Sunday 24 February 2013


                              Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

I felt very uninspired and a little unwell yesterday which may explain why I spent over an hour trying to crack the expression on a dingo's face.  Say that last bit in an Australian accent and it sounds like a colourful euphemism, but I really was just struggling disproportionately with some animal drawings.  I decided to give up for a while and as I put (what's left of) my putty rubber in a home-made card box a memory came to me and I thought I'd come in and waste some time blogging instead.  So, just to bring some colour into these grey, bleak February days, here's something bright and retro, inspired by thinking about Aussies and boxes. (Not cricket!)

I was lucky enough to catch the temporary Ossie (ok it's tenuous!) Clark exhibition in the fashion section of the V&A ten years ago.  I love so many things in the V&A but the fashion exhibits are amongst my favourites and it was brilliant to see some of his striking original outfits from the '60s and '70s while I had the chance.  As a memento I bought these great little postcards of sketches by Ossie’s textile-designer wife, Celia Birtwell, from 1969.  I just love the drawings and her vibrant, graphic fabrics.

Celia and Ossie were part of the sixties 'Bohemian' set, living in Notting Hill and having close connections with many notable rock'n'roll names of the time.  There's something really compelling about the famous painting of them (and their cat) by David Hockney which is apparently thought to be the 'most-viewed' picture ever at the Tate (I make do with my tatty postcard of it, above).  Their clothes were worn by the Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Twiggy and Marianne Faithfull amongst others.  Looking at the designs above they seem to epitomise the late '60s/early '70s - but Celia was particularly inspired by artists from other eras - such as Matisse, costume designer Leon Bakst (whose drawings I adore!) and Picasso.

I was really attracted to these designs, even though I suspect I could never have pulled off those dresses! - at least not without looking like an auditionee for 'Abigail's Party'... After that visit to the V&A, in homage to her, I made some boxes (I have a thing about boxes), put together very simply from stiff card, and painted her fabric patterns on them in acrylics.  All those years of watching Blue Peter as a kid must have paid off, although I can honestly say that no sticky-back-plastic was used here, nor were they ever intended for a hibernating tortoise.  They were only meant to be a bit of fun but I’ve been using them ever since and amazingly they haven't fallen apart yet.  I always need small containers for those easily-losable things but I rarely find ready-made ones in the right size; these one-offs do the job.  There's a selection of (what's left of) my putty rubbers in the bottom one.

It's ok, I'm not trying to pass the patterns off as originals - they are pure Celia Birtwell
and for my personal use only!  (I add paranoiacally)

And here’s Sandie Shaw wearing it.  The Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell dress, I mean, not a hand-made box.  I came across this clip by accident and was strangely excited when I recognised the material of her outfit!  (If, like me, you really don't want to hear 'Puppet On A String' yet one more time, even - or especially - sung in German, then I recommend turning the sound off and imagining it's her version of 'Your Time Is Gonna Come').

Sitting here now in an old brown marl jumper I’m feeling so terribly drab…  Maybe I need to don a green and yellow maxi dress to help inspire, especially as I have to cogitate on a koala today.  I wish I could be as creative as Ms Birtwell.

UPDATE:  By pure coincidence I just found that there is this Ossie Clark exhibition going on right now!


  1. Replies
    1. Now - where did I put that Demis Roussos album?

  2. Ah, brilliant - I love that about your brightly coloured presence amongst those Welsh sheep, and have a vivid picture of it in my mind right now :-)

    I'm super-impressed by your David Hockney connection! What a great thing for him to say as well. It'd be good to think he DOES remember that moment - who knows? It would be as nice an anecdote for him to recall as it is for you.

  3. Those boxes are gorgeous!

    And here's a loosely associated factoid: my big sister, when still in her teens and ravishingly beautiful (think Jane Fonda in 'Barbarella') was once browsing wistfully in one of Ossie Clark's shops. Ossie Clark happened to be on the premises, and in a fit of who-knows-what he GAVE my sister one of his dresses "because it would make me happy to think of it being worn by such a beautiful girl." Has she still got it? No, she bloody hasn't, and I've never forgiven her for putting it out for a jumble sale ten years later. BAH!

  4. Thanks both about the boxes - I would be perfectly happy making boxes all day long, every day (as long as I could paint them any way I like) but I don't think there'd be much of a future in it :-(

    Yes I'm with Yve on Kolley's tale, what a story (and it's guesswork for me too...) I think I saw that one of Ossie's original outfits is for sale at the moment for £11,000. Maybe that very one? Aargh!

  5. Eleven grand? ELEVEN GRAND???

    Thing is, if I tell her, I know she'll just shrug it off. She does indeed retain that 'easy come, easy go' spirit, which is probably a very good thing. Though of course, I'm guessing, too...


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