Shirley Craven was born in Hull in 1934 and educated at Hull College of Art. She went on to study printed textiles at the Royal College of Art (RCA) from 1955 to 1958. After leaving the RCA she began practicing as a freelance designer but refused to adapt her designs to the commercial demands of the market. ‘Textiles should be an artistic field, not just a commercial transaction. The designer should have the same impetus as the painter.’ Craven said.
In 1959 Craven teamed up with Hull Traders and the owner, Peter Neubert, gave her full creative control. Craven’s first designs for Hull Traders were an immediate success and Le Bosquet (1959) won a Design Centre Award.
Shirley Craven’s bold compositions, inspired handling of colour and sheer scale place her fabrics in a different league. She was a perfectionist, particularly with colour and each colourway was developed in response to the character of a particular design.
Craven was influenced by music, painting and sculpture. Working in series, her designs are similar to variations on a musical theme. Some of her designs are painterly abstractions, reminiscent of landscape painting, the gestural mark-making of abstract expressionism or geometric playfulness of Op Art.
‘All my work is based on abstraction. Sometimes it is an abstraction of a feeling – joy, sorrow, anger or love – but an abstracted landscape is often an abstraction of feeling as well.’
Craven improvised and surprised with each new collection, avoiding a formulaic or predictable style.