Noted for its surreal and provocative textiles and wallpapers, the design studio Timorous Beasties was founded in Glasgow in 1990 by Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, who had met while studying textile design at Glasgow School of Art. Timorous Beasties was shortlisted for the Designer of the Year prize in 2005.
Their Inspiration is very indirect, it can take lots of different shapes and forms which can also be influenced by timing. To name but a few: Dutch design, Josef Frank, William Morris, Joseph Beuys, Paul Klee, Leonardo, Picasso, Ridley Scott, Tom Kirk, Chuck Mitchell, Italian motorcycles, Jake and Dinos Chapman.
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.
Typical is the Glasgow Toile. At first glance it looks like one of the magnificent vistas portrayed on early 1800s Toile de Jouy wallpaper, but closer inspection reveals a nightmarish vision of contemporary Glasgow.
Some of the scenes are from an area of Glasgow where we lived and worked for a big part of our lives. The scenes are sinister, funny and moral. A junkie shoots up in a graveyard – the graveyard is a famous Glasgow landmark, called the Necropolis, where junkies go. The moral tale being that if you shoot up, you will literally end up in a graveyard. A young man pees against a tree in a park. A tramp takes a swig from a can of beer. The moral here is that if you start misbehaving early in life you may end up in the park later on. All this is happening as the Glasgow University Tower looms above like a fairy tale castle. Other landmarks are the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Church situated in Maryhill, a poor area of Glasgow where we used to have a studio, while Norman Foster’s Armadillo building represents the changes along the Clyde, a once booming industrial port. The urban landscape in many UK cities seems to change all the time. Modern buildings have become icons that give us a strong sense of identity, therefore the Glasgow Toile seemed a perfect expression of where we were coming from. To sum things up, we do love some of the traditional designs from the past, but it’s great fun to give them a new angle, to make them speak to us in the present.
Timorous Beasties was founded in Glasgow in 1990 by Alistair McAuley, born in Duntocher in 1967, and Paul Simmons, born in Brighton in 1967, who met as students at Glasgow School of Art. After beginning by designing fabrics and wallpapers for production by other companies, Timorous Beasties then started to manufacture its designs and recently opened a shop on the Great Western Road in Glasgow. 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.
Clients include Famous Grouse, Nike, Fortnum & Mason, and Philip Treacy as well as exclusive lines for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Brintons carpets, Liberty London, and John Lewis Department Stores.
As their working practise as designer-makers has progressed, Timorous Beasties have become increasingly experimental in their approach to both hand-printing and machine production.
These changes are reflected in their 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.
Clients for whom the Beasties have supplied special commissions, are; fabric for the fashion world’s hat extremist Philip Treacy, as well as interiors for a London casino and Glasgow’s Arches venue. When the Wellcome Trust wanted lampshades for its London HQ, Simmons and McAuley decorated 48 shades with paisley designs made from germs, argyle checks made from syringes, and patterns drawn from images of human foetuses and tsetse flies. The shades hung as a double helix in the Trust’s 5m-high windows, mimicking the shape of DNA.