Australian Fabric Designer – John Rodriquez

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John Rodriquez became well known for his textile designs in the early 1950s. He introduced a unique Australian Style. His abstract textile designs included everyday household items, tea towels, and curtains. The materials were sunburnt Australian shades, “deep and muted, sometimes almost three dimensional”. Greys, yellows and greens were the prevailing shades.

“If a fabric is not aesthetically pleasing then it is not worth producing.”

John Rodriquez

Biography

In the late 1940s, John Rodriquez (1928-2000) studied art and design at RMIT, and in the early 1950s, he became well-known for his textile designs. From 1950 until 1980, John was a small group of Australian textile designers who pioneered a new contemporary style characterised by bold colour combinations. In the early 1950s, John’s designs were generally of an Aboriginal or geometric nature. Later, he moved on to more abstract Scandinavian-style designs. Later on, he continued to experiment with colour. John pioneered unique Australian styles that have been widely replicated since. He was continually emphasising the significance of innovation. His paintings may still be found in the linen cupboards of many Australian and international houses.

Wall Hanging - John Rodriquez, Calendar, 1974
Wall Hanging – John Rodriquez, Calendar, 1974

Early Years

While at school, John’s grandmother, with whom he shared a home, encouraged him to draw and paint. During World War II, John’s artistic skill bloomed at Upwey High School. He was awarded an RMIT scholarship to study design and painting under George Bell. The lack of imports after the war allowed indigenous talent to blossom. John blended colours in a domestic blender on his kitchen table and Screenprinted his designs on handkerchiefs, greeting cards, and placemats. In Little Collins Street, he sold his art at Georges of Melbourne and The Primrose Pottery Shop.

1950s

He moved to a rented garage after two years, then to a small factory six years later, in 1957. He printed furnishing fabrics and was hired to supply Victorian hospitals with curtains. John had a keen sense of colour and style, and he was adamant about not sacrificing good design for profit. Soon after, he was selling his work in various stores, including David Jones and Marion Best in New South Wales and most interior decorating stores in Victoria. Hundreds of yards of one design, which included a corroboree, were sold. Some dress fabrics, such as Georges’ incredible summer variety, were made exclusively for dress producers. According to John, the 1956 Olympic design was turned into skirts and sold “like hotcakes.”

Greeting Card - John Rodriquez, Aboriginal Design, 1950s
Greeting Card – John Rodriquez, Aboriginal Design, 1950s

1970s

Rodriquez Pty Ltd expanded to two factories in 1972. John chose to discontinue printing furnishing fabric to create tea towels and other gift products of a higher design and colour grade. The motifs, which featured Australian flora and fauna and modern Scandinavian designs, were printed on pure linen and cotton. Over the next two years, John travelled to Europe twice to build markets for tea towels and potholders in Rome, West Berlin, and Amsterdam. Rimian, his son, joined the company in 1975.

Later Years

Rodriquez Pty Ltd began producing a vast range of pure linen tea towels with Australian motifs in 1983, with the best-selling designs being flowering gum, bottle brush, jumping kangaroo, and koala. Commissioned designs were also printed for The National Trust, churches, speciality shops, schools, and other organisations. Potholders, oven mitts, aprons, and placemats were among the table and kitchen gift items. Several lengths of John’s furnishing fabric, which was also popular for women’s clothes, can be found in the National Gallery of Canberra and the Powerhouse Museum’s collections.

Wall Hanging - John Rodriquez, Calendar, 1974
Wall Hanging – John Rodriquez, Calendar, 1974

Sources

1955 ‘Woman’s Page 1.’,The Argus(Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 13 May, p. 16, viewed 20 July, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71882296

1954 ‘good design.’, The Sydney Morning Herald(NSW: 1842 – 1954), 4 November, p. 3 Section: Women’s Section, viewed 20 July, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18448348

Museum of Victoria n.d., John Rodriquez Textile Collection, accessed 20 July 2014,http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/themes/1707/john-rodriquez-textile-collection

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