New Ribbon
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The Design and Craft Fair, MADE LONDON, returns to One Marylebone 24-26 October to present the very best in contemporary craft and design. Showcasing over 120 READ MORE...
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It's called Ripley's Aquarium of Canada (as opposed to Ripley's Aquarium of Toronto which would follow the format for their US locations), which is not helping the general READ MORE...
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I'm taking you backstage again! This time at Orlebar Brown's Covent Garden shop where the SS15 collection of tailored beach and resort wear was shown both in in the shop, and to the delight READ MORE...
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Each season Showstudio invites their favourite fashion illustrators to create their own unique view of the collections, then they present each series READ MORE...
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I opened the cover of a new landscape photography periodical I had just received called Land/Sea and began browsing the photos and words as I walked into my kitchen READ MORE...
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Yes, this is a men's fashion post. And it feels right. This season's London Collections: Men was my first ever thanks to an invitation from long-term London Fashion Week sponsor Toni & Guy READ MORE...
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One day in Stockholm we took the ferry to the island of Djurgården to visit the Vasa Museum, one of Stockholm's most popular attractions. 'Vasa' refers to the Swedish warship READ MORE...
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November 20, 2013

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!


Starting today, Somerset House, in partnership with the Isabella Blow Foundation and Central Saint Martins, presents Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, a major fashion exhibition celebrating the extraordinary life and wardrobe of the late British patron of fashion and art. Tickets can be purchased from the Somerset House website.

For more about the exhibiton and Isabella Blow's fascinating life in fashion, visit Not Just a Label and Daphne Guiness' Guide to the exhibition on (Daphne owns her late friend Isabella Blow's entire fashion collection, purchased after her death to stop it from being sold at auction and dispersed.)



November 13, 2013

Best of British Design: Tom Vousden

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The James Desk (£1500) and James Desk chair (£675) in Walnut, with tweed upholstery. Also available in oak.

The 100% Design exhibition showcased some great British design talent, and my favourite part of attending was discovering new names. Welsh designer/maker Tom Vousden caught my eye with his uniquely elegant desk and chair frames in walnut and oak, and I loved how he combined the woods with other materials. Powder coated steel made up the legs of the side table and the shutter-like panels on the sideboard, and an armchair featured hand-knitted cushions in warm tones. I really wanted to sit in it. I should have. 

A bit about Tom Vousden: After finishing a Three Dimensional Design course at Manchester Metropolitan University in 2011, he returned to North Wales to make high-end, bespoke furniture for a variety of clients. Tom uses modern technology and techniques along with hand making to create authentic furniture of quality and longevity. 

For more information about these pieces or to enquire about bespoke designs you can contact Tom through his website

Tom_Vousden_100%DesignTom Vousden at the 100% Design show


Tang Side Table (£355) with oak top and powder coated steel legs in blue; the James Desk Chair in walnut

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The James Desk in walnut


 Lounge Chair with hand knitted cushions and hand turned oak buttons (£1550)  

Tom_Vousden_WalnutDeskWalnut Office Desk, Chair and Cabinet

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Lounge Chair in leather (£1350) with Oak Side Table (£325)

November 01, 2013

A Look at 50 Years of the Mathmos Lava Lamp


I had a lava lamp in university. I bought it during the revival of the trippy 1960s ornament when they seemed to be everywhere. A lot of the styles were kind of big and clunky, and then I saw one that seemed more 'me', a slimmer model with a brushed silver base and top and the coolest colour of purple lava, a soft hue that looked gorgeous when the light was on. It was a Mathmos 'Astro' lamp and I got compliments on it all the time because it was different from the others. I loved that thing. It became kind of a night light because I'd fall asleep staring at it on my desk. 

Mathmos is celebrating 50 years of the lava lamp this autumn , and in reading over the history of the company I've learned some things about this iconic piece of pop culture. It's a British product, invented by Edward Craven-Walker who went on to found Mathmos in 1963. And all of the compoments are made in Britain, even today. Mathmos has committed to keeping the manufacturing of their classic on home turf and the company continues to be entirely British owned and run.

Here's a charmingly retro video (love the 'Barbarella' soundtrack) - showing us how each part is made - the bottle production in Yorkshire, metal spinning by hand and robot in Devon, and the formulation and final assembly in Poole, Dorset where it all began - with some lovely scenery shots from each location:


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To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Mathmos have launched a limited edition Astro with commemorative certificate signed by Christine Craven-Walker, the wife and business partner of the inventor. Alongside the limited edition is the new Heritage collection inspired by vintage colours and finishes in celebration of Mathmos’ long history:

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Here's a look at some vintage images from the early days of Mathmos:

Craven-Walker traveled the country selling from the back of an ex-postal van known as 'Smokey' - how neat! I wonder if it still exists?
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One of the first adverts for the Mathmos 'Astro' lamp

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Inventor of the lava lamp, Edward Craven-Walker. He is quoted as saying, "If you buy my lamp, you won't need drugs... I think it will always be popular. It's like the cycle of life. It grows, breaks up, falls down and then starts all over again".  

Mathmos_original_lava_lamp_'1960s astro prototype by the founder of Mathmos' LR

The prototype of the 1960s Astro, created by the founder of Mathmos. It was inspired by a design for an egg timer that Mr. Craven-Walker saw in a Dorset pub!

I'm feeling nostalgic now, are you?

All Mathmos lava lamps are available to buy direct Europe-wide from

October 16, 2013

The #UnlockArt Film Series Experience Begins...

TheSwelleLife_3D (1 of 1)Upon arrival I was given 3D glasses so I could find my room which had my name encoded on the door - a new way of seeing things? This set the tone for what was to follow....

Here I am again at one of my most favourite places, Le Méridien Piccadilly in London, this time for their UNLOCK ART film series experience. It's only mid-afternoon as I'm writing this and already we've had a day packed with all kinds of wonderful delights ('we' is me and six other lucky bloggers), and we've been told there's a surprise to come before our "immersive" five course dinner experience with A Taste Full Space this evening. We've received instructions to be in our rooms at 6pm for the first surprise and I can't wait to find out what they have cooked up - if I know Le Méridien, it will be out of this world. 

Click the image to watch the film at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site

This morning at the hotel we were treated to the Unlock Art debut screening of Bringing Performance Art to Life, the first of a series of eight exclusive films created by Tate in partnership with Le Méridien. It was brilliantly presented by Frank Skinner who delivered the most clever of scripts, written by Jessica Lack (with a bit of improv we've been told). The objective of the films is to make art inclusive and accessible to everyone, taking it from 'high brow to street level', to Unlock Art for those who may not otherwise have paid attention for whatever reason, be it they don't understand the art, or think it's not meant for them. Delivered with the perfect dose of respectful humour, this historical survey of this provocative genre was entertaining, engaging and educational, and I wasn't bothered about whether I understood at that moment exactly what performance art is - yes even as an art student I struggled to get my head around it - I just wanted to keep watching. For me, it opened the mind and bridged the gap between 'us' and 'them', and hopefully it will do the same for many others as well. This afternoon we had the opportunity to chat with Susan Doyan who directed and produced the series, and she was lovely. What a talent. This easily digestible tour of the arts, from Surrealism to Pop Art, will continue to roll out monthly at the Le Méridien Unlock Art site. In addition, The Guardian will also be posting the videos. 

Update: The BBC has also featured the story and video which you can see here

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And what better to follow than actual performance art? Pil & Galia Kollectiv's 'A Guide to Office Clerical Time Standards' is an instructional piece based on a corporate manual from 1960. The pamphlet is focused on the time necessary for the accomplishment of minute labour procedures in the office, from the depressing and releasing of typewriter keys to the opening and closing of file cabinet drawers. In the performance, seven costumed performers represent the different levels of management and employment while performing the actions described in the guide, accompanied by a live musical score. It was a very rhythmic performance that captured and held the attention of the audience throughout its repetitive acts. 

Now let's talk about the food. Jumping back to my arrival, I found a treat in my room after I entered be-spectacled in 3D. A trio of fortune cookies were waiting to be opened, and in them were these messages:


I ate them up and was so excited to see what art was going to be unlocked for us. 

After the performance, a unique array of tiny cocktails and food, both savoury and sweet, were served. Never passing up an opportunity to make a moment special, they presented chocolate covered strawberries hanging from umbrellas which was just so neat!

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After the lovely talk with Susan Doyan I came up to my room and found this:

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Being a three-time (and counting I hope!) veteran of these Le Méridien experiences I knew what was in that teapot: an infused gin, one of the hotel's specialties, and tonic to mix for a totally unique G&T. (See more here.) I was so full after my Caligula-like ravaging of the mini foods (and drinks) but there was no way I was letting that pot sit idle and I poured a delicious cup (and kept going until it was all gone). And I ate more than that one bite missing from the macaron. As you can see, I really had no choice. 

Next up: Our immersive dinner. Hint: Hackney, locked cages, dancing zombie girls...

June 23, 2013

Case Study: J.W. Anderson x Nikon 1

I love my Nikon D7000, but I'm a tiny bit jealous of the Nikon 1 owners at the moment for they now have a 1940s-style leather case, created in collaboration with of-the-moment (and deservedly well beyond) British fashion designer J.W. Anderson, made just for them and their snappy little sidekicks. The 400 bag limited collection is available in black, white, orange and blue colourways and reflects J.W. Anderson's unisex approach to design. The bags can now be pre-ordered at the Nikon Store and are priced at £85.

I love this case, carrying it would make me feel like a mid-century sailor with impeccable taste in accessories. How 'about a bigger one for us Nikon users with chunkier cargo? Please?

Below, Jonathan Anderson speaks from his studio not only about his collaboration with Nikon, but why London is "the epi-centre of new", how he approaches design for his womenswear and menswear collections and why a designer should never compromise. If you've been following fashion recently you'll know that these aren't empty words, the man is pushing boundaries. (Bonus: his Northern Irish accent):

Photos courtesy of Nikon

June 11, 2013

Glasgow: On the Train Through Northumberland

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Last weekend I went to Glasgow. This post really has nothing to do with Glasgow except for the fact that this is what I saw out the train window on the way! But I have too many photos of Glasgow to post at once, so we'll start the tour here. Northumberland, the county that borders Scotland in the east, is absolutely stunning country - you can see other trips to various sites here - and is the reason that when people invariably say to me, on a weekly basis for the past nearly 8 years, "Canada is beautiful, what are you doing here?" I reply, "Have you SEEN your country?!" Yes, Canada is beautiful, but it's massive and therefore not beautiful everywhere. And the UK pretty much is, you're never very far from breathtaking scenery. One of the first observations my husband made when we took our first trip through Northumberland when we moved here, is how all of the land is used for something, and so you don't have the wastelands you see in North America. All of this land has been owned for hundreds of years by someone, taken care of and given purpose, and it's easy to see why it inspired so many landscape painters over the centuries. You can be so tired your eyes are burning in their sockets but it's almost impossible to look away when travelling through areas like this. And if you like sheep, you'll get your fill and then some. Somehow none of my pictures have any. But I swear they are everywhere up here. Really.

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The rapeseed fields (worst name ever!) create wonderful, bright yellow, massive colourblocks on the landscape. 






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Pretty painted houses dot the coast of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town in England before you cross into Scotland. 

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We saw rainbows along the way for about 20 minutes, and when I exclaimed, dumbfounded, that we kept seeing them I was made fun of for not understanding how rainbows work. I have now reminded myself by reading about it (it's been a long time since grade 7 science class!). I still think it's a little bit of magic happening there. 

More to come on actual Glasgow...

Photos © The Swelle Life

May 08, 2013

Standout Stools: How to Make Them Work in Your Space

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I've been thinking a lot about stools lately, you know, as you do! We looked at beautiful breakfast bars last week and saw a variety of great looking bar stools, and then I found myself in Harrogate drooling over a high back stool of exquisitely woven hot pink polyurethane (trust me) in a contemporary furniture shop, saying "if only..." Sound familiar? A (good) stool is one of those furniture items that is universally appealing, but actually found in very few homes. It's probably for the same reason as why I don't have one in our home: we don't think we have the space. I lamented this 'fact' to the owner of the shop I was visiting and he stated quite confidently, "You always have room for a stool." He wasn't a hard-selling kind of guy, he was simply stating a truth which has trickled through; I've since realised after coming home and scrutinising every room of ours for potential places to put such a stool, that it's not about shoe-horning it in to your existing decor for the sake of it, but rather seeing it as a replacement for an existing piece, or even as a foundation piece to build your space around and create a vibe that works for you. If a particular item excites us that much, it can be worth mixing up our traditional approaches and coming at our spaces from a fresh - and sometimes scary! - perspective.

Here's an exercise to try: Use your coveted stool (or any wish list item you have an enduring lust for) as a starting point for a particular room and think about what you can move, or get rid of - chances are you'll have at least one major thing that you live with that doesn't thrill you anymore (there's a joke in there I'm not going to touch). I'll use my living room as an example: I have a large sideboard that was once my pride and joy and now I see it as an eyesore, and also I'm bored with how I've decorated it on top; it served me well for a time but I've moved past the style altogether. Replacing it with another sideboard that's more my taste now is one option. But, what if I were to abandon the idea that a large, decorated, storage piece needs to anchor the view into my living room? And the armchair that looks nice but isn't sat in all that much? What else could I do with that space? This is where the scary and exciting makes an entrance - oh, the possibilities! But a clear focus is important. The ultimate goal here is to achieve a balance of function and flow; your space needs to be harmonious and comfortable to be useful and enjoyable.

Here are some ways you can create a stool feature in your home, starting with a living room in which the stool doubles as a table (above, notice how the odd proportions of the higher stool with the low sofa are balanced by the articulated desk lamp), and a secondary dining area in a contemporary style:


The table and high stool set give this workspace a unique industrial-meets-natural vibe:


I really love this alternative to the home office (below). Yes, having skyscraper ceilings and gigantic windows with a great city view makes this space magical, but you can create something similar in your own home - it's just a matter of priority! In fact, it has me thinking about how I work (I refuse to be stuck in our little office upstairs all day). That armchair I mentioned earlier that doesn't get a lot of action happens to be in front of our bay windows, and I'll bet that the stool that has me preoccupied would fit just perfectly in front of a charming table...


Sources linked from photos

April 19, 2013

Erdem's Spring Stunner


Just when I thought I was leaning toward more minimal designs in fashion (because my interior/decor tastes are definitely less fussy these days), I get a blast of sunshine in the face at first glimpse of this dress. I guess I will always get an adrenaline rush from layers of transparency, cheery colours, and the special details like embroidery (why would I fight that?!). This is Erdem's latest masterpriece which jumped out at me in an email newsletter and I had to investigate. It's a very pricey one, so this is just for daydreaming, though I have no idea where I'd wear it should the dress fairy grant me a wish. And those shoes!! I've always loved a t-bar, and I'm a slave to pretty blues. They're Nicholas Kirkwood for Erdem which is given away by the floral lace upper. The metallic platform, heel and trim give the shoe a bit of an edge and offset the delicateness of the dress, if the excessive chunkiness and cut-out in the heel didn't already do the job. 


If you like vertiginous heels, take a look at Milanoo for their sky-highs in a variety of styles.


April 12, 2013

Swelle Review: Brothers Strawberry and Festival Pear Cider

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I'm a cider girl. I hadn't even tried cider, ever, before moving to the UK over seven years ago, but because of its prominence here - there's a renaissance happening and these days it's as popular as lager, thanks to Somerset's enduring commitment to the tradition of cider making - I was encouraged to give it a go.

As with wine and beer, not all ciders are created equal. There are some that could be served as apple juice and no one would know the difference. But I found my preferences fell somewhere between the super sweet and quite dry and I couldn't really find something my taste buds would stay loyal to. Not being a beer drinker (bar the odd framboise but does that really count?) and my tendency to become narcoleptic on literally a few sips of wine, never mind spirits (I'm fun, eh?), cider's appeal endured because it's crisp and fruity, and I've always liked bubbles. 

Last week the family-run, Somerset-based cider producer Brothers sent me two of their new flavours to try: Festival Pear Cider, and Strawberry. The 500ml bottles arrived with their new spring/summer branding featuring vintage-style labels based on a drawing that the wife of one of the founding brothers made nearly 20 years ago. I was really up for trying them because a) as mentioned, cider is my go-to drink, and b) somehow I hadn't crossed paths with Brothers before and c) I love the berry ciders. Or at least I love the idea of them. My last favourite now just seems far too sweet so I found myself in cider limbo.

First, I opened the Festival Pear Cider which is a stronger concoction than their regular pear, and most other ciders, at 7%. I was pleasantly surprised to find after one crude swig straight out of the chilled bottle that its initial sweetness is cut with a drier finish. For me, this is the perfect balance. Next, and on a different day, I tried the Strawberry (4%) which is a pear cider with strawberry juice - Brothers specialty is Perry - and was almost in shock that this bright red liquid beaming from my glass wasn't overwhelmingly sweet. Yes it's sweet of course, you don't buy berry varieties expecting something else, but like the Festival Pear, it's nicely balanced. So thank you, Brothers, you're now my go-to cider. I can actually finish a whole bottle!

A little history on the company: Brothers Drinks Co. Limited was started in 1992 by the four Showering brothers whose family have been making Perry in Somerset since 1658, and whose grandparents were behind the successful Babycham from the 1950s! (I have some of their dainty vintage cocktail glasses with the adorable white deer on them.) Brothers began selling its cider exclusively at Glastonbury back in 1992, and since then, its following has continued to grow, loved as ‘the company that introduced pear cider to the UK.’  (They found that most folks didn't know what perry was and responded more favourably when they were offered 'pear cider'.) For the next 10 years the Brothers Bar became increasingly popular, so five years ago Brothers Cider was launched into the on and off trade, by popular demand, for the first time. Today they are the sixth largest cider company in the UK Off Trade Multiple Grocers, and one of the fastest growing cider brands in the market.


April 09, 2013

Subversive Ceramics: Barnaby Barford's The Seven Deadly Sins


I think the most intriguing art works are those that deliver a message through craft, combining technical skill and statement. Even better is when a pleasing, and seemingly benign, exterior - such as clusters of pretty porcelain flowers - draws us in to confront us with something we didn't expect; to surprise, and possibly even shock. This is the experience British artist Barnaby Barford has created with his new exhibition, The Seven Deadly Sins, currently on show at David Gill Gallery in London's Mayfair. 

Known for his controversial re-modelling of traditional ceramic figurines, Barford describes his latest ceramic subversion as ‘love gone wrong’. He has made a series of mirrors which reflect the viewer and convey elements of the ‘sin’ they represent: Pride, Avarice, Gluttony, Envy, Lust, Sloth and Wrath. Human in scale, they reflect the viewer in full length, challenging perception in terms of form and message. The initial response is to marvel at their beauty and delight in the intricate detail which has gone into the construction of the sculptures. Then, the surprise, or shocking twist, plays its part when closer inspection of the frame's porcelain filigree flowers and foliage reveals images loaded with emotional, and sometimes distasteful, messages. For example, Gluttony carries images of fast food and takeaway menus, Envy uses photographs of the London riots in the summer of 2011, and Lust shows clusters of flowers bearing the faces of porn stars.


According to the artist's statement, Barford explores the nature of sin through these seven works, posing the question: Are sins a plague upon the social order or the grease that turns its wheels?  At what point does desire turn into obsession or an unhealthy intensification of a perfectly understandable impulse? Barford has spent the last twelve months considering the way society measures and values extreme sensations. “We are all hard-wired to desire power, love, possessions. That’s probably the way all humans have been like,” he says. “It’s not fundamentally bad to desire things but what interests me is the way these ‘sins’ can motivate people. How does the idea of ‘sin’ affect people these days when we live in a largely secular society? What are the consequences?”

In confronting what he sees as uncomfortable truths about contemporary society, Barford decided that the viewers of his work should find themselves not just reflecting on the ideas he has presented to them but also, literally, reflected within the mirror. “You see the piece and you see yourself within it,” he says. (I am dying to know how many people fix their hair when standing in front of these mirrors, especially Pride.)


Pride. Barford has created a mirror which demands that the viewer sees themselves in entirety, portrayed like a god, within the curved portal of an icon. This mirror is surrounded by a multitude of flowers in golden clusters which frame the viewer, giving the reflected figure an heroic status. Barford’s interpretation of Pride is his take on the familiar phrase, “If it makes you happy…”, expanding on the notion that pride can be defined by arrogance, defiance, desire for self-fulfilment and self-satisfaction, no matter what impact your desire might have on other people. He was inspired by Henry Fairlie, British political journalist and social critic, who said: “Pride excites us to take too much pleasure in ourselves, but not to take pleasure in our humanity… it causes us to ignore others.”


Sloth. Barford has created a mirror which resembles a lazy loop, a bulging shape, weighted at the base with the easy, swelling lines of a bag filled with cushions. “I wanted to use just plain white flowers for Sloth,” said Barford, “because it’s about not caring. It’s represented by a shape full of nothingness and the sense of an emotion which is too inert to love or hate anything or anyone.” He adds another quote from Henry Fairlie, “Sloth is a sin which believes in nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.”


Gluttony. An obsession with food is clear to see within this mirror. Resembling the bloated gut of the digestive system, the flowers carry Barford’s witty take on the availability of food and a human inability to resist temptation when it is presented so frequently, and universally. The flowers which adorn the puffy shapes of this piece are patterned with fragments of takeaway food menus and fast food advertisements. “From fatty kebabs to extreme fine dining, humans can’t stop thinking about food,” says Barford. He adds, “For a dieter the idea of food is negatively all-consuming and for the greedy person it’s a constant urge.”  The pale tints of the fast food menus are seductively pretty and appealing, just as they are intended to be in their real purpose.


Wrath. The sharp shape of a mirrored star sits at the centre of this intense piece. Using the hot, flame colours of red and yellow, the impression of a bomb-blast is immediately apparent. Barford has taken the intensity of anger, when it spills into violence, and has represented it in a cacophony of colour loaded with exploding emotion. “The bomb is a master motif of our time,” says Barford. “A British viewer might see this and think of terrorism but an Iraqi might think of NATO bombs and a Japanese person might think of Hiroshima. At first glance this piece may seem cartoon-like but Barford deliberately uses this style to evoke an emotional distance from the reality of violence. He sees the piece as an example of the way vengeance can be carefully planned, designed to inflict maximum damage and pain but ensuring that the impact is well removed from the person who has planned it.


Lust. Barford confronts the extremes of contemporary sex in this piece.  The flowers are beautiful, as with all the other mirrors, but they each bear the image of a porn star’s face, eyes closed, as they act out their roles for other people’s enjoyment. “I wanted to concentrate on the actors’ faces,” said Barford. “These films are impersonal, in the sense that it’s not the faces that the viewer’s want to see.” Yet the viewer of this piece will see themselves reflected within a splattered border of fleshy faces in varying states of ecstasy, disengaged, doing their job for the lust of others.


Envy. This, his most political piece, is about desire for other people’s possessions and the notion that, if they can’t have them then this festering resentment can result in wilful destruction and theft of other people’s property. Barford has used the urban disturbances in London and other UK cities in the summer of 2011 to illustrate this extreme sensation. “What happened during those riots was appalling,” he says, “but you can understand how a sense of injustice, coupled with violent opportunity, can catapult people into a situation when they take what they can, because they can.”  He adds, “There’s this idea that people feel an entitlement to enjoy what others have and an irritation that others should enjoy what they don’t have. We are sold the idea of society as being equal,” he says, “and everyone having equal opportunities. But sadly we are simply not equal.” This large oblong mirror is covered with a filigree of creeper, like a lascivious weed which threatens to engulf the entire piece. Each of the leaves bears an image of the riots; hooded youths throwing stones, breaking windows, rampaging in the city streets and confronting the police. The piece’s beauty belies the depressing violence which envy can promote so suddenly in people who believe they can justify criminal behaviour as an aspect of their ‘right’ to possess other people’s goods.


Avarice. The desire for money is plainly seen in this handsome piece. Florets of porcelain blooms each bear the fragmentary image of some of the world’s great currencies. Greenback dollars for the leaves, pink Euros and Sterling pound notes as well as Yuan, Rupees, Turkish lira for the flowers. Avarice confronts the viewer with their basic desire for wealth, depicted as the wreaths twist and turn across the mirror’s organic shape. “The obsession for wealth can be seen both reflexively and reflectively, demonstrating desire and seeing the truth,” says Barford.

The Seven Deadly Sins can be viewed at David Gill Gallery at 2-4 King Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 6QP until Friday, 12 April. Concurrently, an exhibition of his earlier work will be shown from February 9 – March 17 at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona, California, USA.  



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