Allistair covell: Canvas to carpet

Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet (8 Feb – 5 May 2019) at the Broadway Gallery was the first major solo exhibition of Covell’s work in the UK. The exhibition, commissioned by Laura Dennis, served as a survey of Covell’s creative practice over a period of five years and encompassed painting, video art and sculpture.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was a series of hand-knotted carpets. These woven interpretations of Covell’s own abstract paintings and drawings, themselves inspired by his Synaesthetic responses to music and sound, were handmade in Afghanistan and Nepal.

“The Broadway Gallery is very excited to announce that it will host Allistair’s first major solo exhibition in Spring 2019, focusing on his creative journey from ‘the canvas to the carpet’. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to experience the carpets up close; adorning the walls of the gallery in a celebration of them as objets d’art and learning about the techniques involved in their production. Each carpet in the exhibition, much like Allistair’s original paintings also on display, varies in style and composition. Whilst some carpets have a strong ‘painterly’ appearance, others have a distinct bold and brightly coloured ‘Pop Art’ aesthetic, based on Allistair’s playful plasticine sculptures and his vibrant iPad sketches. One carpet perfectly resembles its ink-pen drawing counterpart, owing to the carpet’s high-knot count, and is more monotone in pattern – a dramatic departure from Allistair’s traditional kaleidoscopic clashing colour palette.”

Curator Laura Dennis, Broadway Gallery, Letchworth Garden City, November 2018

 video tour of Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet 

The carpets on display or ‘woven paintings’, a term curator Laura Dennis used to describe them, were handcrafted by Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan and in Nepal by Rug Maker to the artist’s designs. The exhibition showcased how the expert weavers masterfully interpreted Covell’s rhythmic energy and spontaneous artistic style, recreating every expressive brush stroke, splash of colour and hand-drawn shape into a woven knot. 

In the second room, two short films illustrated the different carpet making approaches of both countries, showcasing each region’s varying traditions and production methods where some techniques remaining unchanged for centuries. Rug Maker’s Meet The Makers film followed the Nepalese carpet making process whilst Carpet Making In Afghanistan produced by Turquoise Mountain, showed the weavers working in Afghanistan.

Broadway Gallery | The Symphony Series (2016) | London Streets (2017) | Somewhere In Between (2019) | The Window (2017) | Melt (2018)
The Symphony Series: I – IV (2016)
MEET THE MAKERS BY RUG MAKER VIDEO | ECLIPSE (2014) | Bouncing off clouds (2016) | PAINTED STUDIES & CARPET SAMPLES (2016 -2019)

The Fountain
 (2018) | Church Window (2004) | 

Spinning Around (2017) | 3D plasticine sculptures & sketchbooks in vitrine | C.S.M (2017)
London Streets (2017) | College sketchbooks (2005, 2006) | LGC_18 2018) | Somewhere In Between (2018)
London Streets (2017) | sketchbooks (2005 / 2006)
Jump (2017) | Come Into My World (2018) | The Night Cafe (2018) | Jane’s Dream (2018) | The Window (2017) | Melt (2018)
Digital ipad animation painting film on screen 


Broadway Gallery: What made you want to turn your paintings into hand-knotted carpets?

Allistair Covell: In June 2013 I saw an opportunity in COVER magazine, inviting artists and designers from across the world to ‘design a carpet’. The winning designs would be made into a hand-knotted carpet in Afghanistan and then presented at the world’s largest flooring trade show DOMOTEX in Hannover, Germany. Not knowing much about carpet production I sent in an image of a complex abstract painting and to my surprise my entry was chosen as one of the final six and entered into the international Carpet Design Awards.

In January 2014 the finalists, were flown to Germany to see the carpets for the first time and during the Carpet Design Awards ceremony I was named as the winner of the AfghanMade Best Young Designer Award. Winning such a prestigious accolade encouraged me to research this area of textiles and slightly refocus my practice to include translating my paintings into hand-woven carpets.

BG: Why is music such an important part of your creative practice?

AC: Music is my biggest inspiration with the majority of my paintings named after the song or a lyric that inspired them. As a synaesthete, my paintings are heavily influenced by my sensory responses to sound. I aim to illustrate music on a 2D surface, capturing the rhythms, movements and characteristics of music through the application of colour, shape and pattern. Even though my paintings are abstract in appearance, they are also representational: an orange square is the visualisation of a drumbeat, a circle is the sound of a synthesiser while a paint drip shows the sound of a violin. 

BG: What are the main challenges in your practice?

AC: Working in two disciplines can be quite a challenge. Sometimes I have thought that not everything I paint can be easily translated into a carpet as certain brush strokes and colours might prove to be too complex but the Afghan and Nepalese weavers surprise me. Some carpets are so detailed they do look like paintings from a distance which is the effect that I want to achieve. 

Another challenge is the time factor: it can take up to four months to hand-knot a carpet owning to the traditional techniques used. I find it fascinating that a sketch drawn very quickly on an iPad ‘in the moment’ when listing to a song can take months to interpret, translate and become a woven carpet. 

Reprinted with permission from Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet, Broadway Gallery booklet © Letchworth Heritage Foundation (Feb 2019)
HOW HIGH (2017) | LET IT WILL BE (2017) | MR_47 (2017) | ECHOES IN RAIN (2017)

In the final weeks of the Canvas To Carpet exhibition, Covell was interviewed by Elspeth Jackson, founder and editor of Ragged LifeThe interview covered a variety of topics including how Covell began to work with weavers in Nepal and Afghanistan, why he refers to his artworks as ‘woven paintings’, to his favourite carpet in the exhibition.

The interview with Ragged Life also previewed the ‘encore’ of the Canvas To Carpet exhibition, Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit. Forming part of the HALI Fair at the Mall Galleries in London, this mini exhibition was a showcase in partnership with Turquoise Mountain and took place in June 2019. The HALI Fair was part of HALI London, an event during London Art Week.

The full interview can be read here

Allistair Covell: Canvas To Carpet  | Broadway Gallery | 8 Feb – 5 May 2019


Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit at HALI LONDON, 2019

Melt, Hand-knotted carpet made in Afghanistan by Turquoise Mountain 

Following Covell’s first major solo exhibition at the Broadway Gallery in Letchworth Garden City, he was invited by Turquoise Mountain to present Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit during the HALI LONDON at the Mall Galleries from 27 – 30 June 2019.

Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit was a special presentation focusing on four of Covell’s hand-knotted carpets handmade by artisans in Afghanistan. The carpets, or ‘woven paintings’ as Covell describes them, are the woven interpretations of his vibrant and rhythmic abstract paintings, themselves inspired by the artist’s synaesthetic responses to music and sound.

The “Canvas To Carpet: The Afghan Edit” presentation is a celebration of the technical artistry of the Afghan weavers, showcasing their skill in translating my painted compositions, interpreting the expressive brush strokes and rich colours into woven knots. The carpets on display both highlight and affirm Afghanistan’s rich carpet making heritage.

Allistair Covell, June 2019

The HALI Fair during HALI LONDON 2019 at the Mall Galleries | PHOTO CREDIT: Turquoise Mountain and Allistair Covell

HALI London was a special week-long festival devoted to the art and history of carpets and textiles in celebration of 40 years and 200 editions of HALI magazine. HALI is the world’s leading publication on collectable carpets, rugs and textiles, widely recognised as an authoritative reference guide and quality art publication.

HALI London included a programme of specialist lectures, events and visits to view historical carpets and textiles in museum archives, private collections and institutions in London, including the V&A, Girdlers Hall, The Sarikhani Collection and Masterpiece London.

Memory Colour | Colour Memory at the London Design Fair, 2018

Origins at Memory Colour / Colour Memory  | PHOTO CREDIT: Allistair Covell

“Research shows that the human relationship with the natural world is intrinsically linked with colour. Our recall and ability to identify objects or scenes is directly linked to whether their colour agrees with our memory colour. Our minds are reassured by familiarity. Can these assumptions our minds make with the phenomenon of memory colour be reverse engineered? Can we give new meaning to objects with colour?” 

Craig & Rose, September 2018

“For the Memory Colour | Colour Memory exhibition at the London Design Fair September 2018 edition, Craig & Rose and colour consultancy studio Calzada Fox commissioned three design practitioners, the architecture firm Denton Corker Marshall, the designer Emily Forgot and the artist Allistair Covell, to create new artworks inspired by The Colour 2018″ 

Calzada Fox, September 2018

The Colour 2018 palette | PHOTO CREDIT: Craig & Rose paints

For the Memory Colour / Colour Memory commission Covell created Origins, a 2D low relief sculptural artwork made from plywood and incorporating all eight colours of The Colour 2018 collection. Being given The Colour 2018 palette as the starting point initially proved to be a creative challenge for Covell as he rarely begins with a colour theme when working, instead he usually creates a colour palette through listening to music.

Working backwards forced Covell to think about and work with colour in a new way – what does Arabian Red or Yellow Mania from the collection sound like? Could new audio memories grow from these colours? Will it change the artist’s relationship with colour?

The subtle earthy tones of The Colour 2018 reminded Covell of the varying timbre’s found in music. The warmer hues recalled memories of listening to Grace Jones and Janelle Monáe while the lighter and more industrial colours evoked the sounds of film and computer games scores and the hues of the futuristic disco pop of Goldfrapp.  

Together these diverse musical styles inspired a series of sketches and paintings that eventually morphed into thoughts of how to present the colours in a new contemporary artistic style. The surface patterns of Origins represents the different sounds and movements within the soundtrack; the shapes show the rise and fall of musical notes, the circle is the recurring melody while the layered curves and dots show percussion and synthesiser effects. 

Origins pre-production | Origins | Memory Colour / Colour Memory at the London Design Fair 2018 | Photo Credits: Allistair Covell

Wool Fusion 2017 by Campaign For Wool

The Wool Fusion poster  | PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Everard

In 2017 Covell’s London Street’s carpet featured in Campaign For Wool’s Wool Week celebration exhibition Wool Fusion at 35 Baker Street. ‘Colour’ was the central theme uniting fashion, photography, fabric, flooring, furnishings and film in a curated celebration of natural wool by the renowned interiors stylist Arabella McNie.

Wool Fusion’s mission was to tell the story of wool’s stunning versatility in a gallery format, allowing focus on individual pieces and showcasing the diversity and performance benefits of wool.

Covell’s London Streets carpet, based on a 2006 sketch of a trip around London, was chosen by Arabella and made in collaboration with Rug Maker. The carpet showcased the benefits of using wool and the tradition of carpet making in Nepal, where heritage meets contemporary design.

Wool Fusion exhibition entrance | London Streets carpet (detail) | Interior of exhibition | Wool Fusion 2017 Booklet | Photo Credits: Steven Paston and Allistair Covell

The Wool BnB 2016 by Campaign For Wool

wool-bnbThe Wool BnB Brochure | PHOTO CREDIT: Peter Dixon

In October 2016’s Wool Week, Campaign For Wool’s 7th global celebration of wool, the world’s first Wool BnB opened to the public in London. The Wool BnB was designed and curated by interiors stylist Karina Garrick who has worked with Campaign For Wool since 2010. Karina’s vision for this special event was to “showcase wool within a domestic environment, to make it instantly accessible and to communicate how many wool products are available for the home”. Karina adds that the Wool BnB experience successfully showed how wool “can enhance the health and wellbeing of the home and its inhabitants”.

Eclipse, Paint and Rhythm carpets from Covell’s debut #CanvasToCarpet collection were chosen to adorn the walls of the sitting room and his wool stitched-painting, Composition IV, hung in the dinning room.

The Wool BnB  | Sitting Room Interior | Composition IV EMBROIDERY (detail) | Photo Credits: Peter Dixon and Allistair Covell

The CMW International Design Challenge 2015 UK Tour

digital-stitch-2015Digital Stitch in the National Wool Museum, Wales | PHOTO CREDIT: JOHN POCKINGTON

In February 2015 Covell was invited alongside 36 other artists and designers to take part in the Cambrian Mountains Wool International Design Challenge. Covell, in collaboration with Penny McIntyre of Think Positive Prints UK, created the textile artwork Digital_Stitch, an innovative example of fusing ‘the old with the new’ in a dynamic style.

Digital_Stitch is a richly coloured artwork that combines traditional woven wool production techniques with the latest cutting edge digital printing technology. The surface pattern is a digital print of an enlarged section of one of Covell’s hand stitched paintings and presented in a style that resembles the effect of peeling and chipped paint on a surface.

From May to November 2015 the Design Challenge exhibition toured the UK with highlights including a display at the Hay Festival in Wales, The London Design Festival in London and Made By Hand Wales: The Contemporary Craft Show in Cardiff, where the exhibition was featured on the Welsh television programme ‘Made In Cardiff’. At the Royal Private View of the exhibition in July 2015, Covell’s work received Royal recognition and praise from His Majesty, King Charles III, Patron of Campaign For WoolDuring its final stop on its UK exhibition tour at the National Wool Museum in Wales, the museum acquired Digital_Stitch in February 2016 to become part of its permanent National Flat Textile collection.

In December 2015 COVER magazine reported on the Design Challenge and shone a spotlight on the work that Cambrian Mountains Wool do to keep the traditions alive within the Cambrian Mountains region. 

Digital Stitch
Digital_Stitch (detail) | DIgital_STITCH EMBROIDERY (Detail) | Digital_Stitch (detail) |  Photo Credits: Anthony Pugh and Allistair Covell

The Carpet Design Awards 2014 at DOMOTEX Hannover

AfghanMade Best Young Designer stand at DOMOTEX Hannover, Germany, 2014 | PHOTO CREDIT: Deutsche Messe Hannover

In January 2014 Covell won the AfghanMade Best Young Designer Award at the 9th Carpet Design Awards at DOMOTEX Hannover in Germany for designing the surface pattern for a hand-knotted wool carpet. 

DOMOTEX Hannover is the world’s leading trade show for floor coverings and was Covell’s first introduction to the high-end international carpet industry. A Carpet Design Award is an international accolade of distinction for an artist or designer and is awarded in recognition for design excellence and quality in hand-made carpets and rugs. Being nominated and winning the Carpet Design Award became a professional milestone in Covell’s career.

The City carpet is a translation of a section of Covell’s acrylic painting Study of The City, an abstract representation of the skyline and southbank vista of London. The City carpet was handmade in Afghanistan by the organisation AfghanMade and created using hand-spun wool and natural vegetable dyes to achieve the vibrantly coloured and painterly inspired surface design.

The City carpet is a testament to the expert skills of the Afghan craftsmen and women and the special 2014 Carpet Design Award was created to demonstrate to international markets that Afghanistan was now in a strong position to produce high quality carpets that combined traditional weaving techniques, drawing on a rich heritage, to create woven pieces that are both contemporary and luxurious.

Winning the Carpet Design Award raised Covell’s professional profile, gaining national and international recognition for his practice. The award encouraged Covell to slightly refocus his practice to include translating a selection of his paintings into surface patterns for carpets, which he describes as ‘woven prints’ of his painted compositions.