Thursday 25 February 2016

DIY Delaunay

As we look forward to our visit to Tate Modern's Alexander Calder exhibition, with all its mobile-making, sculpture-building inspirational potential, I've been thinking back to one of last year's brilliant exhibitions and the great children's art opportunities it spawned. We were amidst the chaos of house moving when we visited Tate's Sonia Delaunay exhibition and I didn't get chance to write it up at the time. However, despite the exhibition being over, the follow-on project we created was one of our most enjoyable, and so I wanted to share it as a great project to do any time at home.

Tate Modern's exhibition itself was fabulous and extremely welcome. Not only did it cover a period I adore (the roaring 20s and beyond), feature a range of work from paintings to rotating textiles and handbags in fabulously vivid colours and exciting patterns, but it also showcased the creative genius of a female artist. If you google Delaunay, you get a variety of listings about Robert, her (perhaps better known) husband, but I've always had rather a penchant for the lady. I stumbled across her gorgeous textile designs during my degree and have adored her work ever since. Reading about the exhibition I also love that one of her inspirations was her children. Whilst, at times, mothers perhaps feel that as their caring responsibilities and tiredness increase, their own creativity and inner world decreases accordingly, but that need not always be the case. On my better days when the two worlds collide, creativity inspired by devotion can produce some of the most joyful results. Delaunay said:
"About 1911 I had the idea of making for my son, who had just been born, a blanket composed of bits of fabric like those I had seen in the houses of Russian peasants. When it was finished, the arrangement of the pieces of material seemed to me to evoke cubist conceptions and we then tried to apply the same process to other objects and paintings."
 Delaunay loved colour and described it as the skin of life. Her use of colour was intended to bring movement, light and musical qualities to her work and she experimented with juxtaposition - believing that colours would appear different depending on those surrounding them. This was known as Simultanism. Much of her work also features simple shapes and patterns. What better an activity to take to the exhibition then, than a packet of felt coloured shapes I made at home to play with, arrange and also spot in the artworks? The children were really engaged with this latter task, and played the game throughout several rooms. They also clearly sensed Delaunay's evocation of movement in her art. In the room dedicated to her her vast seven-metre murals Motor, Dashboard and Propeller, (happily empty at the time) the children felt compelled to zoom around as aeroplanes, clearly taking her colourful and dynamic images as invitation into her world.

Either side of the exhibition we read the beautiful book Madame Sonia Delaunay by Gerard Lo Monaco and published by Tate. With beautiful paper engineering and based on Delaunay's works, we were transported through solar systems, ocean waves, jungles and through clouds; spotting details in her art and even seeing a fashion show of theatrical costumes. As soon as this book arrived Culturebaby propped it up and used it as inspiration for some simple but effective abstract watercolour painting (watercolours are incidentally extremely easy for little people to use and are often our medium of choice).

For our main Delaunay-inspired project we continued with our exploration of fashion history by creating our own Delaunay-inspired costumes for our collection of dolls. Our Georgian project (here) had captured Culturebaby's imagination for weeks and a foray into the early years of the 20th Century was equally successful. The '20s style dress is a simple one to prepare in bulk with a hole for the head in the centre of a long rectangle (which could then be tied together with a low-slung ribbon). I cut out a selection of these templates in white fabric I had received in an off-cuts bag from the local material shop and provided felt tip pens, ribbon and foam shapes. The children looked through the Delaunay exhibition guide and chose an image of three dresses for inspiration. We propped it up and worked on our own designs. We also situated the style of the dresses we were producing in our beautiful timeline from Big Picture Press Shirts, Skirts and Shoes, illustrated by Sanna Mander. 
I was so impressed by the range of designs that the 3, 5 and 8 year olds created. The boy designed a colourful suit and the mummies had an extremely cathartic time indulging in a little geometric repetition.

It was one of those successful creative afternoons where the children really wanted to carry on playing with the theme. I had laid out a range of colour and shape activities to appeal to all, from toddler upwards.
Tesselating shapes

Home-made colour sorting activity

Colourful shape sorting and stacking

And we got the easel and tables out for some outdoor painting:

We loved this project. It was so simple but satisfying - and happily it also provided a whole new summer wardrobe for a grateful gang of vintage barbies. No more off-the-peg for them this year.

Disclaimer: We received copies of the two books mentioned in this post for review purposes. All other materials and ideas are our own. If you liked this post you can see more colour play ideas in a previous post here

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