Althea McNish: Colour Is Mine is a landmark retrospective of one of the UK’s most innovative textile artists and the first designer of Caribbean descent to achieve international recognition.
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, McNish (1924-2020) moved to the UK in 1950, completing a postgraduate textiles degree at the Royal College of Art and rising to prominence as a Black female designer. On graduating McNish began designing bestselling furnishing and fashion fabrics for iconic firms including Liberty, Dior, Heal’s and Hull Traders, for whom she created one of her most famous patterns, Golden Harvest, in 1959. As her career progressed McNish took on major interior design projects and mural commissions around the world, as well as creating wallpapers for leading companies.
McNish’s painterly designs incorporated natural botanical forms from Britain and the Caribbean, using a riotous colour palette that overturned the staid rules of mid-century British textile design. Her technical mastery gave her the freedom to create ever more complex prints. “Whenever printers told me it couldn’t be done, I would show them how to do it,” she said. “Before long, the impossible became possible.”
Drawing on extensive new research and her personal archive, Colour Is Mine will explore McNish’s extraordinary career, her transformative impact on mid-century design and her enduring influence today. Althea McNish: Colour Is Mine is curated by the William Morris Gallery and Rose Sinclair, Lecturer in Design Education at Goldsmiths, University of London and is part of a three-year research, exhibition and archiving project generously supported by the Society of Antiquaries through its Janet Arnold Textile award.
Althea McNish: Colour is Mine is sponsored by Liberty Fabrics, who will also be reissuing a capsule collection of Althea McNish’s original fabric designs in Spring 2022 to coincide with the exhibition, available to purchase at Liberty in store and online.
Part of the BBC Art That Made Us Festival for Spring 2022.
Image: ‘Painted Desert’ textile design for Hull Traders, 1959. Printed cotton. Image © the Whitworth, The University of Manchester