Paul Simmons from Timorous Beasties - Photo by Dom Moore

Timorous Beasties find inspiration in student life for the South West

Timorous Beasties, the acclaimed Glasgow and London-based design studio noted for their surreal and provocative textiles and wallpapers, have created an innovative new exhibition as part of the Textile Design season in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art. It is the first time that Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, better known as Timorous Beasties, have exhibited in the South West and the exhibition will be open until Saturday 16 April 2016.

Timorous Beasties have collaborated with, designed for and been commissioned by famous brands and clients such as  Nike, Famous Grouse Whisky, Kate Bush, Netjets, Fortnum and Mason, The Wellcome Trust and Philip Treacy.

Their new exhibition, known as Bedsit, opened with a free public talk at Plymouth College of Art by Paul Simmons, discussing the rise of Timorous Beasties and the history of their designs, followed by an opportunity to meet the designer at the public launch of the show.

Bedsit aims to explore the relationship of pattern over different surfaces and substrates. Taking inspiration from grotty bedsits as their starting point, The Gallery has been transformed into a space to inhabit; with re-constructed sofas, bespoke wallpaper and a bed to rest on, visitors are invited to spend time in this surreal and beguiling environment.

Timorous Beasties was founded by McAuley and Simmons in 1990. The design studio’s work could be seen as a wayward take on the often “twee” world of textiles, with heavily illustrative insects, ‘triffid-like’ plants, birds and other animals.

They are known for their contemporary take on the ‘Toile de Jouy’ fabrics of Napoleonic France and have designed a number of toiles based on different cities around the world, including London, Glasgow and New York.

Speaking of the new exhibition, Alistair McAuley said: “When the team from the Gallery first approached us about this show, we looked at the big student population in cities like Plymouth and thought back to our time in student accommodation in Glasgow in the mid 1980s.

“We wanted to create something inspired by that time in our lives, which is where the idea for Bedsit came from. It’s a time of your life when you make the most out of what you have to hand, even if that’s only two quid in your pocket.

“Most of us aspire to richness and nice things, but if you don’t have access to that sort of life, you still want to be comfortable. Inspiration can come from anywhere, from a stain on the wall to the insects intruding on your home, and these are the themes that run throughout the show,” said Alistair.

“Hopefully we’ve captured something temporary that comes from humble beginnings and a rich and decadent feel to it, but isn’t something to be precious about. It’s nice having beautiful things, but it’s nice to be able to use them too!”

“Big international trade shows like Maison & Objet in Paris are our usual routes to market, selling to commercial and hospitality markets, so we’re not normally displayed in gallery spaces like this.

“I don’t consider our work to be art, but I understand why people appreciate the labour involved in creating our products. There’s a contradiction, because being commercially minded is not what our company’s about. It’s important to us that not everybody likes what we do. We’d rather be loved or hated, though thankfully there are more people that love our creations.

“We’re inspired by all kind of things. The Arts and Crafts Movement particularly, people like William Morris that were working on drawing, colouring, scale and detail on the cusp of the industrial revolution, when things were really laboured.

“There used to be a real love and commitment that went into the creative process, and although digital allows us to achieve so much in a fraction of the time now, the designs themselves are still very time intensive. You want to achieve that high quality, no matter what it takes to get there.”

While visiting Plymouth, Paul Simmons gave advice to BA (Hons) Printed Textile Design and Surface Pattern and BA (Hons) Fashion Media and Marketing students at Plymouth College of Art.

Discussing the more provocative elements of his early work, Paul said: “Once you shove a big iguana in a pattern munching on insects, you do diminish its sellability.”

Explaining the way that trends have changed since Timorous Beasties were set up, Paul said: “Over time, people started using wallpapers in different ways. You have to show people how these things are going to be used and it can work to your advantage if people have a preconceived notion of what you’re doing.

“You can change the way they think. That’s one of the things a designer should do out of duty, changing the way that people have preconceived ideas.”

2nd year Plymouth College of Art Printed Textile Design and Surface Pattern student Lily Cumming, aged 20, has also been offered a placement at Timorous Beasties later in the year.

As part of the Textile Design season in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, on Wednesday 23 March from 5:30pm until 6:30pm PATTERNITY will be giving a free public artist talk in the college’s Studio Theatre.

Established in 2009 by ‘cult pattern pioneers’ art director Anna Murray and surface designer Grace Winteringham, PATTERNITY was born from a drive to give pattern a powerful and positive voice.

Starting out as the world’s only dedicated digital pattern archive, PATTERNITY quickly became an essential source of inspiration for design companies and brands around the globe.

From its unrivalled position as the go-to authority on pattern, exploration, and innovation, PATTERNITY has designed product ranges that continue to sell in major museums and select retailers internationally.

Zoe Li, exhibitions manager of The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, said: “The Textile Design season in The Gallery offers a different perspective into how we look at surface design and that space where the fine art and design disciplines meet.

“Timorous Beasties, particularly, are a working design studio, which is interesting because you can look at the details of their exhibition from a fine art perspective, but it’s filled with products that are intended for use.

“The patterns have been applied and executed to the highest quality, but they’re items that can be bought either en masse or individually.

“Hopefully members of the public and students of the college that view Bedsit will feel inspired by the can-do attitude behind the creation of such a unique a bedsit within our college.”


(image: Paul Simmons from Timorous Beasties – Photo by Dom Moore)

(from a press release)