The Arts Club has a Christmas tree in the foyer – no huge surprise there. But this one is the Mayfair club’s new annual festive installation commission, this year won by British artist Tom Ellis. A fake tree hangs above the balustrades, festooned with gaudy tinsel, baubles, lights, candy canes and a series of original oil paintings, based on ‘found imagery’, including internet porn. So, as the Arts Club goes edgy, we take a look at two very different takes on the festive season: art and artifice vs the natural.
‘I’ve taken an artificial Christmas tree – a real one wouldn’t have worked or been safe – and suspended it alongside other great work from the Arts Club collection,’ says Ellis. ‘So you have this kind of domesticity sat there amid the contemporary art. I wanted to have a feeling that we’d plucked a tree from a suburban home.’
But why put his paintings in this setting? Well, according to Ellis, whose most recent show was set against the backdrop of the illustrious Wallace Collection: ‘In the endless layers of the digital age, can the opaque and endlessly re-emulsioned white wall still lay claim to be the primary ideal setting for the presentation of contemporary painting?’ Perhaps not.
The small, card-like paintings draw on found imagery, stock photography and Ellis’s favourite old masters, such as David Teniers the Younger and Adriaen Brouwer. Ellis takes the festive theme as an invitation to explore the concept of fulfilment: ‘Humanity is always seeking fulfilment,’ says the London-based artist, ‘through work, pleasure, contact and business. And Christmas is very much a time to take pleasure – that’s the idea. Of course, it’s always more complex – the family Christmas is always dysfunctional. It’s that pleasure and darkness beneath the reality of human existence that I wanted to explore.’
Pornography and tinsel aside, London interior accessories designer Alice Wingfield Digby has a much more wholesome approach to Christmas spirit: ‘For us it’s about embracing the natural', she says. Wingfield Digby, the founder of her namesake brand of feather-based accessories, grew up in Hertfordshire, where her father ran a shoot. ‘I was surrounded by feathers,’ she says. ‘You see one and want to pick it up. There’s something about the iridescent quality that is amazing.’
The Edinburgh University graduate’s feather obsession led her to start up a small kitchen-table business, which has since become a successful British brand. She creates feathery decorative objects – think photo frames, drinks trays and place mats in pheasant, guinea fowl, peacock, partridge, green pheasant, and duck feathers. And in addition to some fantastic festive gift options, the range includes a few incredibly tasteful Christmas decorations. Feather wreaths in muted, Farrow & Ball-type tones, traditional birds crafted from natural feathers, and wonderful baubles, again in chic, mellow hues.
Shot in an Echlin home
‘A classy Christmas,’ says Wingfield Digby, ‘is about bringing the outside in – the berries and the greenery, in particular.’ And how does the designer adorn her own home for the season? ‘The tree is mainly gold with a bit of colour but nothing too garish. On our Christmas table we have a natural feather centrepiece: a wreath with a feather candle in the middle of it, surrounded by greenery, which I like to hide little feathered birds in. We also have a home-made feather angel for the top of the tree. It’s about choosing your colours carefully and keeping it natural,’ she says.
Christmas tastes are about as individual as they come. But whatever your preference, whether it’s tinsel and social commentary or a more natural and wholesome scheme, the Ettinger Journal wishes you a very merry time this coming Yule.