In a peaceful square in the heart of Islington, the Estorick Collection is easily overlooked but well worth a detour. This is one of London’s most delightful and interesting smaller galleries. Featuring only Italian modern art it not only holds a regularly changing exhibition schedule, but also houses one of the world’s finest collections of Italian Futurist work.
The collection was founded by American sociologist and writer Eric Estorick (1913–93), who began to collect art when he moved to the UK after WW2. Rejecting numerous offers he set up the Estorick Foundation, to which he donated all his Italian works.
Its premises at Northumberland Lodge were ironically blighted by traffic soon after construction in the early 19th century, but now represents a delightful backwater in a busy part of London. There is a lovely cafe and garden and a bookshop alongside half a dozen elegant exhibition spaces.
The latest exhibition Franco Grignani : Art As Design 1950-1990 is a fascinating look at an artists whose work, as the title suggests, spans two fields. Ever bought a woolly jumper? Then you will undoubtedly recognise the woolmark – one of the most enduring legacies of this artist. Franco Grignani was, in his younger days, briefly affiliated with the futurist movement before turning toward geometric abstraction in 1935 when he opened a studio in Milan specialising in design and graphics.
Over the years he produced advertising campaigns for a variety of high-profile companies, including Pirelli and Alfieri & Lacroix, and designed covers for a number of science fiction novels published by Penguin Books.
Alongside such commercial work, he continued to create paintings which revealed a growing fascination with optical effects. His ideas were not understood by the art establishment, and he worked largely in isolation creating pieces characterized by their use of blurred forms, and warped and dynamic ‘virtual’ shapes that seem to emerge out of, and recede back into, the surfaces of his compositions.
The exhibition focuses on his favoured black and white works. These are obvious precursors of Op Art and of course Bridget Riley, and Grignani must have been a huge influence on the movement.
The exhibition features a series of works that leave you stunned by the power of his creativity and imagination. It is a dizzying array of inventive and hypnotic optical effects – some are sharply angular whilst other more organic, perhaps twisting spiralling or intersecting.
Vitrines hold a display of penguin book covers and magazine work, whilst wall hung work also includes those for commercial clients. As the exhibition subtitle suggests, this is a great reminder of how the border between powerful graphic design and fine art can overlap, shift and morph. An enlightening, impressive and dizzying exhibition.
Exhibition runs until 10 September 2017
For more information visit www.estorickcollection.com