William Morris averred that only those who were of ‘an unhealthy state of mind, and probably of body also’ would wish to leave their walls bare, but equally suggested that to be surrounded entirely by magnificent, intellectually exercising artworks would end up making one callous to their effects. The great beardspiration, and champion of vernacular architecture’s 1881 essay 'Some Hints on Pattern-Designing' thus made one of the first sales pitches on record for the use of wallpaper (though since it also mentions in passing that ‘it is with healthy and sane people only that art has dealings’ there’s a slim possibility that the text might originally have been intended as a comedy routine.)
Artist wallpaper, then, is a tricksy notion – if it’s great art, then by Morris’s rationale, it will likely make for lousy wallpaper, but if it’s good wallpaper then its origins lie in ‘lesser’ (rather than ‘worse’) art. Perhaps with that in mind, artists engaging in wallpaper projects tend to aim for head-melting effect rather than beautification. If the Dude’s rug really tied the room together, this is wallpaper that rips the room apart.
Sarah Lucas, Tits in Space, 2009. wallpaper, limited edition of 185. © Sarah Lucas. Courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
Sarah Lucas’s instant-custard-toned pavilion walls in Venice hinted more at the interior of the kind of institution that might serve said custard (with a very blunt spoon) than any kind of safe and comforting domestic environment. Ditto the 14- piece MDF and breezeblock furniture range that the artist launched with her gallery Sadie Coles last April, which exuded all the domestic goddessery of a blinking neon striplight. Lest you need reminding that the fag-encrusted female form is no recent preoccupation of Lucas’s, following the cigarette-laced recta (smokin' hot asses?) on view in Venice, feast your eyes on the artist’s evocatively titled Tits in Space wallpaper, originally produced for an exhibition at the Whitworth in Manchester in 2000, then editioned for the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2009. This is surely the ideal wallcovering for a teenage boy’s bedroom, liable to complicate any urges they have toward smoking or sex for years to come.
Ai Weiwei, Finger, Maharam Serpentine Galleries Wallpaper Collection
Rather more in tune with teenage tastes is Ai Weiwei’s Finger (2015) in which the Chinese artist/ architect/ alternative beardspiration raises aloft his famed middle digit and saves us the bother of spinning on it by arranging the disembodied bird-flipping arms in mandalas of quite un-Buddhist sentiment. For proper effect the pattern probably should have been printed on transparent window vinyls, thusly cutting all views down to size in echo of the artist’s Study of Perspective series (1995–2003). This particular one-fingered salute relates more directly to the Marble Arm (2007) sculpture shown by Galerie Urs Meile at the ART HK fair in 2011 during the artist’s 80-day incarceration in a police detention centre: an ‘up yours’ with feeling, then.
Ai’s Finger is issued as part of a wallpaper collection for the Serpentine Gallery in London, which also includes minimal gesture patterns by Rosemarie Trockel (grids of squares or circles) and nose/popcorn, potato/lightbulb-paring patterns from John Baldessari. This is the second collection produced for the gallery by the US textile firm Maharam, which has also sired its own collection of artist wallcoverings under the label Maharam Digital Projects. Rather than patterns in the traditional sense, the series takes advantage of contemporary printing technologies that allow light-stable full-colour images to be spooled out at vast scale: no more pesky repeats, no more colour limitations, begone silly little strips of paper- most of these designs kick off at 3 x 5m. Making the most of this is Jacob Hashimoto, who’s The Long Passage Toward Night (2012) is a ten-metre-long print – effectively a trompe l’oeil – showing one of the artist’s paper kite installations at full size, assembled from 64 separate photographs and with a starting price of $7,500. The series continues in August with new designs by Sarah Sze – Frog and Crane, which suggests the creases left on paper after unfolding the titular origami models – and Teresita Fernández, who reprises the flock formations of the swarming graphite-nugget installation Sfumato (Epic) (2015) shown this spring in the exhibition As Above So Below at MASS MoCA.
Lacking a 10-metre wall to cover in facsimiles of large institutional artworks? Concerned that the one-wall-of-wallpaper thing is all a bit last-decade (as the famous magazine strapline runs, wallpaper is ‘the stuff that surrounds you’, not ‘the stuff that you feel a little uncertain about and relegate to a feature wall’)?
Jérôme Poret Wall of Sound, 2014
If you really want to push that boxed-in feeling to the limit Jérôme Poret’s Wall of Sound (2014) design for Wallpapers by Artists playfully extends the sonically-focussed artist’s use of the exhibition space as resonance chamber by redecorating your living room to resemble the facades of a giant speaker. Just the thing for when standing with your head pressed to the speaker stack at Donnington doesn’t feel immersive enough anymore, or for inducing paranoia in guests using the ‘smallest room in the house’.
Timorous Beasties, Kaleido Splatt wallpaper. © and Courtesy Timorous Beasties
Subversive as all of this sounds, most of these artist wallpapers don’t have a patch on the more outré output of Timorous Beasties, the Glasgow-based fabric and wallpaper practice whose designs have included images of dogs licking puddles of blood, men pissing on trees, an MRI scan of a human brain and a junkie shooting up on a park bench. Recent wallpapers include Urban Chaos (£220/ roll, made to order) in which the delicate lace-like pattern is constructed from silhouettes of BMX riders, skateboarders and street furniture, and the repeating 10 x 5m pattern Indie Wood (£350/ roll, made to order). Kaleido Splatt (£99/ roll), launched at ICFF in New York earlier this month, continues their exploration of the pattern-forming potential of paints and pigments as they ‘misbehave’. Splatting, dribbling, smearing, repeating, bleeding down wet paper, and mirrored into patterns they form Rorschach-blotlike forms that somehow echo the floral motifs of a classic damask.
Online exclusive published 28 May 2015