Fraser Crowe’s unique digital prints on silks and wool are embedded with narrative and provenance. Their key pictorial elements are often based on observations captured photographically; but buried beneath the initial visual impact these prints are engineered to encourage thinking about what’s happening in our environment; and to work on a moving body.
Fraser Crowe textile designs begin development alongside artist Deborah Crowe’s contemporary art and installation practice, in her Auckland studio. Imagery emerges in relation to some aspect of Crowe’s current art practice, drawn from a massive library of images, objects, drawings and collages. Then, in collaboration with Kim Fraser, the other half of Fraser Crowe’s design team, the print designs are engineered not only to communicate their specific visual narrative but also to:
- work with placement in relation to and on a body
- dovetail with the philosophy, design and cut of Fraser Crowe’s minimum waste garments and
- to consider the drape and handle of the luxurious textile substrates they permeate
Talking about developing the textile designs Crowe says:
Considering the context, output and the substrate is important. When I’m digitally collaging imagery for other two dimensional works - perhaps to be printed on paper, or sometimes stainless steel - these considerations are different. In a Fraser Crowe textile application thinking about the drape, placement on parts of the human form and how the ink will spread over the threads of the textile all come into it. The scale of strong visual elements in the imagery in relation to position on a body is important, and dovetailing the textile design to the cut of the garment are elements Kim and I work out together; tweaking best placement of areas of dark and light on the width and length of the fabric in relation to where that will fall on the body in one or two of our garment pieces when laid up. Working out where pattern pieces will join once the flat textile becomes three dimensional are part of the discussion too, so we are utilising formal elements like tone, density of colour and linear connections in a way that not only works with the garment design, but also has potential to embed subtle visual tricks on a body. While aspects like using symbolic imagery, contrast or colours that advance and recede work pretty much the same in composing a two dimensional artwork destined for a gallery wall, working with fabric that will move around and flow across the body involves taking time to visualise the angle of linear elements or blocks of colour and how those relate to the grain and selvedge come into play; also the fact that hardly ever will the viewer of a printed textile made into a garment see the design in its entirety at one moment in time.
A characteristic of Fraser Crowe printed textile designs is that the imagery combines loose ‘painterly’ areas with sharp photographic references – a kind of visual contradiction that pushes and pulls focus. On Fraser Crowe garments this translates into glimpses of clear crisp detail, alongside areas of fluid washes of colour, or gritty textures. The textile designs also often deliberately break the repeat pattern rules, not working with a classic half drop or mirror repeat in favour of a looser slightly chaotic, unpredictable overall visual.
The notion of push and pull follows through in Fraser Crowe’s thinking about their place in industry, stating:
At a time when the world is taking note of environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry, our work aims to draw attention to issues of mindless wastefulness and to shift thinking further toward sustainability in fashion. Perpetually manufactured for newness, textile products are readily consumed for a fashionable moment then wastefully discarded. Globally, the ubiquity of textile is its downfall and devaluation has permeated all textile products.
As creative practitioners we respond to the carelessness of our throwaway culture: we witness, almost daily, the build-up of personal waste, cast aside, awaiting council collection, and destined for landfill. In our approach to design we view each textile as a finished product, appreciating and valuing the extensive inputs of human and environmental effort throughout the textile supply chain.
Our design practice considers methods to maintain the integrity of the textile, through reduced cutting within the length: we design garment forms that both honour the textile and minimise waste.
Bringing this back to print - one of Fraser Crowe’s signature textile designs titled #lesslandfill, contains photographic documentation of landfill images and shots of skips of rubbish destined for landfill. These are buried beneath ornate and decorative references to flora and growth, a technique Crowe also uses in her artworks that propose hypothetical future environments. Working again with the idea of contradiction - push and pull - this beautiful silk satin georgette houses rubbish, photographic evidence of residue of human ocupation.
So while #lesslandfill is a lush and luxurious textile print in silk, admired for its rich appearance and beautiful handle, it is also a reminder that every item discarded in household rubbish is destined for landfill. Embedded in the design is a warning-off from the superficiality of our current fashion industry and short-term consumer focused lifestyle. When authentically constructed into high-end items of clothing, #lesslandfill proposes not to become throwaway but has the potential to become an heirloom for the next generation, made from cloth with narrative and provenance.
It has always been of interest to me to layer imagery and meaning, to bury content that may or may not be revealed immediately to a viewer. I’m intrigued by elements of visual trickery, in things that may not always be how they seem initially… playing with how we view things, our outlook: using visual language to stimulate dialogue about much wider ideas and issues.
Fraser Crowe has, in many previous and current designs, considered the importance of outlook. Their approach to respecting textile as the valuable material it is, and implementing a design processes with a textile substrate on which to imbue their bigger picture ideas has Fraser Crowe keen to engineer more thinking about what’s happening in our environment, and to do that via moving bodies clothed in textiles embedded with narrative.
 Billions of tonnes of wasted material is landfilled worldwide. Upon entering the cycle of municipal waste, all items are juxtaposed, whether previously useful recyclable material, or organic and rotting waste, thereby contaminating each item beyond recovery. Concurrently and consequently, plastic and fibrous items take many years to decompose in landfill, whilst producing leachate that contaminates groundwater sources (Fraser, 2016).