Original silkscreens, Bob Hawke’s wallpaper: A design history like no other
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Australia’s rich 60-year history of interior and fabric and wallpaper design – including an important chapter almost lost to posterity – will be digitally mapped on the facade of Customs House at Circular Quay as part of Vivid Sydney.
The winter lights’ festival kicks off Friday night with a striking eight-minute animation drawing from the archives of the Australian Museum of Design, custodian of a treasure trove of original hand-drawn fabric and wallpaper patterns dating back to Australia’s First Lady of wallpaper design, Florence Broadhurst.
Inside Out at Customs HouseCredit: Fairfax Media
The kaleidoscopic showcase is a unique collaboration between animation firm Spinifex and the inner-city archive, a switch of focus for Vivid after last year painting Customs House with the iconic works of artist Ken Done, and in other years animating deep sea creatures and surreal cityscapes.
Around 25 images have been heroed for the projection, Inside Out, sourced from more than 7,500 original hand-drawn designs rescued from cardboard boxes in a St Peters warehouse.
Among them are the original silkscreens from Broadhurst’s fashionable wallpaper factory in Paddington which operated until the designer’s unsolved murder in 1977.
“They tell the story of Australia’s design history like nothing else,” said Margaux Everett, chief executive of the Australian Museum of Design which acquired the archives last year and immediately set about crowdfunding the digitisation of the designs, by then in a fragile state.
CEO of the Australian Design Museum Margaux Everett with a sample of Florence Broadhurst’s design ‘Solar’ which will be projected at Customs House as part Vivid’s Inside Out event.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer
“If we hadn’t undertaken this restoration these precious film positives and silkscreens would have sat in the warehouse and been lost forever.”
For its 13th edition, Vivid Sydney director Gill Minervini says the festival is serving up its biggest program to date, with more than 300 events scheduled across light, music, and ideas, and with a new emphasis on food and dining.
Over 23 nights, the Opera House sails will be lit with a montage of 15 images by John Olsen, distilling the essence of the artist’s seventy-year career.
Margaux Everett with a sample of Florence Broadhurst’s design Yvan’s Geometric which will be projected on Customs House.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer
Life Enlivened (2023) will play as a posthumous tribute to the leading artist of his generation, who died last month, aged 95.
At Customs House, Inside Out will open with Broadhurst’s signature Art Nouveau-inspired print French Fountain, produced at her Sydney studio, morphing into Broadhurst’s Japanese Floral, Turnabouts and Horses Stampeding, some of these patterns once licensed by international fashion brand, Kate Spade.
Noel Lyons’ Strelitzia pattern of birds of paradise and bamboo border and irises from a Collette Dinnigan silk scarf, circa 2012, will also be highlighted in the public projection.
Editing the images down from among 600 patterns and designs that had been meticulously scanned from the archive was the biggest challenge, says Everett. From the late ’60s and early ’70s luxury wallpaper in florid colours and with a metallic sheen was the peak style in Australian homes.
“We’ve got the wallpaper from Bob Hawke’s tenure in Parliament House, that’s the type of history we’ve got here,” Everett said. “We have the zebra stripes by Carla Zampatti. You can still see the paint on the film positives; it’s like a talisman to another time.”
Broadhurst’s son, Robert Lloyd-Lewis, is thrilled with the homage to his mother’s designs and hopes they will find new fans all over the world.
“My mother was an adventurer,” he says. “This woman was born before the Wright Brothers flew a plane for the first time and the Ford Motorcar was brought to Australia.
“She went into acting and was picked up for a travelling revue and went to China and India, unheard of for a young woman in those times.
“In Shanghai, she started the Broadhurst Academy and taught everything from dancing to deportment to English to the children of wealthy Chinese families. I’ve never found a passport with a stamp for Japan, but she was fascinated by the Japanese.”
The display on Customs House.Credit: Wolter Peeters
Even after her death, Lloyd-Lewis said his mother’s wallpapers featured in many Gold Coast developments in the late 1970s and there remains a strong overseas market. The Broadhurst name had morphed into a brand gracing women’s sleepwear, wines, and soft furnishings.
Apart from finding new audiences, Lloyd Lewis hopes that publicity for the Customs House projection might also trigger memories that might help solve his mother’s 1977 murder. Lloyd-Lewis believes robbery was the likely motive.
“Some day, somebody is going to come along with the right evidence and I hope I’m still with us to receive that news. It’s part of her story and would be closure for me.”
Had she been alive to see commercial space travel, Lloyd-Lewis has no doubt that his mother would have wanted to wallpaper the interior of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. “And she would have been on the first flights,” he said.
Sydney Morning Herald subscribers can enjoy 2-for-1 tickets* to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales during June 2023. Click here for more details.
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