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Timorous Beasties: The devil in the detail

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Published on Oct 8, 2015

My name is Paul Simmons and I’m one half of Timorous Beasties

And I’m Alistair McAuley, the other half.

PS: We started off doing printed textiles and with printed textiles it kind of allows you to still draw and paint and do quite a lot of those kind of artistic type things. I think we were very much interested in process and still are and I think one of the very important things about designing for anything is to know about how it’s actually made.

AM: It’s a very basic facility but it’s incredibly versatile, you know. So we can do bespoke, made to measure fabrics and wallpapers, you know and engineer the panels so as they fit in and things that you couldn’t really do in a commercial printers and that has led us into doing products as diverse as windows for a housing scheme in the Gorbals. We have produced gravestones, we have produced ceramics, we do, you know we do all sorts of things.

PS: In this studio we physically print quite a lot of our wallpapers and a lot of the designing that we do is with the end product in mind. We were asked to design a wallpaper, you know influenced by a lot of things in the V&A and because we’d chosen to use flock, it meant that we couldn’t actually use a lot of detail. So we chose very generic kind of shapes that were in a lot of the silks and in a lot of some of the Elizabethan papers. It’s quite interesting when you look at some of the pieces and you might not know about the actual process but it will say something to you. I mean there are so many objects in the V&A, you know you’re really spoilt for choice. But one fabric in particular could be arguably one of the best printed fabrics ever is a fabric called Peacock Amongst the Ruins. And it’s actually a British toile that was done in the late 18th century.

AM: And interestingly enough even with today’s incredible technology you just can’t get that sharpness and depth of colour that you could get from this piece. We would love to do that kind of printing and we’re going to try and learn how to do it. but it’s a process which is not really of commercial gain. It’s just more kind of, you know, pushing yourself a little bit.

PS: I mean what is quite interesting is that people have been producing a lot of toiles in the last you know 20-30 years, but they always try and reproduce the old toiles rather than actually producing a toile about now. And I think the toiles that we started producing had a certain resonance and had something that people could really relate to. The Glasgow toile which had scenes with junkies shooting up and toiles a bit like Peacock Amongst the Ruins, were the original sort of influences for that design.

AM: What gave the Glasgow toile particular kind of integrity as it were, is because it was developed using source which was literally on the doorstep. You know like this is some of the scenes from where we used to work.

PS: All these little details people really relate to and I think that’s what maybe made our toiles stand out a little bit. There are quite a few pieces in the V&A that I’ve certainly used or had a look at, you know either the repeats in them. But it might be, you know it might be something like a piece of ironwork you know which is completely different to a piece of fabric, but they’ll be you know some images in there or some shapes, or the way that you know it’s been put together, composition, that will be you know really influential. It’s very easy to get access to see a lot of pieces of design or paintings or art or whatever it might be, but when you go and actually physically stand in front of the original piece I think you can’t compare it really. You can almost pick anything, absolutely anything and you can find some of the best examples of that thing at the V&A. And I think it means that you can always go back there and you can always rediscover and see things with a new eye.

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