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  • Sophie Harpley

Reading Patterns I: Enid Marx

A couple of years ago I found myself in a small but perfectly formed bookshop. Perfect because every book seemed to be about an artist or designer I love, everything I picked up was intriguing, it felt like it had been curated just for me. This was in fact the gift shop at Pallant House, an art gallery in Sussex said to house 'the best collection of modern British art in the UK'. But it felt so serendipitous as the visit was entirely by chance while visiting my wonderful great aunt nearby.

Having soaked up a John Piper exhibition, including everything from paintings to needlework and handmade rugs, I was already brimming with arty endorphins. To then discover my whole 'to read' list silently waiting for me at the end meant my aesthetic journey through modernism didn't need end there. Quickly I snapped up tomes on Barbara Hepworth, Enid Marx and of course John Piper, then off I skipped into the Sussex sunshine. Well guess what happened next?...

These three new books joined several trillion other volumes that gather dust on my bookshelves whilst I busy myself with, well, work. Contrary to the illusion my art-school self might have held that being a designer meant 'soaking up inspo' all day long, most of the time being 'freelance' actually means working rather hard all day at the graphic coalface. And so it came to be that it took me TWO years to pick up that slim volume on Enid Marx again, but I'm so glad I did.

Enid Marx

What I discovered in it's pages was a colourful insight into a patch of design history. With cameo appearances from both the Erics (AKA Eric Gill and Eric Ravillious, game-changers of British modernism) Marx certainly rubbed shoulders with some interesting creative types. There were also insights into the inner workings of arguably one of the earliest 'brands' Transport for London and the charming world of mid century book publishing too.

Enid Marx, dogs artwork

Most remarkably of all is the sheer volume and breadth of work created by Enid in her lifetime. With etchings in books, illustrations on postage stamps and her patterns adorning everything from endpapers to the upholstery of the London Underground. The sad thing is that there has yet to be any major retrospective of her work (while of course we hear no end of her male contemporaries like Edward Bawden and other pupils of Paul Nash under whom she studied). With such a portfolio of inventive and intricate work, I hope the curators of Britain will soon hear me on this and put on a show! Enid's work is a display of rare talent but also, now a time capsule from a period when human craftsmanship reigned, technology was decades from catching up and the production of intricate beauty was directly in the artist's hands.

Enid Marx, book illustrations

Authors Ruth Artmonsky and Brian Webb have done a wonderful job and I was pretty chuffed with myself for reading this cover-to-cover instead of a novel for a change. It began a new pattern for me too.

Enid Marx, Thee White Bear
Enid Marx, Flower baskets

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