Founded in the 1985 by art teachers Stephen Culley and David Wroth in collaboration with Jimmy Pike (c 1940–2002) while the artist was still serving a sentence in Fremantle Prison, Desert Designs was an early pioneer in the application of Aboriginal art to textile design, earning Pike international acclaim. His work with Desert Designs is currently touring Australia as part of the exhibition Desert Psychedelic.
In 2012 Culley relaunched Desert Designs as a creative collective directed by Jedda Daisy-Culley and Caroline Sundt-Wels, with new ready-to-wear collections employing digital prints of Pike's original artworks and unique desert aesthetic showcased recently at Sydney’s Australian Fashion Week.
Written by Jack Jewler
Jimmy Pike and Desert Designs — A Short History
The fashion label Desert Designs originated in the unlikely setting of the Fremantle Prison art class in the early 1980s. Jimmy Pike, one of the prisoners who had taken up painting, so impressed his art teachers, Stephen Culley and David Wroth, that the pair conceived the idea of setting up a business to market Pike’s work on fabric.
Pike was a desert man, who brought to his work a deep understanding of the country he had grown up in, and rejoiced in the array of colours now available to him to depict it. He experimented with linocuts, acrylic paints, pencil, crayon, and felt-tipped pens. He produced successful work in all of these media, but his prolific felt-pen drawings, with their vivid colours and forms, best lent themselves to commercial development. Branching out from fabric, Desert Designs later produced a dazzling collection of clothing and other goods, featuring Pike’s designs.
After Pike’s release from prison, his reputation as a fine artist grew, and his works appeared in many solo and joint international exhibitions. The erstwhile desert boy, who still kept a camp on his country, travelled to China, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Italy and Namibia to show his work. He also illustrated a number of books about his desert life.
Pike’s productive relationship with Culley and Wroth continued until his death in 2002.
In 2013, Steve Culley launched the Desert Designs label afresh, using Pike’s prolific legacy of work as the raw material for a fashion collection. Culley’s daughter Jedda Daisy, with her friend Caroline Sundt-Wels, is now the creative talent in the business, while her father gives advice and does most of the marketing. This promises to be another fruitful collaboration.
Desert Designs applies contemporary technology to the art of an ancient culture and brings it to a new public in today’s fashion world. It is perhaps surprising that depictions of remote desert landscapes and esoteric stories should become successful designs for fabric and a post-millennial range of clothing; that they do so speaks to both the brilliance of the original drawings and the flair of imaginative young designers.
Written by Pat Lowe