turning 50 and looking for role models who can show me how to do it with style and grace
Textile and Surface Designer
December 11, 1960
The recent discovery that my grandfather was, in fact, half Indian - and that he had felt the need to disguise his heritage in order to fit in - may explain a bit about a lot. It may explain why I used to wonder whether my sister was adopted (her skin being so much browner than mine) and it may explain my love of the exotic and all things foreign and different. It may also explain my love of ambiguity in colour (is it blue or green? is it ugly or beautiful?) and my love of mixing unrelated things from different cultures and then making them into something new and striking.With hindsight this interest in visual order and patterning was evident in my earliest enthusiasms too. I loved collecting shells, feathers, pebbles, postcards, sweet wrappers, anything that caught my eye. My earliest memories involve the thrill of finding new things to collect. As a child of divorced parents my childhood may have been a little chaotic but I received great solace unpacking my collection of prized objects and arranging and rearranging them on a shelf or bedside table. I found tremendous joy in forming visual order out of chaos. And I am still at it today.There are other things I’m still at. When I was at boarding school I would dive under the bed covers after ‘lights out’ and draw by torchlight with a very fine Rotring pen. I have always needed these moments of retreat, of burrowing under. It was so funny to find myself diving under the table in Kristin's shoot. I’m sure it came from the same place, the same instinct that had me diving under the covers at school. I know I’m lucky that my creativity has given me an inner life to retreat to.My shortsightedness has ironically also given me a rich polarity in how I see the world. Before I discovered that I needed specs, aged eight, I had to get very close up to see anything with clarity but was rewarded with a wonderfully magnified view of fine detail. Marks on a shell or a flower or map held a wonderful intrigue. They still do and they provide important details in my designs – but, equally, the blurry forms of distance viewing have given me a valuable sense of the power of the abstract. Nothing was what it seemed in those early days without specs! And I like to keep it that way.From an early age I also loved that feeling of serendipity and would happily wander off the beaten track, whether it was on a walk in the country or visiting a foreign city, in the hope that I might chance upon something surprising. This is exactly what happened when I took a wrong turn in the V and A museum in 1980 and found myself face to face with a wonderful dot and crescent pattern from the 15th Century Ottoman Empire. These bold modern looking patterns were as striking to me as my favourite Russian Avant Garde paintings of the early 20th Century. They opened up for me a whole new world and changed the course of my career. On leaving the V and A I got the bus straight back to college, barged into the Principal's office and petitioned to change my degree course from Graphics to Textiles.When she was shooting me for This is Fifty Kristin says she felt that I was unselfconsciously aware of the shape I was making as part of the overall composition of the shot, that I was I was naturally approaching this strange experience of being photographed in the same way as I would one of my own designs. That my body was both the pencil as well as the subject. That I was retreating as well as revealing. I was as concerned about the gaps as I was about the shapes.As in art as well as in life, it’s the absences, the bits that are missing, that are as important as the roles we inhabit - and what matters, in the end, is the connection between them.
What are you seeing?
After the exhibition last summer at the Queens Gallery I am drooling over In Fine Style The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion by Anna Reynolds. A visual feast of textile s and fashion. Just saw the mouth watering jewellery from the Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of London. Booked and looking forward to Ghosts by Ibsen at the Almedia as well as Manon at the Royal Opera House.
What are you reading?
Anton Joseph by Salmon Rushdie, just finished Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer and Keats biography and love letters by Andrew Motion. Waiting in the queue by my bedside table: The Hand Made Loaf by Dan Lepard. An honest, simple book about the real passion and craftsmanship of bread making from around the world. A great Christmas present given to me by a friend.
Who are you listening to?
Lorraine Hunt singing Handel arias from Theodora La Lucrezia and Serse.
The embroidered coat is from Frederique Birkenmeyer a Moroccan designer along with Rajesh Pratap Singh in Delhi, my favourites. Day uniform is jeans, pumps and tailored shirts so I am delighted to have recently discovered Chavret in Paris.
I was born after a very long labour with the help of Milk of MagNESIA to induce me! I was christened Camilla but the nick name Neisha stuck. Funny it is an Indian name a bit of fore shadowing here!?
Advice to a young design student?
Always have your head fixed on doing things that feel fresh new and surprising.Neisha Crosland