You may want to put a lemon under your chair after visiting Alice Pattullo’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Sharon Dale reveals why.
“There are a lot of baking superstitions. One of my favourites is ‘if a cat enters the room while dough is being kneaded, the bread will rise’,” says artist and illustrator Alice, who has based her most ambitious exhibition yet around the theme of household folklore and traditions.
Of House and Home is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and its 60 screen-printed pictures take visitors on a journey through a Victorian home, from the garden to the parlour and into the kitchen.
The Household Lore series of prints feature quirky beliefs, plant remedies and words of wisdom. Elderflower and Hawthorn is a beautiful image laced with the words: “Hawthorn bloom and elderflowers fill the house with evil powers.” Jug states that “it is bad luck to drink straight from a jug”.
The Parlour Pastimes collection of pictures is warm and nostalgic and explores traditional crafts practised by Victorian women. Embroidery, shell work and letter writing were commonplace then.
“That was partly inspired by the women in my family who never sit still. There’s always something going on. Mum will quilt while watching a film and my granny used to do samplers, so I was interested in looking at what Victorian women produced in their parlours.
“I found it very interesting that a lot of the designs brought nature inside with lots of floral motifs made from shells, hair or feathers,” says Alice, who grew up in Newcastle, where her mother was a textile artist and her father an architect.
The largest piece in her YSP show is House Quilt, which is made up of 100 screen-printed wooden squares pieced together in the style of a patchwork quilt. It pays homage to the traditional American schoolhouse quilts and to those made and collected by her mother
Along with making, researching has formed a big part of the exhibition. Alice had a head start as folklore is a subject close to her heart and a visit to folk arts centre Cecil Sharp House as part of a degree project further inspired her. She also has an excellent memory for “random facts” and “sayings”.
“I’ve got a short attention span and I like things that make me laugh. A lot of superstitions are quite absurd so they stick in my mind.”
Old books and historical research have yielded many gems. For those who loathe housework there’s “Never brush the dust away else your luck will go astray”.
For collectors of knick-knacks there’s a handy hint: “China ornaments of animals should never be placed facing a door, else your luck will run out of the house.”
The messages are delivered in artwork reminiscent of Alice’s favourite mid-century artists Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious and Barnett Freedman whose work straddles fine art and commercial illustration, just as hers does.
She studied illustration at university in Brighton and was an exchange student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. America, she says, taught her to be commercially minded.
When she left education, her strategy was to get her work into specific galleries and shops. This public arena prompted invitations to do commercial illustrations and her clients include Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, Gardens Illustrated magazine, Crabtree & Evelyn, the Royal Opera House, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft and Faber & Faber. Her debut children’s book, An Animal ABC, was published by Pavilion last year.
Alice, 29, now lives and works in London and loves the creative stimulation offered by the city’s galleries and museums.
Like many artists and makers, she has been regularly “evicted”. Her first rented workspace was in an old chapel in London Fields until it was sold and turned into luxury flats. She then moved to Hackney Downs but the landlord put the rent up so he could sell the building to developers. Her studio is now in Hackney Wick and her home is a rental property in Leyton but the situation is looking precarious as the areas are on the cusp of gentrification.
“I think that’s partly why the exhibition came about. I love London but the sad thing is I can’t afford to settle here so my theme was a dream situation ‘of house and home’ with a beautiful Regency house, a flower garden and a cat. That’s where I’d like to be but it’s also nostalgic, looking back to a time when housing was more affordable.”
Of House and Home, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to September 17. All the prints are available to buy, along with a limited edition screen-print, wallpaper and an exclusive range of homeware. ysp.co.uk
Alice Pattullo’s favourite superstitions:
Never brush the dust away else your luck will go astray
If your apron string come untied while you are baking, someone you love is thinking of you
If a woman strokes her doughy hands on a young boy’s face he will never grow a beard
Never turn a loaf out upside down, or you will turn a ship at sea
If you walk heavily across a room whilst baking, your bread will also be heavy
It is bad luck to drink straight from a jug