I remember, way back in first year interior design, I was sitting in our art history class and our TA who was Scottish had a very thick accent. In one of his lectures he was talking about Glasgow quite a bit. One reason was because he was from there, and loved to talk about his studies, the second reason was because of who we were studying at the time. Which was Charles Mackintosh. He told us, if we were ever in Glasgow this is where you would find all his greatest works. Fast forward, about 20 years later, I had the opportunity to hunt him down and experience some of the best collections of modern design in the country.
His works can be found on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, the Lighthouse and the new V&A museum in Dundee. Mackintosh’s influence comes from different sources. The Industrial Revolution, Japanese design and the emerging modernist ideas.
Throughout his work you can see a subtle restraint rather than ostentatious accumulation. His design is made up of simple forms and natural materials rather than elaboration and artifice; and its use of texture and light and shadow rather than pattern and ornament. This new philosophy or modernist ideas was concerned with creating functional and practical design. The main concept of the Modernist movement was to develop innovative ideas and new technology: design was concerned with the present and the future, rather than with history and tradition. Heavy ornamentation and inherited styles were discarded.
Even though Mackintosh became known as the ‘pioneer’ of the movement, his designs were far removed from the bleak utilitarianism of Modernism. His concern was to build around the needs of people: people seen, not as masses, but as individuals who needed not a machine for living in but a work of art. Mackintosh took his inspiration from his Scottish upbringing and blended them with the flourish of Art Nouveau and the simplicity of Japanese forms.
But what is truly remarkable about the collections at each of these museums was their ability to create a living space with all these household items. So the viewer has the ability to see, experience and understand the relationship between the furniture and the space. You get to really live in the time of when these creations were developed and appreciate how impeccable the pieces have been preserved. In these areas you fell like you’ve walked out of museum and into a modernist showroom.
And something for all those art historian fans, if you look close enough you will begin to see his unique style between strong right angles and floral-inspired decorative motifs with subtle curves. If you look closely you will see his signature “Mackintosh Rose motif” which is meant to evoke an organic nature against the simplistic shapes.