Born in the US, Kaffe began his career as a painter, studying at Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, but he left before completing his studies to become a painter in London.
We know him as a knitwear designer for Rowan – and designer of yarns – but he’s also a passionate quilter, fabric designer and needlepointer. He works in many different media and crafts – treating yarn, fabric, paint and thread equally. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that the media he uses for a given design is a secondary consideration: his primary medium is color. ‘I’m a missionary for color,’ he says.
Kaffe’s work is characterized by his incredible color sense: each project is a riot, using ten, twenty or even more colors within a single project. Close up, the effect can be disorganized or overwhelming, but considered as a complete work, the elements blend together in unexpected, surprising, beautiful and even understated ways. He really is a master of color. He breaks rules to create new ones.
What surprised and pleased me the most about seeing his work in person was texture. You just can’t get a sense of it in photographs. He not only breaks what we feel to be the rules of color, but he breaks all the other rules as well. He works colorwork in cotton and textured yarns: the behaviour of the fabrics bring further color, by reflecting light in different ways. He mixes yarns within a project, and indeed mixes yarns within a color – what may seem like a solid block of a single color in a photograph might actually be combination of different yarns.
And his work isn’t tidy – I loved seeing his swatches and test pieces, finished as haphazardly as anyone’s might be! It’s true, he doesn’t weave in his ends very neatly, and his quilt block corners don’t always meet, but that’s beyond the point. His work is all about how the colors weave and meet and match – or not.
The exhibition runs until June 29th, and if you’re in the London area, it’s absolutely worth a visit.