On the living-room floor of Basil Spence's house at Beaulieu, recently renovated by John Pardey, there now lies a striking rug by Helen Yardley (AJ 28.9.00). Back in 1993 Yardley told the AJ that '80 per cent of the work we now do is with architects', and her rugs - almost always made to commission - are still much coveted for buildings both public and private. As a rule, however, you encounter only isolated examples within an interior scheme. At the Riverhouse Barn gallery in Walton-on-Thames there is now a chance to see them in quantity.
Six rugs made during the past two years are on display, and they are surprisingly varied in format, colour combinations and motifs. The title of the show is 'Form + Function' but their presentation stresses the first of those terms, for all are hung on the walls of the gallery, encouraging us to approach them as paintings. Perhaps surprisingly again, they support that kind of scrutiny. Bold immediate designs harbour all sorts of subtleties: the sketchy outline of a circle that doesn't quite coincide with the rim of the disc it encloses, the adjacent shapes that almost touch but leave a chink of space between them, the suggestion of texture as a form is flecked or mottled.
True, there are echoes of earlier artists: of Matisse's paper cut-outs, for instance, of Patrick Heron in the Rimini Gold rug of 1998, and of Robert Motherwell's 'Spanish Elegy' paintings in the composition of Lakeland (2000). But Yardley isn't hostage to these sources, conscious or otherwise:
Motherwell's ominous irregular black oval on a scuffed white ground becomes lemon against greyish-blue and the mood is very different.
But the references are to the natural world as well as art. Her Pear rug certainly evokes that fruit, but the associations of its coupled forms do not end there. As Pardey, a longtime admirer of Yardley's work, writes in an appreciative note for the show: 'The initial impression of abstraction slowly reveals a vocabulary of rocks, pebbles, leaves, microbes, bones that evoke Aboriginal art, Eastern art, as well as Le Corbusier's cosmic symbolism.'
How readily do purchasers of Yardley's rugs allow their 'function'? A fellow visitor to the gallery remarked: 'If I had one of these on my floor I'd be timorous. I'd want to walk round it rather than on it.'Would he become more blase over time? I wonder how their long-term owners treat these lovely things.