The Art and Architecture of C.F.A. Voysey

As a tangential way of following up on my overly hasty post on turn of the last century street scenes let me begin by saying that I’m not interested in an uncritical nostalgia for the past. Rather, I’d like to question why we assume we’re on the only right historical trajectory. What would happen if we could see that the way things are now are not the only possible way things could have turned out? In the case of those streets, for instance, what would have happened if we had planned cities on a more human scale and had not ceded so much real estate to automobiles? And why can’t we change the way we do things now?

C.F.A. Voysey: Design for a house.

Questioning this myth of progress is one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have a sense that many art historians don’t like this period because it doesn’t fit neatly into a linear progression from representation to abstraction. It also combines a contradictory, conservative interest in historicism along with radical socialist politics. So, just like reconsidering our streets, how about we ponder what would have happened if the Arts and Crafts movement had not died in the horrors of WWI.

C.F.A. Voysey: cabinet.

Looking for some dining chairs to make for our living room, I stumbled on the work of C.F.A. Voysey, an English Arts and Crafts architect and designer. He took an obsessive gesamtkunstwerk (total art work) approach to his architectural commissions, insisting on designing not just the building but the furniture and everything down to the pen trays. Very conservative politically, he was an exception to the more progressive bent of the movement. It’s also obvious that he spent every spare moment of his life obsessively drawing.

C.F.A. Voysey: Birds of Many Climes c.1900.

Voysey’s work points to an alternate trajectory in which our art and our cities are entwined with a reverence for nature instead being at the service of machines. Instead we have the cynicism, self absorption and nihilism of Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. And all we have to look forward to are cites soon to be clogged with self driving cars.

C.F.A. Voysey: design for wallpaper.

Though we ended up in a great crapulence, at least we can still get Voysey’s wallpaper. Put it on your kids walls and maybe it will inspire them to figure out a better future.

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2 Comments

  1. we CAN change the way things are done now, but for how transportation planners are taught. I read recently that they pretty much automatically design roads for 5 mph over what the speed limit would be. Why not 5 mph -under- the speed limit?
    Anyway, merci for the intro. to C.F.A. Voysey and that link to his wallpapers. The description of “Woodland Carpet” is pretty funny!
    Happy Solstice and may the light keep you!

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