David Mabb

David Mabb has been working with the designs of 19th century designer and socialist William Morris for about fifteen years. William Morris thought that interior design had a fundamental role to play in the transformation of everyday life. 

This essentially political motivation – a commitment to the radical potential of design – is behind much of his work as a designer and craftsman and the setting up of Morris & Co. Morris’ designs constituted a radical break with the orthodoxy of neo-Gothic of his time. They are highly schematized representations of nature, where it is always summer and never winter; the plants are always in leaf, often flowering, with their fruits available in abundance, ripe for picking, and with no human labor in sight. 

This is a Utopian vision, an image of Cokaygne. Mabb’s paintings, photographs, textiles and videos all, in different ways, work with and against Morris’ utopian designs by contrasting them with other forms of modernist production, including Malevich, Rodchenko, Stepanova and Popova paintings and designs, modernist architecture and photographs of industry. 

Mabb never simply paints or covers over the Morris pattern with another image, elements of the Morris pattern always poke or burst through. This combination produces an unstable picture space that is never fixed, where a Morris pattern and the other image are never able to fully merge or separate.


David Mabb is a British artist who works with appropriated imagery to rethink the political implications of different aesthetic forms in modern art and design history. Recent work has focussed on the designs of 19th Century English interior designer, writer and socialist William Morris. Mabb’s interest in Morris stems from the social and political connotations of Morris’ work, the continued relevancy of Morris’ politics and the continuing market for Morris’ designs. Mabb’s interpretations or reconfigurations of Morris’ designs consider the relationship between Morris’ own thinking and other forms of cultural production.

David Mabb’s work has been exhibited at the William Morris Gallery, London (2015); Focal Point Gallery, Southend on Sea (2014); Delaware Centre for the Contemporary Arts, Wilmington (2010); The Bluecoat, Liverpool (2009); Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius (2006); Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario (2003) and Oakville Galleries, Ontario (2000). He curated Utopia Ltd. (with Mary-Ruth Walsh) at Wexford Art Centre and the Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, Ireland (2011) and William Morris “Ministering to the Swinish Luxury of the Rich” at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2004). He is Reader in Art and Programme Leader (studio practice) MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London.