Paul Smith celebrates the Pop Art aesthetic of DANAD Design

Paul Smith celebrates the Pop Art aesthetic of DANAD Design

It’s 1958. A group of six modern British artists — students of the RCA and the Slade — are all living together in a large rambling Manor House in the Hertfordshire countryside. They had space to paint, but no heating. Visitors would drive the hour from Soho to party: Mick Jagger and Jimmy Hendrix raised a glass with Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Ossie Clark and Terence Conran. Even in this sleepy rural setting, revolutionary spirits were fizzing and creativity was exploding.

This was the scene when that year a Barry Daniels and Tom Adams founded DANAD design, with artists Peter Blake, Robyn Denny, Bernard Cohen and Edward Wright at the house in Hertfordshire. Now recognised as among the first to propose Pop Art, in their brief but brilliant life as a collective, these six minds changed the course of art and design, with Pop Art furniture that was once sold at Liberty, Heals, and Harrods; and design and satirical surface art — including a particularly subversive image of Richard Nixon made at a time before he was President.

‘Not a bold statement by today’s standards, but in 1960, sticking your cup of tea and fish and chips on a politicians head was a big “eff you!”,’ says Mark Daniels, son of Barry Daniels, one of the founding artists of DANAD. It was Daniels who found an astonishing collection of DANAD work in the basement of Marden Hill, shut up for 50 years. ‘It feels like breaking the seal on Tutankhamun’s tomb,’ he says. DANAD was unusual for several reasons — one of them being that they were a group formed of three Slade and three RCA students, noted as the first (and last) time students from the two schools collaborated.

DANAD were also among the early pioneers of Pop Art and the first to turn it into products, like furniture. ‘They could create a beautiful piece of art that people could spill their beer on, stand on, eat their dinner on,’ Daniels explains. ‘It was about making art less exclusive and self-important.’ 

Article on DANAD published in the Daily Mail (1960). Courtesy of the DANAD archive

In 1960, the collective put on the DANAD Design Show. Their ideas may have been stellar but their business acumen was less finessed, and in 1962, just four years after they were founded, the group folded and went their separate ways: Blake, Denny and Cohen on to international success as artists, Adams to work on a portfolio of world-class projects as a commercial artist. Wright designed fonts. For Daniels, success was hard won: ‘My father’s fine art creative journey was cut short. He was a star pupil in the Slade class of ‘53 and was considered one of the best from the Freud/Bacon generation. But in the mid 1960’s, just when his career was taking off, a gallery in Sydney showing a ten year retrospective of his work burnt down. He didn’t paint again for 30 years.’ 

While he wasn’t recognised as a fine artist in his lifetime, he built a career as an acclaimed textile designer. DANAD represents a forgotten moment in British art history – but it’s about to be vibrantly resurrected on what would have been the collective’s 60th anniversary had it survived — reimagining the 1960 exhibition and breathing new life into DANAD’s groundbreaking ideas through paintings, prints, letters, drawings and photographs at Paul Smith’s Flagship Store at No 9 Albermarle Street. Reproductions of DANAD’s original designs will be available to buy again for the first time in six decades.

The partnership with the British Designer is a natural one, according to Daniels: ‘Paul Smith designs with art in his heart, he has an intrinsic understanding of classic design that hasn’t and won’t change, and that’s what DANAD Design is all about too.’ §

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