Timorous Beasties at Winchester Discovery Centre

The Gallery at Winchester Discovery Centre is now showing an installation by award winning design company, Timorous Beasties.


Digitally created ‘Graffiti Stripe’ drape & abstract chaise longue


Paul Simmons and Alistair McAulay formed the company in 1990 having met at Glasgow School of Art and developed a rapport. They are now a renowned and internationally acclaimed design studio “most noted for their surreal and provocative textiles and wallpapers, they work in a wide range of disciplines including graphics, furniture, ceramics and glass” (Liz Arthur, Selvedge Magazine).

Timorous Beasties were inspired early on by “Toiles de Jouy” a specific French textile design. The origins of toile began by Christophe-Phillipe Oberkampf and designer Jean Baptiste Huet who, after the ban on printed textiles was lifted in 1759, began their own printing company in the town of Jouy-en-Josas. The toile depicted scenes of pastoral nature, landmarks, political scenes & rural society working, drinking, socialising & sometimes womanising. We see these scenes as traditional, however at the time they were seen as quite contemporary.

Timorous Beasties designs are inspired by the original, but with a twist of subversive, modern day perspective on urban society. “A glass of wine became a can of super lager, a pipe became a rollie, and an old man sitting on a stool in a rural scene became a tramp on a park bench.” (interview with Design Museum). Their Glasgow, Edinburgh and London toiles depict trainers on electricity lines, drug deals, prostitutes, a parody of CCTV cameras on a streetlamp and even Lord Sugar’s Gherkin towering over London whilst homeless characters, bored youths and ‘plugged in’ commuters dot the foreground.

These designs also feature on some of their ceramics, which are on display at the Gallery.

Timorous Beasties both design and produce their work under one roof, giving them more freedom to play with their style and develop experimental techniques. On display on the far end wall are some concrete panels. These solid tiles have been etched with delicate designs, such as the Tree of Life one below, which was one of my favourites from the exhibition.

They also reference classic, natural history illustration especially botanical, animal and bird illustrations, so maintaining the importance of drawing. Their design work is always up to date with new colours, different types of materials, abstract design, and digital printing, mixed with their own eccentric and esoteric interpretations.

When it comes to inspiration, they say their influences are varied and mostly indirect, but undeniably William Morris is one of them. It seems to me that their own heritage (the Thistle wallpaper), experience, personal, social and political views play a big role in their work.

Having seen their Devil Damask and my favourites Omni Splatt, Ex Libris and the Graffiti Drips series, it’s understandable that one critic described their work as ‘William Morris on acid’! The pattern and colour can be like a kaleidoscope, even moving, with a bee or other prominent features, seemingly becoming more and more 3D towards you. The Graffiti series, the fabric shown on the Chaise Longue in the Gallery, is vivid and fluid, offering an authentic quality. It’s this subversive, contemporary play of their work I am most drawn to. The muse of the ‘underbelly’ and urban social issues, soon to be a juxtaposing feature in elite drawing rooms.

The main featured wall is a special panoramic wallpaper 18 metres long. It is digitally printed with a vinyl finish, on specialist wide paper. The colours are rich, with their signature nature motifs subtly contrasted with imagery of rubbish and death.


Timorous Beasties connection with nature and society is refreshingly honest, as much as it is beautiful and aesthetically stimulating. Be sure not to miss one of the finest installation exhibitions which has come to Winchester!

On display in our Welcome entrance is a selection of books from Winchester School of Art Library inspired by our visit to Timorous Beasties. The book selection covers natural history, textile design, wallpapers for interiors, and book illustration, alongside artists, designers, and companies.

The exhibition runs until 16th March 2016 at The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre. Click here for more information.

For more information about Timorous Beasties see the journal article ‘Timorous Beasties and Scotland’ by Liz Arthur in Selvedge, issue 30, Sept/Oct 2009 p.47-49

More information on ‘Toiles de Jouy’ can be found in the article by Jessica Hemmings in Embroidery vol.56, Sept/Oct 2005, p.36-37. Also, in Library 2 at 746.0944.

Timorous Beasties website

Robynne Willowby, February 2016