Wednesday, June 23, 2010

We wouldn't want to upset the wee kiddies, would we? Timorous Beasties

Paul Simmons and Alistair McAuley founded design studio called Timorous Beasties in Glasgow in 1990. Known for their surreal and provocative textiles and wallpapers, McAuley and Simmons, met while studying textile design at Glasgow School of Art.While winning awards is nice, Timorous Beasties have the

By depicting uncompromisingly contemporary images on traditional textiles and wallpapers, Timorous Beasties has defined an iconoclastic style of design once described as “William Morris on acid.”  McAuley and Simmons also execute special commissions, such as fabrics for Philip Treacy’s hats and for the interiors of the Arches Theatre in Glasgow and 50 Piccadilly,
a London casino.

Timorous Beasties are experimental in approach to both hand-printing and machine production. These changes are reflected in an evolving aesthetic: from early wayward interpretations of naturalistic images of insects, plants and fish; to a searingly contemporary graphic style which, as Glasgow Toile illustrates, explores social and political issues. Their Glasgow studio has
the facilities for small scale production of fabrics and wallpapers and
many of their designs which are featured in the studio collections
are produced there.

From design concept through to production the studio is in control at every stage. The pair recently won the prestigious 'ICFF Editors Award' for the best wallcoverings for the 4th time! The award is among the industry's highest accolades and is judged by a panel of respected U.S. and international editors in the field of contemporary furnishings.

occasional dissatisfied customer. The parents, for example, who bought some Glasgow toile wallpaper for their child's bedroom. From a distance, Glasgow toile looks like one of those sumptuous French toile de jouy designs fromthe 18th century that depicted charming rustic scenes, and decorated upholstery, curtains or walls. Closer inspection revealed that Glasgowtoile was a nightmarish vision of the city, teeming with drug addicts,prostitutes and homeless people, against a backdrop of run-down tower blocksand marauding seagulls. Just the decor to make your kid run screaming fromthe nursery. "They sent it back," says Paul Simmons, one of the co-founders of the Glasgow wallpaper and fabric design company.
"That was all right by us," says the other founder Alistair McAuley.
"We wouldn't want to upset the wee kiddies, would we?"
And then there was a community centre in east London that bought eight rolls of their London toile wallpaper. "This was deemed racist," says Simmons, "because they thought it depicted a black man holding a gun on a white woman."  He continues, "But they should have got their facts straight," says McAuley. "It didn't depict a black man. In fact, the model was Gavin, who, as you can see, is white. But even if he was black, would that have been racist?" He points out that people of all races commit crimes, adding: "The whole point was that the toile depicted the underbelly of things." How was the dispute resolved? "We agreed to put a bunch of flowers over the gun, but we haven't had time yet," says Simmons. "Folk thought it was going to be banned," says McAuley, "so suddenly we had all these calls asking if they could order London toile. It sold more wallpaper."

Such disturbing images are more readily associated with Grayson Perry's pots or the Chapman brothers' terrariums than wallcoverings or fabrics, widely assumed to be there to soothe or comfort a person in the privacy of their own home. "We're in a market where it's really easy to shock," says Simmons. Indeed, given how ubiquitous shock tactics have been in British visual arts for the past two decades, perhaps wallpaper is one of the few remaining media in which an artist might be able to cause genuine upset.

And the pair may enjoy getting such reactions. "I remember a woman coming in for some fabric for her sofa," says McAuley. "She found the toile very soothing. I liked thinking about what it would be like when she realised she was relaxing next to a gunman."

"The imagery in the original French toiles from the 18th century is actually quite shocking," says McAuley. "They have scenes of workers womanising, smoking and drinking. What we've done, in the Glasgow toile, is update the imagery. So a pipe becomes a rollie, an old man sitting on a stool in a rural scene becomes a tramp on a park bench, a glass of wine becomes a can of super lager."

"The time is right for us to try London," says McAuley. "It'll mean that customers down there won't have to order over the internet any more." He suggests that London needs the Beasties: "I hate that high street thing - it's overpriced and you find exactly the same product in New York and Los Angeles. The whole thing with globalisation is terrible. Our aim in moving to Clerkenwell is to provide a corrective to the kind of interior design that people are sick of in London."

When one looks around at all the wallcoverings, the bee wallpapers for instance, one is struck by their disturbing verisimilitude. "What got us going in that direction," says Simmons, "was that there were often butterflies or flowers in wallpapers and fabrics, but they were always soft and romanticised. You wouldn't see the tendrils or scales. They were so abstracted they didn't look like what they were supposed to be. For us, paper and pen is still the starting point. I'm not sure that's the case for many designers or artists coming from art schools now, because the quality of drawing is so poor."

When the pair were textile design students at Glasgow School of Art in the late 1980s, they would draw giant insects on the streets on Saturdays to keep solvent. "We would talk long into the night about what pish current wallpaper design was," says McAuley. "One great thing is that we still feel the same way. We were at a trade fair in Paris yesterday and couldn't believe the shite this one guy was serving up as wallpaper. He'd just plonked his motif on the paper with no sense of how the repeat would work." "Pathetic," agrees Simmons.

But Timorous Beasties aren't interested in performing domestic make-overs for unimaginative clients - let Channel 5's House Doctor do that. "We don't coordinate," says McAuley. "We don't give formulaic answers to everybody's interior design dilemmas." So what do you do? "We supply wallpapers and fabrics that are beautiful. People don't often think that way about wallpaper, but we do. Our wallpapers exist like beautiful pieces of furniture."

To find out more about Timorous Beasties or purchase their product,

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