From Lon­don Un­der­ground to Tom Thumb

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ART JEN­NIFER LIPMAN

Ididn’t know much about Enid Marx be­fore I vis­ited the House of Illustration’s ex­hi­bi­tion of her work, other than that she was the daugh­ter of Ger­manJewish par­ents and was a key fig­ure in the 20th cen­tury tex­tiles and print-mak­ing scene. But I was in for a pleas­ant sur­prise. Born in 1902 — Marx’s life and ca­reer spanned the 20th cen­tury — she was a pro­lific artist, il­lus­tra­tor and vi­sion­ary, whose work now seems in­cred­i­bly con­tem­po­rary.

Brows­ing the 150 or so ex­am­ples of her work on dis­play in this ma­jor ret­ro­spec­tive of her work, pro­duced at a time when the Tu­dor era tech­nique of wood­block­ing had only re­cently been re­dis­cov­ered, I was re­minded of Mi­randa Pri­est­ley’s mono­logue in the film, The Devil Wears Prada, ex­plain­ing the com­plex fash­ion ori­gins of Anne Hath­away’s cerulean sweater. Many of Marx’s prints —ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist tex­tiles, tes­sel­la­tions in­spired by the nat­u­ral world, hyp­notic cir­cles placed just so —seem like the fore­bears of the pat­terns we wear to­day on skirts, dresses or shirts, or see from de­sign­ers like Orla Kiely.

Al­though Marx started her ca­reer pro­duc­ing her prints by hand (a la­bo­ri­ous process, judg­ing by her tools on dis­play), she later switched to Enid Marx with (in­set) two wood­cut en­grav­ings for chil­dren’s books from 1939

mech­a­nised meth­ods in or­der to meet cus­tomer de­mand. Her north Lon­don stu­dio was clearly a hive of ac­tiv­ity; a charm­ing flyer for an ex­hi­bi­tion early in her ca­reer ad­ver­tises “hand­block

printed stuffs for fur­nish­ing and clothes in St. John’s Wood near Marl­bor­ough Road Met Sta­tion”.

Trained at the Royal Col­lege of Art along­side lu­mi­nar­ies like Bar­bara Hep­worth, Eric Rav­il­ious and Henry Moore, and later the first fe­male en­graver to be named a Royal De­signer for In­dus­try, Marx is less well known than her con­tem­po­raries. And her start was not promis­ing; she was ap­par­ently barred from a wood­en­grav­ing class be­cause her draw­ing skills were not im­pres­sive enough, only to be snuck in by Rav­il­ious.

Over the years, as the ex­hi­bi­tion shows, she con­trib­uted her skill and close at­ten­tion to de­tail to ev­ery­thing from the jack­ets of Chatto and Win­dus or King Pen­guin books to Red Cross com­mem­o­ra­tive stamps and chil­dren’s pic­ture books (a mi­nus­cule edi­tion of Tom Thumb show­ing the epony­mous hero pulled along in his car­riage by mice is par­tic­u­larly lovely).

Some vis­i­tors may even have sat on her work; Marx de­signed a pat­tern for the seats for Lon­don Un­der­ground trains, turn­ing to reds and greens on re­al­is­ing that this pal­ette bet­ter ab­sorbed the dirt of the com­muter. And she was be­hind a tube poster or two, bring­ing her mas­ter­ful abil­ity to cap­ture liv­ing things in her art to ad­ver­tise­ments for Lon­don Zoo and Whip­snade.

In the 1950s she even sub­mit­ted a se­ries of de­signs for Is­raeli stamps draw­ing on bib­li­cal im­agery; Jonah and the whale, Moses in the bul­rushes and so forth. She was clearly a pi­o­neer, and like­wise a quirky per­son­al­ity —she de­voted much time to col­lect­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive china, some of which is on dis­play in the gallery. While her un­der­stated style might not in­stil awe in ev­ery vis­i­tor, there is much to ad­mire in the work of a largely over­looked artist.

Enid Marx: Print, Pat­tern and Pop­u­lar Art, is at the House of Illustration un­til Septem­ber 23 2018


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