Pattern and Decoration

In the world of art and design patterns are everywhere – from decorative embellishments to primary motifs. Pattern is so essential to design and visual communication that we have devoted an entire chapter to it in our book Design: A Beginner’s Handbook.

Here are two contemporary American painters who were part of the loose affiliation of artists known as the Pattern and Decoration movement (sometimes called P&D) in the 1970s and 80s. The P&D artists looked for inspiration in a wide variety of sources such as quilts, doilies, wallpapers, ancient mosaics, Japanese kimonos, Islamic tiles, Oriental rugs, Indian miniatures and Victorian valentines. Wherever pattern could be found – and that’s pretty much everywhere – it was fair game for inspiration.

painting by Joyce Kosloff

Joyce Kozloff was one of the early members of the feminist movement in the 1970s and has a long-standing interest in the decorative arts and handicrafts often considered to be “women’s work.” She began her painting career exploring the busy and interlocking geometric patterns found in some traditional fiber arts. After traveling to Turkey and North Africa she became interested in the decorative motifs common on walls and floors of Islamic architecture. Her travels also encouraged her to include maps as another visual source for her paintings and installations. These maps are often charged with cultural and political references. Today Kozloff is known for her brightly colored and densely patterned paintings, her many public installations, her artist book publications and her political activism.

painting by Robert Zakenitch

Robert Zakanitch moved from commercial art to fine arts after seeing the energetic painting surfaces of the Abstract Expressionists. His early paintings were also influenced by the large primary forms and bold colors of the Minimalists. At first he used simple geometric shapes and basic grid patterns as a means of organizing his compositions. These straightforward compositional structures provided a solid foundation for his exploration of light, color and expressive paint application. Over the years the geometric shapes and grids have been replaced by a wide variety of decorative pattern motifs but his aggressive paint application and bold use of color have remained. His most ambitious creation is a series of five enormous paintings titled “The Big Bungalow Suite.” A painting from the series is shown above. Each painting in the suite is 11 x 30 feet (3.35 x 9.14 meters) and is inspired by the patterns he saw when he was growing up in his family’s working class home.

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