PaperCity Magazine

October 2014 - Houston

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The brown-and-white cowhide that Jon Male bought from an antiques dealer in France reminded him of an Axminster carpet in similar colors owned by his family, which had been in storage for 20 years. He took scissors to it, and a concept was born: The "cruelty-free" animal rug is now available in a variety of patterns based on antique carpet designs. Left: Daniel Heath's Taxidermy Birds pattern is available not only as wallpaper but also etched into panels of slate or salvaged iroko wood for use as wall surfacing, below. Right: Polly Morgan takes her country's penchant for dead things from the parlor into the gallery with her unique Gannet, 2014, fashioned from a taxidermy gannet and cremated bird remains Right: "Iguana was designed as a challenge to make something lyrical and beautiful from imagery that is not considered typically beautiful," says Timorous Beasties' Kate Mitchell. "We wanted to prove that it's possible to produce a top-selling design product from unusual and unexpected subject matter." The Iguana design is available in wallpaper or, as shown here, in digitally printed fabric. W e think of England as soft, restrained, civilized: the honey-colored stone of a Cotswolds village glowing in afternoon light; teacakes, damask napkins and watercress sandwiches; a 626-horsepower Bentley purring quietly down the lane. But darkness lurks deep in the British psyche. Think of wildly successful artist Damien Hirst's dissected animals preserved in formaldehyde. Or of-the-moment Polly Morgan, whose sculpture is collected by Kate Moss and Courtney Love, about whom London's Telegraph said, "Her insistence at being termed an artist who makes taxidermy, rather than a taxidermist who makes art, can seem pretentious, but the difference is that taxidermists want to make their subjects look alive, whereas Morgan wants hers to look thoroughly dead." The old English penchant for deliciously grotesque animal imagery is resurfacing now in design objects. This was amply evident in the booths of British exhibitors at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York this May. For example, an outfit called Tooth & Claw offered cushions printed with the skull of a crow. The pattern, called Alas Poor Birdy, is also available as a gentleman's silk pocket square. Another funereal design of theirs — incorporating a pair of crow skulls, a bouquet of blood-red roses and a gloomy Shakespeare quote — is titled Come to Dust. The company Timorous Beasties showed wallpaper and fabric depicting a writhing iguana trapped among vines around which birds and insects tweet and buzz with dubious intent. Jon Male displayed rugs based on traditional Persian patterns but shaped like cowhides. Daniel Heath's Taxidermy Birds design was available on wallpaper and fabric, or etched into slate or wood tiles for wall surfacing. Not being psychologists, we are unable to fully explain what rug maker Jon Male calls "the British thing, a love of the weird." But we can point to its long history, which ranges far beyond your everyday trophies mounted on walls or furniture constructed of antlers, into the realm of the charmingly macabre. There was the 19th- century rage for anthropomorphic taxidermy, in which stuffed animals were displayed in human situations — kittens at a tea party, bunnies in a schoolroom writing on tiny slates. Then there is the simultaneously saccharine and grisly corollary to the nation's famous passion for its dogs and cats: the stuffed pet. Designer Jess Eaton, who also has a fashion line called Roadkill Couture, updates and reduces that to its essence by "respectfully immortalizing [clients'] beloved animals and pets on passing, either as a mounted skeleton or carved skull." Tooth & Claw's Jamie James and his wife and partner Andrea Webster grew up with punk and goth as influences. Webster once worked for Vivienne Westwood, whose early work included clothing adorned with chicken bones. "For us, it is actually a bit of a difficult issue," James says, since the couple are vegetarians. "We see what we do as an ethical take on the taxidermy trend. We understand why people like it. But on a personal level, we would not buy any taxidermy pieces for ourselves." A paradox? But isn't all of life (not to mention death)? Artist Polly Morgan points to "the difference between initial perception and reality and how different the two are. There's a huge gaping chasm between them." What she says of her work could go for these designers as well: "The whole idea is to make something look like something else. It's a kind of trick, I suppose." THOSE BRITS BLOODY Motifs of things organic and formerly alive — are turning up in the work of UK designers. Jonathan Lerner hunts them down at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. "Everyone has an idea of what a human skull looks like, but actually most people are referencing stylized versions they have seen in tattoo art," says Tooth & Claw's Jamie James. "I wanted to do the same thing and create an image that was simplified and captured the essence of a bird skull." The result is his Alas Poor Birdy design, left. His next collection, Destroy, will feature a ram's skull, falconry images and other beasts. ("Destroy" is the final word of the Sex Pistols' song "Anarchy in The U.K.") Above: For angels with feet of clay: Jess Eaton's White Collar from his Roadkill Couture collection is made from goose wings and rabbit fur. Left: The materials for Jess Eaton's Roadkill Couture collection are sourced from animals that died a natural death, were killed for food or culled as pests. Crow Collar is made of crow and rook wings. Right: Is it realism or surrealism? British artist of the moment Polly Morgan's Myocardial Infarction, 2013, combines taxidermy with resin plaster, glue, oil paint and ink. Polly Morgan's Dead Ringer Left: Not everything in Jess Eaton's Roadkill Couture collection is for wearing. This carved horse skull is a centerpiece. Polly Morgan's Rabbit and Hat

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