Inspiration is a curious thing and so too is how images seep through into the subconscious. It wasn’t until researching a theatre design project at art school that I realised how deeply influenced I was by Russian designers and illustrators, particularly Ivan Bilibin and Leon Bakst. The Longstaff Longstaff Pinterest page has beautiful images of Leon Bakst’s work and other Design Heroes
Leon Bakst (1866-1924) was an extraordinary designer who found fame with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes designing costumes and sets for many of the ground breaking productions such as L’après-midi d’un Faune and Schéhérazade. His designs have a flowing energy, grand flourishes of pattern and form and a raw sensuality which echo the avant garde music composed by Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov for the Ballet Russes. His fairy tale creatures are frightening, the women full bodied and unafraid and the men are flamboyant and both effeminate and powerful at the same time.
Character is central to any costume design and Bakst’s talent was to be able to express character through fabric and pattern. No corner of his designs was left plain and yet the balance of pattern and space allows the eye to take in the glorious details without being swamped or overwhelmed. Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes was enormously popular at the time and Bakst’s designs soon influenced fashion and interior design.
His work inspired me to design on a large scale, working on big sheets of paper in a large (sometimes huge!) repeat format. I love working like that but it took me a while to realise how much extra work I was making for myself. His style might be described as maximalism but but each line and pattern is necessary to convey his idea. In that sense, nothing is ‘extra’ or unnecessary. There is a huge sense of riotous energy in his work and his use of colour and pattern always reminds me to do what I love, don’t be afraid. One hundred years later, he is still fresh and able to inspire and influence; most definitely one of my design heroes.