Ruthin Craft Centre


I’M NOT A WALLPAPER PERSON, bellows the wild-haired woman in the navy-blue Barbour to her female companion, as they begin their circuit of the W is for Wallpaper exhibition currently on display at the Ruthin Craft Centre. No, I’m not, her friend replies.


W is for Wallpaper, curated by Jane Audas and Gregory Parsons, features the work of twenty-three contemporary wallpaper designers and companies. The stylish playfulness of trade names such as All the Fruits, Mini Moderns, Custhom, Timorous Beasties and Squint reflects the show’s aesthetic. Lines of wallpaper strips, unfurling from suspended rolls, bedeck the four walls of Gallery One. In the centre of the space are two large plinths onto which flow four further samples. Hung from rods they form a graceful A.  As a whole the exhibit is a marvel of elegant restraint, a delicate balancing act of pattern and colour.


The two women have come to a halt in front of Claire Coles’ Mah-Jongg, 2015, a tentatively-drawn piece featuring a salmon-pink hoopoe bird on the branch of a sinewy, alizarin-blue tree.  Oh, gosh, exclaims the bellowing one. WOW, that’s hand sewn. Now that’s a bit different isn’t it?


In the opposite corner of the gallery, a man and a woman are standing looking at the Mini Moderns’ samples Dungeness, 2014 and Whitby, 2015. The motifs of a lighthouse, gulls and fishing boats are artless, recognisable. The colours are muted, post-war in tone. That’s very sixties, says the man, suddenly pulling the woman against his chest for a hug. She laughs and moves on to stand before Sian Elin’s Riad, 2015, a bold, monochrome geometric repeat. I don’t like that at all, he says, striding off. She remains behind, staring at the piece, her head on one side.


Wallpaper, it appears, divides people. As Audas writes, wallpaper represents one of the biggest aesthetic statements you will make in your home. It makes one wonder how the choosing of it is negotiated. And who has the final say?


Most people just do one wall, the loud woman barks to her friend.


Wallpaper not only has the potential to change the appearance, texture, shape and function of a space but it can also, as this exhibition reveals, be an initiator of story-telling and play.


Ah, sweet, cries the shouting woman pointing at Jon Burgerman’s riot of doodles Burger Mash, 2009, you colour it in.


Wallpaper brings other worlds in – a transplantation of the exotic and the familiar, the real and the unreal. Drawn flora and fauna of the rural landscape feature heavily in this show, most notably Mark Hearld’s stunning woodcut design Harvest Hare, 2011 and Hugh Dunford Woods’ hand-blocked print Field of Hares in sharp, turmeric-yellow (sparking thoughts of the lead and arsenic dyes used to colour papers in the 17th and 18th centuries, poisonously beautiful.) While Deborah Bowness’ use of photography in Painted Wall in Moscow, 2015 and Corrugated Wall in Vietnam creates a triumph of contemporary trompe l’oeil.


That would be lovely, the raucous woman is saying, bending over to touch the surface of the paper and purring, somewhere in a little cottage.


Others make a play of what has gone before, such as Eley Kishimoto’s La La Lyon, 2013, with its painted parody of flock, that mainstay of small-town 1980s Indian restaurants. And their Monster Skin, with its repeated undulating line, a child’s scribble of reptilian scales. And All The Fruits’s Wood – Yellow, 2014 with its simulated timber, is equally witty, a mimicry of the flat, two-dimensional backgrounds of early Disney cartoons.


Like or loathe it, wallpaper absorbs us into its surface, evoking memory, associations, even obsession. Think of the Agatha Christie story, Sleeping Murder, in which a young woman re-lives a killing in a house she briefly lived in as a child by recalling the cornflower pattern in the nursery. Or consider the wife in Charlotte Perkin’s Gilman’s, The Yellow Wallpaper, confined to her room and becoming more and more transfixed by the wall before her. Wallpaper provides a space for contemplation – for the up-close consideration of detail.


See, despite their initial pronouncement, the shouting woman and her friend are still here. It’s beautiful, the noisy one is saying, I think she must make cards. That drawing. Look, little blackberries and dandelion clocks, lovely. Lovely.