Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Yum-yum linoleum

Somewhere, sometime in the 1960s, I wandered into a general store to buy a loaf of bread, or some such mundane item. Their floor stopped me in my tracks. It was black, with a pattern of lozenges, circles, squares and triangles in colours like lime green, strawberry pink, orange, mint blue…I stood staring at the linoleum, mouth watering for the printed-on candies, until a nudge from some grown-up person sent me back to the great outdoors.

The idea of pure, random shape as art has been with us since Kasimir Malevich painted a black square on a white background. He belonged to the Supremacists, artists who sought to dissociate their paintings from the ‘real’ world. No doubt they found freedom in their floating shapes, after the material excesses and bombastic promise of ‘moral improvement’ of Victorian times.

We carry the meditative legacy of Malevich, Popova and Rodchenko today. We have this triumvirate to thank for polka dots, and candy stripes, gingham checks and those wonderful, jazzy triangles of the 1960s. Brightly-coloured, irreducible shapes in combo are visual music, redolent of fun, youth, innocence, summer days on the beach and impromptu parties on winter nights – just think candy canes, drinking straws, spotted beakers and metal-foil party hats. It is no surprise that the moniker of Tate Modern was a series of regularly spaced dots in Smartie-bright colours.

Which brings me round again to my opening theme – forget your subtle, mock-terracotta and ceramic floor coverings. I like a kitchen lino that looks good enough to eat.

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