Friday, 3 December 2010

The Decorative Work of Bartram Hiles

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Wallpaper design, c1896.

Frederick John Bartam Hiles was born and raised in Bristol. He was fascinated by art and design from a very early age. He quickly showed both talent ambition and seemed set for a career as an artist. However, at the age of eight he was involved in a tramcar accident and lost both arms. Rather than put paid to any ambition he might have had, the accident if anything, spurred him on to greater achievement. He realised that if he could train his mouth to both hold a pencil and to gain dexterity, he could still follow the path towards a career as an artist and designer.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Decorative design, c1896.

Using initially a pencil, he learnt to write and then draw, later moving on to brushes.. It was not an easy task and he took a number of years before he was proficient enough to attend art classes. However, he quickly gained a reputation not necessarily just for painting or drawing with his mouth, but for the natural ability he had regardless of his disability. He became a numerously talented fine artist and designer, producing work in a number of disciplines including wallpaper, metal and illustrative design.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Design for a frieze, c1896.

Hiles work was generally within the Art Nouveau framework, particularly his illustrative work. However, as some of the examples in this article show, he was capable of producing decorative work in a number of styles including classically inspired design. However, it is the example of wallpaper work shown in the first illustration, which tends to stand out above all others.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Decorative design, c1896.

This extraordinarily complex piece of design work contains a mass of foils and furls and is more reminiscent of a gothically inspired heraldic shield being viewed through a kaleidoscope. The example is much less reminiscent of his Art Nouveau inspired decoration, though it should not immediately be considered as an out of touch example. Decoration and design in Britain at the very end of the nineteenth century was much less formulaic than in other parts of Europe and Art Nouveau was just one of a whole range of inspired design work. However, as this is the only example that I have been able to find in this particular style, it would be interesting to know whether Hiles produced any more work with this amount of complexity or with this particular slant.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Design for a decorative door plate, c1896.

As to his Art Nouveau work, these are relatively early examples of an English designer using the new European decorative style. Interestingly they are a little more formalised than would be expected of the movement. However, perhaps English reticence concerning the abandonment, even partially, of the formality of a framework of symmetry, could well have been a factor. To be fair the examples shown here are both smooth and elegant and give an indication of Hiles natural ability to fill a defined space with stylish and sophisticated decoration.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Self portrait, 1896.

Hiles went on to have a successful career in both design and fine art with even Queen Victoria buying some of his work. He was by no means unique in overcoming his disability, there were in fact a number of artists and designers during this period who used both mouth and feet in order to channel their creative ability through other means. However, most of these individuals had been born with disabilities, whereas Hiles had been born with hands and then had cruelly lost them. He had a passion to follow a creative career before his accident and had the drive afterwards to continue to pursue that goal. That he was driven to overcome his disability at such an extraordinarily young age ins inspiration indeed. He should perhaps be seen as an example of the creative element overcoming what could well have seemed to many as a situation that was insurmountable and the true courage and optimism of a small boy who wanted to be an artist.

Illustration: Bartram Hiles. Decorative design, c1896.

Reference links:
Art Nouveau Designs (Design Source Books)
422 Art Nouveau Designs and Motifs in Full Color (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau 1890-1914
Art Nouveau: Utopia: Reconciling the Irreconcilable (Taschen's 25th Anniversary Special Editions Series)
Art Nouveau Decorative Ironwork
Art Nouveau Flowers (Design Source Books)
Treasury of Art Nouveau Design & Ornament (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Art Nouveau Borders & Motifs (Design Source Books)
Art Nouveau: An Anthology of Design and Illustration from "The Studio" (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Art Nouveau Floral Patterns and Stencil Designs in Full Color (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)

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