Friday, March 02, 2007

Collective's Conscience

Named for the tiny mouse displaced by Robert Burns' plow and made famous in his poem To a Mouse, Timorous Beasties is a unique, Glasgow-based studio creating textiles and wall papers that cause us to look twice at our surroundings, too.

Thistle, black lace

Known for their provocative designs, Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, who met while studying at the Glasgow School of Art, opened their studio in 1990 against the city's blemished backdrop of impoverishment, unemployment, rampant drug and alcohol use, and the violence that resulted from the combination. The city's Miles Better beautification campaign launched in 1983 was helping, but slow to battle the sheer magnitude of the situation. It would be another 16 years before effects were truly seen and Glasgow would win the 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design award. After a two-hundred year struggle, the city has finally rediscovered the prosperity it garnered during the 18th century, when it was a grand and worldly capital. The beauty, technical skill and sobering imagery of Timorous Beasties' award-winning designs reflect these many facets of Glaswegian history.

Glasgow Toile, red on linen

What at first looks like a cheery toile, actually reveals a city ravaged by poverty and addiction. What seems like a 19th century-inspired damask on second glance looks more like a Rorschach test and an innocent lace pattern suddenly reveals a haunting face, just as scrolling vines reveal reptiles. Instead of Robert Adam's harebell swags, thorns and thistles cut an 18th-century silhouette. They are contemporary images produced in a traditional manner, and have been succinctly described as "William Morris on acid."

Digital Iguana, light green

Damask (wallpaper), black gloss on pink

With shops in London, as well as Glasgow, the studio has become quite well known, and as much for their friendlier patterns, as well. Its not all doom and gloom. There are pretty damasks in lively colors and one particularly charming pattern of little birds. A twee London toile (the antithesis to Glasgow's toile) features the city's most recognizable monuments and was recently used by David Linley (the Queen's nephew) for his recent renovation of a suite at Claridge's in Mayfair, one of the city's most luxurious hotels. For two designers who relish the exploration of sociopolitical issues through design, the irony must be positively delightful.

Devil Damask, white lace

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