospectively, although I like to think that at least some of that optimism can be applied today as inspiration for the future. And of course I love how the art and design sit so well next to one another.
Q6) Could you tell us about a particular artist and piece which will be featured in the show.
A favourite is the Fabian Lundqvist we’ve used on the exhibition postcard. We have a couple of painting by him in the show, but the one on the card is a striking portrait of a woman in his very stylised figurative style. Lundqvist was a prolific artist working in Sweden from the 1940s through 1970s. In addition to painting he also designed some striking modernist glassware for Alsterfors in Sweden.
Q7) If you could had a bare room in your house which needed to be jazzed up, what 3 things from this exhibition would you put into it and why?
A7) Like the show itself, I would pick a works that contrast with each other. It’s something I’m keen on myself, hence the ongoing theme for the exhibition. My picks would be one of the original vintage works from Scandinavia, one of our mid-century Palm Springs architectural renderings, and one of the very affordable prints by new contemporary artist to the gallery Steve Millington.
Thanks Martin for letting Secret Design Studio use these images, and best of luck with your “Mid-Century Modern Curated” exhibition.
Outre Gallery is at 249-251 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, between Little Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street.
Monday to Thursday 10:30am – 5:30pm
Friday 10:30am – 7:00pm
Saturday 10:30am – 5:00pm
Sunday 12:00pm – 4:00pm
For more information about this exhibition and Outre Gallery please visit their website:
To get advance notice of the artwork that will be displayed at the “Mid-Century Modern Curated” exhibition, and future Outre Gallery exhibitions then complete this form here:
For more information on gallery midlandia please visit here:
Hi Geoff, thanks for your time today.
Q1) I understand that you are in the process of publishing an art book called “Featherston”. Who were Grant and Mary Featherston?
A1) Grant Featherston was a Melbourne based industrial designer best known for his Contour series of bent plywood chairs produced in the early 1950s and highly sought after today. In fact, Grant designed all kinds of things but, between 1947 and the mid-1970s, he focused on chairs and developed hundreds of designs. Some of these designs were so commercially successful it is no exaggeration to claim that nearly everybody living in Melbourne has sat on at least one Featherston chair. Grant met Mary in the mid-1960s and they worked together in a partnership from 1966 until Grant’s death in 1995. Mary still lives and works in Melbourne although her primary interest is in early childhood learning environments.
Q2) What was so important about Grant and Mary Featherston’s work?
A2) The real genius was in developing production techniques to allow a remote and sparsely populated country to experience the Modern look. Over in North America Eames, backed by a large team of design specialists, was producing moulded plywood chairs from machines costing over $25,000 dollars each. With chairs selling for a few shillings it was not financially viable to do this in Australia. Working alone Featherston developed production techniques that allowed moulded plywood chairs to be manufactured locally and enabled Australians to experience this revolution in home décor – a truly remarkable achievement. Throughout their careers – working in wood, steel and plastics – the Featherstons continued to experiment to allow Australia to remain at the cutting edge of innovation in chair design.
Q3) Is the appeal of Featherston design limited to Australia? Apart from the Australian Pavilion at the 1967 Montreal Expo do they have much of an international profile, or are there any non-Australian collectors?
A3) Interest is primarily centred in Australia and New Zealand although there are collectors in North America and the UK interested in Featherston. Hopefully my book will help secure the international recognition they deserve! One of the secrets of Featherston’s success was that he licenced manufacturing in different states and over in New Zealand. At that time the cost of transport was prohibitive so Featherston succeeded in building a nationwide following when most of the competition were only focused on getting market share in their own town. That strategy is still paying dividends today with Featherston collectors active in every state.
Q4) Why is there a growing interest in their furniture, and why is it becoming so collectible (and expensive)? What is the relevance today?
A4) Well if we look at prices – auction prices for Contours grew fivefold over 15 years from the late 1990s. Interest started picking up after the 1988 retrospective held at the NGV but then accelerated until the GFC. After the crash prices dwindled a little – probably following the whole mid-century sector as it adapted to the impact of cheap copies flooding the market. More recently prices appear to be on the rise again. I think people have sat in those cheap nasty copies and are coming to appreciate the real thing!
Q5) I understand that architect Robin Boyd commissioned 240 Expo Talking chairs for the Australian pavilion for the 1967 Montreal Expo. Where are they now?
A5) I only know of two that survived from the original run. I own one and I sold the other to the Powerhouse museum in Sydney. I bought these from an auction house in New York in the early 2000s. I believe they were purchased after Expo ended and the contents auctioned off – transportation costs making it prohibitively expensive to return them to Australia. (Incidentally I failed to investigate the transport costs before bidding – otherwise I would have realised that they remain prohibitive!) The Talking chair (also known as the Sound chair) fused furniture and technology – when a visitor sat on a chair a tape deck was activated and conversations with famous Australians played through concealed speakers in the head rest. When released the Talking chairs were the star attraction at the Australian pavilion, most people had never experienced anything like it, and they became the talk of the town in Montreal and Melbourne. Melbourne based manufacturer Aristoc saw the opportunity and produced copies of the Expo chair for the local market and these turn up at auction quite frequently.
Q6) Who is Geoff Isaac, and why write a book on Grant and Mary Featherston?
A6) I am just a fan. I am not a design academic or professional – in fact my background is in marketing. I started collecting Featherston designs in 1996. As the prices went up I got priced out of the market so I had to find a new way to occupy my collecting gene! Frustrated by a lack of publically available information on the Featherstons I started researching and collecting material on their careers. Mary Featherston and the design historian, Michael Bogle have both read the proofs for my book and written very nice endorsements for the book so hopefully readers can have some confidence in my abilities!
Q7) With such a huge design output why has nobody published or documented the Featherstons’ work previously?
A7) I am still amazed that no one has written a book on the Featherstons before. Grant Featherston is, beyond doubt, our most famous and successful mid-century designer. If you look at how many of his chairs are still in use today I believe that only Britain’s Robin Day could claim to be more successful on this measure. We should celebrate our successes!
Q8) Do you own any pieces by Featherston, or do you have a favourite?
A8) Yes I have been hooked since 1996 – the deal with my partner now is that I can only introduce a new chair if I get rid of one so it is always a challenge to find a new hiding place and keep moving them around. My interest in the Featherstons work didn’t start with the Contour series for which they are most famous, it started with the Scape series. Designed in 1960 these steel framed chairs with moulded plywood seat and backrest are remarkably comfortable and beautiful to look at from any angle. They still remain among my favourites and are still in use at the dinner table – where no guests are even in a hurry to move from the table. I also have two Scape lounge chairs which are often selected by guests in preference to the comfortable sofa.
Q9) How will your book assist people who are interested in buying an original Featherston?
A9) Grant is best known for just two chairs from the Contour series, the R160 and the R152 (without arms). In fact the Contour series extended to some two dozen designs and they are all presented in the book so this will help collectors identify the less well known models in the series. Everyone who pledges $10 or more to support the Kickstarter project will be sent a print ready electronic copy of an A3 poster that is a handy reference – showing the entire Contour series. The book will also show there is far more to Featherston than the Contour series – with hundreds of chair designs there is something for everyone and the book shows that you can still get a Featherston designed chair for a few dollars – or even less than the price of a coffee!
Q10) I notice from your A3 poster that there is a missing image for the Contour W170, which you have described as similar to the Contour R160, but with a higher back and shorter legs?
A10) I have never seen a Contour W170. Even Mary Featherston does not have a picture of one either. She does have a pamphlet showing the entire Contour range and the W170 is listed here but not illustrated as the others are with line drawings. The pamphlet does have a description of it. So it is possible that it does not exist. It may have been planned but never produced. In the early days they were basically produced to order. Or there may be one out there, which I would love to know about.
Q11) Your book has lots of beautiful photos of Featherston chairs, where did you source them?
A11) I had the most wonderful piece of luck while researching the book. I was just finishing, what I believed to be, the last interview for the book when Neil Clerehan suggested that I look up Ian Howard, the former Managing Director of Aristoc. To my surprise and delight I found Ian alive and well at over ninety years old. Ian had meticulously documented his career and had put together an archive which included an extensive record of the 13 years he employed Grant, and later Mary, as the chief design consultants for Aristoc. This piece of luck added about two years to the project by the time I had finished going through all the material. This means the book includes many previously unpublished period photographs and publicity material developed by Featherston. I also commissioned original photography or my collection and the auction houses, particularly Leonard Joel, have been very generous in allowing me access to their libraries of image of Featherstons as they pass though the market.
Q12) It must have been disappointing to receive so little interest from Australian publishers about this labour of love. I understand that you are looking to self-publish and to get started through a kick-starter campaign. How does this work?
A12) Yes I haven’t got much to say about the publishers I approached – most disappointing thing is I believe only one of them actually read the manuscript. Anyway their model is stuck in the 20th century so I have moved on and embraced the 21st century. Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing platform – anyone can put up an idea for a product and people pledge to back the project. If the funding target is met everyone is charged and the money (minus some commission of course) gets passed to the project owner to allow them to deliver the goods. In my cases I have already paid to get the manuscript edited and proofread and for the image and text to be laid out. So now I just need to get enough money to get it printed. It is an all or nothing bet – if I don’t reach the target by April 10 then nobody gets charged, I get no funding and my manuscript goes in the bin!
Q13) For anybody wanting to see this book published they really need to get behind your Kickstarter campaign and pre-order before Monday April 10th 2017. How big and what format is your proposed book?
A13) Many readers may remember that a few years ago the NGV held an exhibition called Mid-Century Modern and produced a catalogue to accompany it. My book will be the same size, 240 mm wide and 290 mm high, quality hardback, and will feature nearly 300 pages with 250 beautiful photographs. I’ve been working with a fabulous graphic artist in the UK who is passionate about mid-century design and experienced in designing books and she has produced a fantastic result. There will be two versions of the book – with a limited edition of 200 copies signed and numbered and presented in a 3mm cardboard sleeve for protection.
Q14) For anybody that misses the opportunity to pre-order the book as part of your Kickstarter campaign before the cut-off date, how much will it be and where can it be purchased?
A14) Just as it is an all or nothing bet for me it is the same for potential readers. I don’t want to get stuck with a garage full of books or fiddle about supplying small quantities to book shops and chasing them for payment so I am only planning to basically print what I sell. So if anyone misses out on the Kickstarter campaign they will have to keep their eyes out on the internet for a second hand copy – not that I imagine anyone will want to part with their copy!
Q15) Apart from pre-ordering your book, what advice would you give to anyone who is looking to start collecting Featherston?
A15) No one should be under the impression they can collect Featherstons (or anything) to get rich. The market is fickle and prices have gone down as well as up during the time I have been collecting. If you love it and want it then my advice is to search for examples in good original condition. Keep an eye out for modern licenced reproductions and of course learn how to spot the copies (they are so bad this is not hard at the moment). But mainly I say to would be collectors –don’t start – there are too many already so stay away!
Thanks for your time today Geoff, and best of luck with getting the support you need on Kickstarter to publish your beautiful art book. I really hope to see it gracing lots of mid-century coffee tables in the future. Secret Design Studio will be purchasing multiple copies of “Featherston” for a new client promotion to run later this year.
To support Geoff’s Kickstarter campaign to assist with the publishing costs please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/grantfeatherston/grant-featherston-book-australian-mid-century-desi/description. Support pledges run from as little as $5, but you will need to pledge at least $65 to receive a book. The campaign is an “All or Nothing” campaign and must reach the target by Monday April 10th for the book to be published. No one will be charged for a pledge towards this book publication unless it reaches its funding goal.
Secret Design Studio is always on the lookout for interesting places and people for Australian mid-century design interviews. If you would like to be interviewed and have lots of photos that you would like to share please contact me,
Secret Design Studio
0448 579 707
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Trish Hunter who was good enough to give me some of her time to talk to me about “The Vintage Post”.
When did Trish Hunter first become interested in vintage?
I’d love to say I have always been interested in vintage but that would be a flat out lie. I was dragged from opshop to opshop as a kid and hated them. It wasn’t until 2011 when I did a ‘modeling’ (I say that very lightly) job for my local country opshop to raise awareness of the cool things they had, and I wore a 1980’s prom dress down the stage.
The quality for the price, along with the fact that no one else would have anything like this got me excited and I became an opshopper since then. Opshops are where most vintage enthusiasts begin, however sadly the things I now chase can never be found in opshops anymore (without a massive amount of luck!) so vintage shops are where I frequent, and what I’m really passionate about. So much so I opened two of my own shops, both of which I’ve sold, and now host a website that promotes vintage shops and vintage places alike!
How did the idea of your mobile vintage pop-up caravan shop originate?
After I opened my online store, I needed another avenue to sell, so I started having stalls at Camberwell market once a fortnight. I did that for a year or so and was forever disheartened by the weather, with a few odd warm days amongst. My stock would get wet and ruined, and I was a bit over it. I also wanted to charge more for my stock, but felt that being just another market stall holder, I couldn’t do it without doing something different.
The dream of having my own bricks and mortar vintage store was always lingering in the back of my mind, but I just wasn’t ready for it yet. I started thinking of concepts outside of the square that might get me noticed, while also protecting my stock.
Then, the caravan popped into my head. At the time however, it felt really silly. Surely that couldn’t work? Could it? I put it in the back of my head, but it kept coming up. I was designing my shop inside a caravan. I was starting to obsess over it, so I hit up google and typed in something like ‘converting a caravan into a shop.’
I thought the results would leave me just as stuck as I already was, but to my delight, someone in America had done exactly what I wanted. Some people might have been disappointed to find out that their idea wasn’t original, but I was pumped! It meant my idea wasn’t ridiculous, it meant it was completely possible, and someone was making a career out of it. I wasn’t nuts! This could work!
So off I went planning, and researching restoring vintage caravans. (I have actually written two blogs that might help others wanting to start doing this process too!
http://www.thevintagepost.com/buy-vintage-caravan-look/ (there’s two parts.) This is all I wished I knew before buying mine, because I actually nearly bought three in total due to lack of knowledge.
Whatever happened to your lovely caravan?
I sold my beloved caravan around the same time I sold my bricks and mortar shop, as I’d moved on from selling vintage and wanted to start writing about it. I sold them to pursue the dream of The Vintage Post!
It got picked up from my country home one cold morning (there were tears!), towed up to Brisbane and turned into a tea house! It’s surely going to have a few different lives in it’s lifetime!
The Vintage Post is such a wonderful resource and online concept. How did it start?
Ooh thanks so much! It began as a small segment on my old blog called ‘Trish Hunter Finds’. The segment was called ‘Retro Roadshow,’ I wanted to feature people’s collections!
It all blossomed from there. I wanted to feature vintage shops, businesses, services, home owners, bloggers, and more!
It turned into a sort of online magazine that really promotes vintage!
I felt that with all of the vintage ‘picker’ shows around, it’s really devalued vintage. Everyone’s trying to get a bargain, and running vintage shops was getting harder and harder. I wanted to help fix this by creating a bond with business owners and their businesses, so that people who visit The Vintage Post, could connect with the businesses before they’ve even visited, so that they see past the bargain hunt mentality, and be happy to pay the price on the ticket because they’ve had a wonderful experience and they sort of know the owners from what they’ve read.
So many directories just have a map and phone number. To me, that isn’t going to help make a sale when readers come and visit your place. They need to connect and feel excited to discover your place.
This is the connection I wanted to form.
I understand the importance of this from having had my own bricks and mortar shop.
How would you describe your vintage style?
My vintage style would probably best be described as colourful.
Most of my furniture and homewares are from the 50s/60s and my eye is particularly drawn to space age and atomic pieces. Three legs on furniture? Yes please!
My home features light solid timbers, ribbon lamps, unknown artworks, and my collection of Ellis pottery, (I have a really big thing for ceramics!) I also really love supporting Australian designed pieces. From furniture to ceramics. I love what Australia has made in the past and think they have a really strong aesthetic.
Do you see the public’s love of vintage ever fading, or going out of style?
I never see vintage going out of fashion, as the quality for the value is just too good. However I do see changes happening. Particularly with clothing. The 90’s (yep the 90’s!) is back and bold and looking like it’s going to stick around for a while!
Vintage goes around in circles, so vintage itself will always be strong, it’s the things that are trendy that will change.
What is the next thing for The Vintage Post?
Ooh, lots of things! This year it’s all about building up The Vintage Post even further, and getting even more exposure for the businesses that have joined our directory! That’s always the number one goal… Get people vintage shopping!
Something I’m super excited about is an e-book that I’ll be beginning work on shortly and hope to have published within a year. I can’t wait to tell everyone more about that but at this early stage that’s all I can say!
I’m also hoping to travel a bit more around Australia and meet with collectors! That’s my favourite part. I always learn so much and love to share it all with the world!
Where can we find you online?
You can visit The Vintage Post at www.thevintagepost.com
I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thevintageposts
and Instagram at www.instagram.com/thevintagepost