On the face of it, neither the appearance nor the ideas of William Morris should appeal to the Now generation. (Very) old, beardy, lefty – the attributes shout BORING. As for floral wallpaper, ugh, how uncool is that? Nothing should be less popular with the students of art, music and fashion who form today’s trenders. So, as I mentioned before, it surprises me that several leading and emerging artists like Grayson Perry, Jeremy Deller, David Mabb and (new to me) Kehinde Wiley should reference Morris in their recent work. The first three are Brits, the fourth African-American, and at the Victoriana show at Guildhall I also spotted Brazilian-born, New Mexico resident Ligia Bouton’s delicate diptych The Adventures of William Morris Man in which our hero battles with robotic Owen Jones in comicbook style.
They mostly reference Morris’s political views as anarchic, anticapitalist precursors of Occupy and/or stuff-the-rich attitudes, and the tension between radical political views and the assumed English pastoralism of his designs energises the artworks. Deller’s new installation at the William Morris Gallery yokes together further elements from stone-age axes to present-day prison art, and includes examples of Morris’s Socialist speeches and agitprop juxtaposed with allusions to the dire situation for most Russians when the oligarchs carved up all economic assets in a capitalist carnival of exploitation. In this clip, if still live, Deller succinctly outlines Morris’s impact on his thinking.