London’s Masterpiece Fair is all about discovering utterly unique antiques, jewellery or works of art and design — those one-off pieces that have the spell-bounding power to stop you in your tracks. Judging by the crowds assembled around one particular exhibitor this year’s highlight is not a recently discovered ancient or modern artefact or find, but actually a newly conceived cross-disciplined piece that successfully marries art, craft and design.
The Linley Cassiopeia Screen is a collaboration between British furniture maker David Linley and self-taught contemporary portrait artist Jonathan Yeo. It’s a marquetry representation in screen-form of one of Yeo’s early figure paintings, his rich brushstrokes replicated in a variety of timbers by Linley’s skilled master craftspeople.
The pair met six years ago, establishing an easy rapport when Linley, already a «secret admirer» of Yeo’s work, sat for a portrait. “We got on really well, he actually did two portraits because halfway through he said, ‘I got stuck, we’ll have to start again’. We put in more time because from being an assistant to my father (photographer Lord Snowdon), I understood that the quality of the portrait depends on how much time the sitter gives, 45 minutes is unsatisfactory for all.”
The Linley stand at the Masterpiece Fair 2017
Yeo’s version of events differs, “David’s background as a craftsman and artist meant we quickly got into all kinds of fantastic creative discussions from the very start. In fact, I enjoyed his company so much that I pretended to mess the first portrait up so that I could do another and keep the sittings going.”
Whatever the true story is it’s clearly led to a good friendship boosted by mutual admiration, which recently culminated in an exhibition of the artists paintings at the Linley showroom in Pimlico and now has evolved into this close collaboration, which, according to Yeo, was pioneered by Linley.
Jonathan Yeo (left), and David Linley at the unveiling of the screen CREDIT: PHILIP BERRYMAN
“A lot of interior designers I’ve met say they are really frustrated artists. I think David spotted early on that with me it’s the other way around,” says Yeo, “so he rashly suggested we work on some furniture projects. The marquetry screen was his first idea but we are developing some even more ambitious ones and, fingers crossed, we might see more in the near future.”
Yeo felt the Cassiopeia portrait, one of his favourites depicting his friend and life model Scarlett Lacey, was the most appropriate for experimentation because of its classical feel. “It adapts to being fragmented in a painterly way while still (hopefully) retaining a natural feminine sensuality,” he says. The process involved several meetings with the Linley technicians at the workshop to fine tune the details, such as choosing the direction of the wood grain to best evoke paint brushstrokes. It took the team 650 hours to create the screen.
Linley Cassiopeia Screen by David Linley and Jonathan Yeo is on show at Masterpiece Fair
Linley is particularly pleased with the result, seeing it as a natural extension of his artistic endeavours. “I’m always trying to push the boundaries between art and crafts. I want artists, craftspeople and designers to collaborate. It’s something I’ve felt strongly about ever since the first piece I designed back in 1982 with an artist called Matthew Rice. Design is about making things that work, whereas the artist dreams — that’s an interesting combination. It produces a different result, the screen is more emotionally-charged than a simple piece of furniture. The best thing was finding an artist big enough to say yes to the project.”
Linley and Yeo were aiming to create a talking point, and judging by the attention the screen has attracted they’ve succeeded. It’s also poses an interesting alternative for portraiture in this brave new age of arts and crafts.