David Thorpe’s work is concerned with the relationship between objects and their makers, with a particular interest in the role of craft and labour in handmade design and art. “I’m playing with certain associations,” he has said, “slightly New Age, slightly Space Age, slightly threatening…I’m absolutely in love with people who build up their own systems of belief.” This idea is reflected in works that variously reference modernist principles of object-making, utopian social architecture, Japanese woodblock prints, and Victorian paper-cutting.
In the past Thorpe has made elaborate collaged paintings, but his more recent work explores the actualisation of pattern through unusual three-dimensional renderings that highlight the tension between exquisite decorativeness and the aura of DIY home-craft manuals.
The works shown here all make reference to an interconnectedness between ideology and lifestyle. I Am Golden (2003) is a miniature temple-like structure that also doubles as a plant stand. Endeavours and Private Lives (both 2010) allude to the aesthetics and theories of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century and the democratising art ideals of William Morris and John Ruskin. Thorpe’s large pattern-covered objects have been executed with the collaborative assistance of skilled artisans trained in recreating labour-intensive medieval recipes for making paint and ceramic moulds.
The mesmerising repeated motifs of Endeavours are inspired by William Morris’s elaborate title page for John Ruskin’s famous essay ‘Nature of Gothic’, which defines the artist as ‘a Naturalist’ who seeks true beauty by illustrating nature and the human being ‘in its wholeness’.
Labour in and of itself stands as the central, distilled idea behind Thorpe’s object, whose functionality is deliberately unclear. Private Lives, a plaster form resting on wooden legs, is similarly adorned with stylised leaves and vines made of carefully cut leather. Emanating from it is a light that imbues the sculpture with an almost devotional symbolic charge of self-sufficiency.