In 2016 Allistair Covell, along with two other Fellows, moved from the Farmhouse studio in Stevenage to the Fenners building studios based in Letchworth. He is an award-winning Contemporary Surface Designer with a background in fine art and printed textiles. In March 2017 Allistair was invited to become a member of the prestigious Design-Nation, an online portfolio that showcases and supports the best practitioners within Craft, Design and Product design in Great Britain.
1) How would you describe your current practice?
My practice is an exploration of colour and pattern on a surface. I create paintings on canvas and paper, which are then developed further and translated into hand-knotted rugs and carpets. The rugs, handmade in Nepal and Afghanistan by skilled craftsmen, blur the line between art and design, making bold statements for under your feet or hanging on your wall.
As a synaesthete I create work that is heavily inspired by my sensory responses to sound, particularly music. My paintings are visual records of the patterns, movements and characteristics found within music, illustrated through expressive brush strokes, vibrant colours and abstract marks. In recent months my work has developed to also include, alongside musical influences, faint shapes and suggestions of the urban and natural landscape, creating ambiguous abstract scenes. These paintings are beginning to explore the concept of the memory of a place or a time, rather than of an actual environment.
2) What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops etc)?
In September 2017 I will be featuring in two major design trade fairs during the London Design Festival 2017. The first show is Decorex International, which is open from the 17th – 20th September, located within the grounds of Syon Park in London. Decorex is the show that opens the London Design Festival and is internationally renowned for being the destination where interior design professionals discover the finest and most coveted luxury products from new, emerging and established talent.
I have been invited to appear on the Design-Nation stand at Decorex and I will be showing, alongside other examples of my work, the award-winning The City rug, which won me the Best Young Designer award at the 9th Carpet Design Awards in 2014. To be able to showcase my work at Decorex alongside established designers and world-renowned brands is a professional dream come true. I feel honoured to have been selected by Design-Nation and to show my work alongside 4 other exceptionally talented designers: Coucou Manou, Jacky Puzey, Melanie Porter and Snowden Flood, who, like myself, produce artworks and products for the interiors market. For more information and tickets to visit Decorex please visit: http://www.decorex.com
The second show I am appearing in is Tent London, one of the design destinations that is part of The London Design Fair, held within the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Open to trade and the public from the 21st – 24th September, the London Design Fair brings together over 500 exhibitors from 28 countries, including designers, established brands, international country design pavilions and pop-up exhibitions. For more information and tickets to visit Tent London please visit: http://www.londondesignfair.co.uk [public days 23rd and 24th September only]
3) What are your plans for the coming year and what have you been up to this year so far?
Immediate plans involve getting ready for the shows in September and working on some other ongoing projects, one including the possibility of an exhibition that celebrates Digswell Art’s 60th Anniversary. A majority of my time this year has been spent creating new work and planning for Tent London and Decorex.
At Tent London I will be introducing new rug designs that are part of the ongoing #CanvasToCarpet series and unveiling another collection called #ColourShapeMusic. The rugs in this new series perfectly embody the three areas that inspire my work: colour, shape and music. New designs in this rug collection include imagery based on drawings of mini plasticine sculptures (small 3D forms that are an extension of my 2D paintings), patterns inspired by my iPad sketches and one, the LDN rug, which is an interpretation of a visual diary sketch I created on a trip to London over ten years ago.
4) What is the question you get asked most about your work and how do you answer it?
People ask me how did I get in to designing rugs as it is quite a specialist career path and one that isn’t really studied at university. I usually reply with I think fate had something to do with it… After university I returned to painting and wanted to create work on a larger scale and initially considered transferring my artworks onto fabric. A couple of months later I was with friends in London and we stumbled upon the rug room in Harrods. I began to see here was another potential canvas but I had no idea how to start designing a rug or who to approach. Then a week or so later I believe fate stepped in. I saw an opportunity in COVER magazine calling for artists to submit designs for a carpet design competition. I sent in a painting and didn’t think I would get very far. Out of the blue two months later I was informed that my design had been selected as one of the three finalists in the Best Young Designer category at the Carpet Design Awards and that my painting was being made into a rug in Afghanistan. Along with the other international finalists I was flown to Hannover in Germany to attend the awards ceremony at the DOMOTEX trade show and it was announced that I had won the Best Young Designer award. I remember thinking – how did this happen so easily… I had an idea and it became a reality. Returning home on the plane I knew I had found my canvas and embarking on a new creative journey.
5) What or who inspired you to be an artist and why?
In regards to ‘what inspired me to be an artist’ I wonder if it dates back to seeing a picture as a child of a female artist sitting in her studio – I can’t remember who it was. She was surrounded by brightly coloured paintings on the walls, sketchbooks and fabric samples laid across her desk, with sunlight pouring in through the window to the side of her… I probably thought at the time it would be nice to have a space to paint in, never thinking I would actually one day have that.
I think its more than likely a collection of people over the years who have inspired me to be an artist. Being part of a creative family has been a blessing and a real benefit plus I feel lucky to have had a number of positive and inspiring tutors at school, college and later university. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who have never been shy to give me advice, constructive criticism or offering support should the need arise.
6) Which artist do you most admire and why?
I don’t think I can pick just one artist as there are many artists as well as designers, musicians and singers who I admire and these do change depending on what I’m interested in or working on at that time. A snapshot of what I have been up to recently includes admiring the exceptional work of Dovecot Studio’s The Caged Bird’s Song tapestry, based on a watercolour by Chris Ofili, currently on show at the National Gallery and brilliantly explored in the BBC documentary; enjoying the epic cinematic soundscapes of Lust For Life, Lana Del Rey’s new album; discovering an amazing book on Contemporary Rugs in a second-hand bookshop and getting the most out of my Tate membership with repeat visits to exhibitions featuring Hockney, Rauschenberg and Giacometti in recent months.
7) How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?
Being a fellow of Digswell Arts has enabled me to concentrate on my creative practice and I feel very fortunate to have a studio. Last year I moved to the Fenners studio in Letchworth, along with two ceramicists, from the Farmhouse site in Stevenage as that studio was closing. It feels great to be part of a new group of artists and designers that includes, alongside other fine artists and ceramicists, a jeweller, a weaver, a photographer and a taxidermist. We are a diverse group and it is creatively stimulating to have a studio in a place where I am able to learn different skills and observe others at work. I also feel lucky that I have had the opportunity to experience having a studio at two separate two sites as most fellows will only experience being in one place.
Digswell Arts has an incredible legacy and its reputation is widely respected within the arts community and I feel fortunate to be a part of it. When I met other artists, gallery curators or the public at exhibitions, I am proud to say I have a studio with Digswell Arts and they recognise the name Digswell and familiar with the work of past fellows. They also tend to seem generally surprised that Digswell Arts is still going after 60 years!
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