Saturday, 27 February 2016

Wallpaper Speaks Volumes


Just lately I’ve been feeling sorry for our younger generations. For them, it seems, the future is mostly doom-laden. From the moment they are born, or so it has just been reported, our babies stand a higher chance of dying than others in Europe. Those who survive long enough to attend school can expect a non-holistic education, varying in quality according to socio-geographic factors. At 18 they might get a low-paid job in the service industries or the offer of a loan with which they can try their luck at higher education. And, having got thus far, they must try to find a way to earn enough to house themselves in a market which is deliberately kept expensive because the nation’s wealth is measured, largely, in the candy-floss value of house prices. The fact that they haven’t yet taken to the streets in mass protest must be down to the inherent optimism and resilience of youth.
It is possible that my pity for the young is exacerbated by the nostalgic mist through which I view my own formative years - as evidenced this week on a visit to the Whitworth Art Gallery, where I was almost overcome by nostalgia at the sight of a display of wallpapers from the 1960s. The designs, executed with the same bold, open modernity as the buildings they were intended to decorate, rekindled in me the feeling of excitement which I felt back then whenever I came across examples of futuristic architecture rising from the bombed ruins of post-war Plymouth. Modernity spoke to me of social emancipation, progress, experimentation and the determination to re-build society at a higher level of aspiration. It all came flooding back when I saw that wallpaper.

And in an adjoining room there is even more from the period: an exhibition of the work of Tibor Reich, designer and manufacturer of furnishing fabrics and ceramics during the 1950s and 1960s. Tibor was one of those many immigrants who enriched our culture by introducing a new way of looking at objects and who had the industriousness to bring them into our homes and public spaces. Displayed were those familiar colours and textures which smouldered then with the promise of modernity – and still do. They were designs which left the 19th century behind and embraced a new age.
As I studied them I contemplated the privileges of my youth: the state-provided milk and orange juice in infancy; dentistry and general healthcare throughout secondary school; and grant-aided university education leading to guaranteed employment for those who wanted it. My heart went out to the youth of today for whom society is unwilling to provide the same level of nurture. In the grasping world of uber-capitalism, with the NHS falling apart and the TTIP agreement promising American companies a chance to take it over, it seems to send the message “Sink or swim: you’re on your own”.
At the end of the week I was with a group of other smugly comfortable Baby Boomers as we left a restaurant and wandered through the streets of the trendy Northern Quarter looking for a suitable place for a nightcap. It was a tall order, this being the territory of the millennials, whose priority is not to sit in cosy corners but to be dynamic and meet other millennials. But, just as ours was beginning to look like a lost cause, we ventured into a place that was relatively calm and, to our surprise and delight, welcoming. Our bearded host was exceptionally polite and accommodating. “Do come again,” he said as we left.
“Perhaps he felt sorry for us old has-beens?” I ventured to my pal.
“Huh! It’s more likely that his predatory instinct was aroused by a sniff of the Baby Boomer pound”, he replied.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article. I'm lucky enough to be married to the woman who trained most of the modern British wallpaper designers so it's good to see any appreciation of their skills.