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Frieze London 2022

Rose Pilkington: Digital Designs, Natural Inspirations

Liv Siddall discovers the acclaimed designer's references

BY Liv Siddall in Frieze London , Frieze Week Magazine | 05 OCT 22

Here’s the tricky thing about creating the artwork for a Frieze campaign: it can’t resemble any other work of art in the fairs. It’s like being asked to advertise a car, but not being able to use an image of the car, or anything that looks too much like a car. So, you need to hand the job to someone who’ll come at it from a different direction; someone who can allude to the DNA of the fair, without leaning too far towards anything specific within it.

Enter Rose Pilkington, a London-based digital artist who, this year, was commissioned by Frieze Head of Design Claude d’Avoine to collaborate with the Frieze team on a year-long campaign for all five Frieze fairs globally. The aim, in d’Avoine’s words, was ‘to devise a unifying creative vision that allows each fair its own identity within a cohesive suite of visuals, with a more contemporary edge to cover various outputs of print and digital’. He wanted to work with Pilkington, he tells me, since ‘she is a master at her craft’ and he ‘knew that she would be able to offer a unique perspective on how to bring this idea to life’.

Artwork by Rose Pilkington, 2022

The craft he speaks of is Pilkington’s meticulously polished digital artwork, which can stimulate in the viewer the peculiar sensation of putting on a pair of spectacles in exactly the right prescription, after having needed them for years. Detail is magnified; colour is intense. A double espresso for your eyeballs. It’s confusing, too, in that it’s bizarrely more real-seeming than real life, like a beguiling deep fake. Though created digitally, however, Pilkington’s work is inspired by the natural world’s infinite possibilities, the extraordinary colours, textures and patterns that occur in it. ‘Essentially, my digital practice is an ode to nature,’ she tells me: ‘Finding all these amazing, mind-blowing moments that happen – colours and textures on plants and animals – that are so unexpected.’ 

A lot of Pilkington’s work involves the magnifying, and then the merging of two things: wondering what would happen, for instance, if she combined the specific sheen of a beetle’s armour with the detail of close-up fabric, then envisioning the outcome using 3D software. ‘I’ll have it in my head that I want to merge glass and rock,’ she says, ‘and then I’ll go into 3D and it will be about creating ways of seeing how those two can interact and then just building out from there.’

Artwork by Rose Pilkington, 2022

This ability to deftly, digitally smash things together came in handy for her brief from d’Avoine, which was to merge two materials’ colours for each fair. For example, the brief she was given regarding the visuals for Frieze New York were concrete and leather, in reference to the grit of the city. The colours for Frieze London were chosen to reflect the October hue of the leaves in the Regent’s Park, while the gelatinous, high-gloss, sugar pinks and sky blues for Frieze Seoul were selected to reflect the ‘screen-based, futuristic energy’ of the Korean capital.

The main point, however, is that these combinations contain juxtapositions: uneasy bedfellows that, when combined, make a strange and beautiful textural cocktail. 

‘For a lot of the initial designs, we were referencing real-life textures and sculptures, but taking a microscope to them,’ says Pilkington. ‘We were looking at how paint peels away from a surface, things like that. We obviously wanted to take the design a step beyond something as blatant as a stroke of paint, but it was about thinking about how we could use artists’ materials in an abstract way to create new artwork.’ Though the campaign images don’t feature artworks, it’s curious to think about the parallels between artists’ and Pilkington’s processes – namely: take an idea, apply a material, attach it to something old, make something wild, fresh and new.

Main image: Artwork by Rose Pilkington, 2022

Liv Siddall is a writer and editor. She lives in London, UK.