Laura Knight, Graphic Artist
“I bought them ten years ago for £10 in a secondhand shop in the Essex Rd,” revealed Laura Knight with a proud gleam in her eye, when I enquired the origin of this fine nineteenth century couple. “The colour and the style of them really appealed, they spoke to me,” she said, contemplating the cherished figures.
In retrospect, ten pounds was truly a bargain price for this Staffordshire group that has proved to be such a rich source of inspiration for Laura. “With Staffordshire Figures, there’s always two things going on,” she explained to me, articulating the dynamic that gives these modest designs their charisma, “there is the fineness of detail in the moulded form, in contrast to the application of the colour which – I suppose because it may have been done by children – has a childlike, almost crude quality.”
When Laura’s elegant prints of Staffordshire Figures drew my attention recently, capturing the spirit of these pieces with rare grace and economy of means, I recognised they were the assured work of a mature artist in control of her medium. So I became curious to discover the story behind them and I invited her over to find out.
As soon as Laura leapt off the bus outside Liverpool St in the snow, she cast her lively eyes around in wonder at the changes in Spitalfields, recalling humorously that once upon a time she often came to Brick Lane for a curry at the Nazrul and enjoyed watching the strippers over a drink at the Seven Stars in Brick Lane. “It used to be a nice place for cheap night out when I was a student at the Royal College of Art in 1978,” she admitted to me with a nostalgic grin. Laura’s grandparents were from Bethnal Green, “The talk was of boys’ clubs and boxing matches,” she remembered as we walked through the streets together, “It’s sad when you can’t have the conversations that you wish you’d had with them in the nineteen seventies when they were alive.”
There is an emotional resonance to Laura’s graphic work that draws you in, and in which pieces of china exist as personal fragments to evoke an entire culture. “They were on everybody’s mantlepiece and everybody’s dresser. They are a vivid background, deep in our memories of home. There wasn’t a kitchen without a piece of willow pattern or a mantlepiece without a piece of Staffordshire.” said Laura, speaking from the heart, “But because they’re so familiar they’ve become forgotten and no-one’s looking at them any more.”
After graduating from the Royal College, Laura enjoyed a successful career as an illustrator which led to teaching, which led to cutting back on her own work. And then when she quit teaching, she found herself starting all over again as illustrator. “I suppose if you really love something, you just want to keep doing it until you can make it your own,” was Laura’s self-effacing explanation of her predicament at this moment – also the moment when she remembered the Staffordshire couple that she bought in the Essex Rd. “I realised when I was drawing them that they were suitable for rubber stamps,” said Laura, revealing the discovery of her technique, whereby she gets her drawings made up into rubber stamps and then colours them herself, as a cottage industry, just like the ceramic painters of old. “I want to make my work into products that I can sell, rather than wait for people to commission me,” she continued, outlining her policy to achieve artistic independence, “I’ve started working with the London Printworks Trust who have given me a lot of support. They do small runs and they have printed my designs onto silk scarves.”
Knowledgeable and passionate about the history of English popular art, and with a distinctive mature style, Laura Knight is creating work that is irresistibly appealing. And it is my privilege and delight to introduce you to Laura and her joyous creations, because she has no outlets yet. In fact, Laura has just twelve of her beautiful silk scarves with handrolled edges that she sewed herself, and it is a condition of her support from the London Printworks Trust that she needs to sell these before they will print more. They cost £55 each and if you contact her to buy one, she will send it out to you at once.
It is the week before Christmas, need I say more?
Limited numbers of cards, silk scarves and cloth kit cushions are available direct from firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura has made twelve of these fine silk scarves, hand rolling the edges of each one.
The Staffordshire couple bought for £10 in the Essex Rd ten years ago.
Laura designed this pair of cushions as a cloth kit to sew yourself.
Images copyright © Laura Knight