Australian photographer Martyn Thompson is well known for his enigmatic imagery which has appeared in style bibles including Elle Decoration, Vogue and Architectural Digest. Now a native New Yorker, he has turned his eye to designing esoteric fabrics for the home. We go behind the lens to see what makes him tick...
BY DEE IVA
What prompted you to start designing textiles?
I’ve always loved textiles. Thirty years ago I was painting fabrics, making them into clothes and selling them in a small shop in Sydney. I began taking pictures of them and my photography career was born out of that – it took over. So coming back to fabric isn't a total stretch. I had started exploring new ways to reproduce my photos and discovered the digitised jacquard loom. Although a little suspicious of the first results I soon fell in love – there’s a depth to the tapestry-like weave that speaks to the tactility I search for in my photos. I realised the potential for interior fabrics and began to develop the idea.
Tell us about your new 'Rock Pool' textile collection.
I was in Limeni on the Mani Peninsula of Greece on an editorial assignment. Standing at the end of a jetty staring at the rocks in the water below, I saw all these colours – amazing – like a painter's palette – dancing on the surface. I took a small cart load of photos and these became the basis for the 'Rock Pool' collection.
ABOVE AND ABOVE RIGHT: Martyn Thompson in his Manhattan studio
BELOW FROM TOP: Thompson's watery 'Rock Pool' design can be used to upholster walls as well as furniture. The chair is covered in a mix of 'Whitewash' and 'Painted Galaxy'; A range of Thompson's earlier designs including 'The Accidental Expressionist' and 'Melting' are used to cover these cushions; 'Ripple' from the 'Rock Pool' collection covers the wall, the small sofa is upholstered in 'Blotch' from the 'Accidental Expressionist' collection
Does your photography inform your designs?
It’s very literally an extension of it. Each of the fabrics begins as one of my photographs before we edit and develop the image into a repeat pattern. My photography has always been very much about a certain quality of light and a particular muted colour palette. Happily these qualities translate beautifully to the jacquard loom process.
ABOVE: The 'Green Buterflie' scarf from Martyn Thompson's first accessories collection is printed on silk and uses designs from his interiors collections
We hear you were quite the club kid in the Eighties…
Ahhh... that was the early Eighties. A lifestyle choice that didn't bode well for my university studies! I always loved dressing up and was a real show off on the dance floor. I started making my clothes when I was quite young and was totally enamoured of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. I didn't really think anything could get better than New Romanticism, but when their Buffalo Girls collection came out I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It’s still my fave fashion moment ever. I guess music was my first great love – and I admired performers like Siouxsie and the Banshees as much for how they looked as for their sound – though the music was fabulous too of course.
That period was an incredibly creative time, is there anyone who particularly inspired you?
There was a general spirit of getting on with stuff to just do it. For me, a young queer kid, this felt like a time outside of boundaries and prejudice. Boy George, Marilyn, Jimmy Somerville and other 'out' singers were a total inspiration. Homosexuality was still illegal where I grew up and I think these people gave me permission to exist.
What are your favourite design hotspots in the Big Apple?
The Future Perfect design store (below left) – David Alhadeff is a total advocate of what is new and is helping many new designers build their careers. I’ve always really admired Paula Rubinstein for her quirky take on vintage objects and textiles. Other favourites are Federico de Vera on Crosby Street – he has a really beautiful vision – and I love the new Oliver Gustav shop on Howard Street (below right).
Where's on your travel wish list and why?
Well, I'm crazy about Iceland. I love that there is still a sense of the unexplored and the impenetrable. It’s so ancient looking and can get really remote, really fast and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere with no one – not a sensation that's commonly achieved where I live in Manhattan!
What's your social media of choice?
I have an Instagram account but I'm disappointed that it has become such a commercial medium. I think that Tumblr can be really beautiful, especially the 'pin up' board format – that's my favourite.