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US Tree, Mirakel (Miracle), Aralia, Manhattan, Brazil, Himalaya, Delhi, Teheran and Under Ekvatorn (Under the Equator): During his lifetime, architect and designer Josef Frank created an entire world of prints. Now, an exciting new world of prints is taking shape, with ten design students from Europe, North America and Asia creating personal and contemporary interpretations of Josef Frank's classic designs.
He was one of the pioneers of functionalism and a front man for the modernism that he later came to question. As time went by, Josef Frank went from the strict and functional to the colourful and imaginative. It became his legacy and his hallmark – design that has inspired for generations.
Svenskt Tenn wanted to get a glimpse into how contemporary young students perceive his work today – and how they interpret one of the leading designers of our time. Ten students from the Tama Art University in Japan, Rhode Island School of Design in the United States, the Royal College of Art, School of Design in the United Kingdom, Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, Sweden and the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås, Sweden, submitted their own innovative designs for an exhibition at the store on Strandvägen 5 in Stockholm. Three of these designs have been selected to become a permanent part of the Svenskt Tenn range and one of them, produced by Japanese Kotone Utsunomiya, will also cover Josef Frank’s iconic Liljevalch sofa.
Josef Frank's Liljevalch Sofa
"I sense a powerful energy in the motif and as with many of his other prints, I feel that the plants appear to be in conversation with one another."
“As I sat down and studied different plants, I discovered many dots on the petals. It looked to me like a lot of stars and I felt that I had discovered a whole new universe hidden inside plants. Looking at the Mirakel print, I feel that Josef Frank must have discovered the same thing. I sense a powerful energy in the motif and as with many of his other prints, I feel that the plants appear to be in conversation with one another. I look at Mirakel and imagine each flower’s unique history. I created ‘The Story of Flowers’ in homage to Josef Frank. I want to give others the opportunity to discover the same universe,” says Kotone.
Mirakel - Josef Frank
Her classmate, Haruka Udo, was also attracted to Josef Frank’s imaginary plant motifs.
“I feel a special spark of life from his designs. The motifs of imaginary plants in Josef Frank’s works are some of the symbolic features that make his work so unique. Most of his motifs are bright, colourful and almost hopeful. This is something I want to express in my own design as well.
Working with the ‘Dear Josef Frank’ print was a bit like writing a letter to him. I thought about what I would have said to him if we had met. I hope that the design shows how much respect I have for his work,” says Haruka.
Dear Josef Frank - Haruka Udo
Josef Frank never let his imagination limit his creations, an approach that is also reflected in the students’ interpretations of his work. The playful and the imaginative, as well as the motifs inspired student Lisa Englund just as they inspired Kotone and Haruka.
"I wanted to create a print whereby the viewer could discover something new every time they looked at it."
“I got particularly interested in the US Tree print and my interpretation is constructed in the same way: a straight trunk and straight branches with leaves and flowers added on. I was also inspired by Indian fabrics, above all chintz, which could be specially ordered in Europe in the 1600-1700s. I wanted to create a print whereby the viewer could discover something new every time they looked at it – new details that come to light even after having it in your home for ten years,” says Lisa Englund.
US Tree - Josef Frank
Chintz, Black - Lisa Englund
Josef Frank began to focus more on developing his print designs in the 1920s. From a young age he had been interested in botany and designed, among other things, his own flora, consisting of favourites such as daisies, tulips, roses, bindweed, forget-me-nots, violets, lily of the valley, crocuses and grape hyacinths. It happened on occasion that these floral motifs were faithful to nature, but the images were most often abstract and imaginative. In a number of prints, familiar flowers were mixed with sinuous liana, grapevines and fruit motifs, often inspired by different places and cultures.
In his imagination, Josef Frank travelled all over the world, something that in combination with his love for botanical motifs resulted in prints such as Aralia and Mirakel (from the late 1920s), Celotocaulis (1930s), as well as a number of prints from the 1940s, among them La Plata, Aramal, Notturno, Hawai and US Tree. Little did he know that in 2018, several of these prints would come to inspire a generation of young students – future designers – to create a whole new world of prints.