‘Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art’ exhibition at the House of Illustration

Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art at the House of Illustration celebrates life and work of this inspirational but little known artist, a designer and painter. Enid Marx (1902-1998), also known as ‘Marco’ had a very strong personality and would rarely take no for an answer. She did not shy away from unconventional commissions and worked in variety of media. Her designs were made for the people, be it textiles for seats for the London Underground, post stamps, posters, book illustrations and covers.

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Together with her life-long companion, historian Margaret Lambert she shared a deep interest in British folk and popular art – several pieces from of Marx and Lambert’s very eclectic collection are also on display, there are various paraphernalia, animal figurines, Valentine cards, and drawings of curious objects. Some of Marx’s illustrations and prints, especially those featuring animals, recall folk art aesthetics, such as the drawings for children’s books which she wrote herself, or her charming series of linocuts Marco’s Animal Alphabet.

IMG_8619-Edit enid marx P for Porcupine from Marco's Animal Alphabet 1979
Enid Marx – P for Porcupine from Marco’s Animal Alphabet (1979) (image source)

Marx studied at the Royal College of Art in 1920s where she was refused a diploma as she was considered too modern or too abstract.[1, 2] This injustice was rectified years later when she was appointed an Honorary Fellow in 1982.[2] During her time at the RCA she was not allowed to attend the wood engraving course, so her friend Eric Ravilious sometimes sneaked her in after hours and taught her what he learned in those classes.[1]

During the WWII Marx worked for the Board of Trade Utility Furniture Committee. The Committee chose and supervised the production of designs which were sold at fixed price to bombed-out households and returning servicemen. Marx was tasked with designing curtain and seating fabrics. In her work as a designer she often had to go against the grain, working with manufacturers who were stubbornly conservative in their vision of what design for the masses should look like. For example she opposed manufacturers’ poor choices of very dull colours for fabrics. What public needed in those challenging war times was, according to Marx, ‘GAY colour after blackout, [with] well drawn and not too insistent design’.[1]

GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-M-41-1 Enid Marx
Enid Marx (original image reference number GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-M-41-1 image source)

Marx’s talent found a range of applications in various media, apart from textiles for which she was perhaps best known, she also worked on other commissions which could be found in public spaces such as posters, or were mass produced such as the stamps she designed for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. She also prepared a series of designs for Royal Mail Special Stamps, but was unsuccessful on multiple occasions. The only Special Stamps of her design that made it into print were the Christmas stamps of 1976. Their design was based on several embroideries from the corpus of Opus Anglicanum (Latin for ‘English work’, the term refers to English ecclesiastical embroidery; medieval English embroiderers were famed for their skills). Marx used details from the vestments which ‘had lovely Christmassy subjects, and represented a time when England was top in Europe in one of the arts’.[1] There is an element of national pride in this statement, and the choice for the designs also reflect the artist’s interest in traditional English art. Additionally, Marx’s comment brings to mind the difficulties traditionally faced by female artists, who were often confronted with institutional bias in art schools and were confined to ‘lesser’ arts, meaning arts other than painting. Some years earlier, on her appointment as the first female Royal Designer for the Industry in 1944, she said that she felt that she had been finally recognized as a professional – ‘Before I was like most women artists, just considered an amateur’.[2]

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Enid Marx’s Christmas stamps (image source)

On display is a small but varied selection of Enid Marx’s designs, textiles, prints and illustrations, as well as the objects she collected. There is also a short video about the artist who features briefly in the archival footage. The exhibition is a rare treat, and not only for design buffs.

 

Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art at the House of Illustration from 25 May until 23 September 2018.

You can read more about the exhibition at the House of Illustration website: https://www.houseofillustration.org.uk/whats-on/current-future-events/enid-marx-print-pattern-and-popular-art/

References:

[1] gallery label

[2] http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/collections/design-archives/resources/rdis-at-britain-can-make-it,-1946/enid-marx University of Brighton design archives

Images:

http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/cv_collections/p-for-porcupine-from-marcos-animal-alphabet/

https://www.stampworld.com/en/stamps/Great-Britain/Postage%20stamps/1970-1979?year=1976

http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/collections/design-archives/resources/rdis-at-britain-can-make-it,-1946/enid-marx  image reference number: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-M-41-1

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