Regina Connell

Regina Connell

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Timorous Beasties- Walking on the Wild Side

I grew up with modernist parents who loved simplicity, lack of pattern, and a rigorous plain-ness. That defined my sense of what “design” is. My wardrobe is unremittingly black, enlivened by a couple of pieces of white and grey and when I’m feeling daring, taupe. 

But while I am still mightily moved by a pure, wabi sabi interior (ah Axel Vervoordt) or emotionally resonant minimalism (yes you, John Pawson) I’m craving a little walk on the wild side, a little subversion. I want lushness. I want texture and dimension and layers and complication and yes, difficulty. 

And I can’t think of anything that better fits that bill is Timorous Beasties, who put the punk into wallpaper and who’ve taken their ethos into other parts of design, from rugs to furniture to collaborations with the likes of Kate Bush. They even work in concrete and tile (see this gorgeous range of tile for Cle.)

Their surreal, “transgressive” designs (starting with their urban take on Toile de Jouy, replete with drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless people) made wallpaper cool again, and they haven’t looked back. 

The best thing: though they’ve been around since the 1990s their output feels as fresh today as it did when they first burst on the scene. How do you do that with something that could, at first glance, feel a little gimmicky? 

Answer: because it’s also classic, with a deep and abiding integrity. Their work puts the art in artisanship, despite the fact that the duo insists that they aren’t artists, but designers. 

Timorous Beasties, created by Glaswegians Alistair Mcauley and Paul Simmons, is rooted in a deep understanding of traditional textile design and motifs. The two met at the acclaimed Glasgow School of Art and count Victorian art critic and artist John Ruskin – who believed passionately that nature, art and society were inextricably linked – as an inspiration.   

The firm’s work, all based on exquisite illustration, is extraordinarily detailed and painterly, whether in the form of the more toile-based patterns and insect motifs (bees, moths) to in their more psychedelic, “Blotch” pieces inspired by all things Rorschach. Note the shading and the way the lines are drawn. Note the colors that are intense but muted. But there’s still something there for the color averse, such as a palette of greys and whites on wallpaper, rugs, and fabric.

Unsurprisingly, the technique involved in their work is considerable, and the fact that they much of their work is hand-printed allows them to refine and keep on refining throughout design and production, and to discover new techniques and effects along the way. 

The core of their talent, though is their ability to express a shadow world: a world of possibility, messiness, fear, beauty, desire, and yes, sex live just below a refined surface. Their work gets under your skin, and that’s why I think I’m ready for it. Not because it’s cool (which it is, undeniably) but because it provokes. Very very beautifully, of course.