William Morris: The Poetics of Indigo Discharge Printing

Caroline Arscott at nonsite:

The systems featured in Morris’s designs often suggest conflict and attrition at the micro level along with harmony at the grander scale. Within the system of the design, principles of growth relate to his conception of the forces of nature and history. He constructed his designs to mirror and even exceed the powerful generative abilities of nature; he also intended them to be vectors for the energies of history.

Morris includes feeding rabbits in his textile print Brother Rabbit: he gives them as beneficiaries and examples of nature’s plenty (fig. 2). They feed, they grow, they multiply. He referenced natural forms, vegetal and animal, and sought to infuse these natural elements with a sense of life and growth—not for him the deathly display of elements technically “natural” but in some designers’ hands lacking the appearance of life. Like the biologists investigating cell structure and protoplasm he found a commonality in all living things. This allowed or obliged him to undo the fence around the domain of the design, to broaden the horizons, to allegorise and to visualise a macro-system. By the 1880s this system relates to history and society understood from the perspective of communist theory.

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