I’ve stripped wallpaper almost as many times as I’ve managed to get it up. Once up, it’s exceedingly hard to get down so we find layers built up over years, in various patterns and styles, a catalogued palimpsest waiting to be revealed, a narrative through time. It’s also a story I like the idea of being a part of, as a discovery waiting to be found. It is a committal akin to a marriage and seems to remain in fashion for roughly the same duration.
I studied Fine Art at Bath Spa University where I began, like so many art students in front of a canvas attempting something seminal in paint. Having failed, within a matter of weeks as a painter, I jumped to sculpture, had a brief period of doing nothing during an existential crisis, took a few photographs then stumbled upon print making. From here I could drag some offcuts of MDF out of the skip, chip away at them with a chisel and make endless numbers of prints in all manner of colours.
By the end of three years I had sheathes of prints in all manner of sizes and so staged my first solo exhibition in the public conveniences in Bath. Using wheat paste to slap them up in both male and female toilets, I hired in a violinist and had cheap Cava taken round on trays. I had successfully vandalised the public toilets and went home content. Coming back the next day to review the exhibition in relative peace, I found to my horror the toilets had been closed ‘for cleaning’. My work had been taken away, but not willingly and after a full assault by the council, traces of it remained. A seed had been planted.
After university I started a job as a draughtsman for a fine artist and managed to save enough money for a trip to New York; a period that allowed me to ponder the post university life I wanted to live when I got back. Interning at a small contemporary gallery in Chelsea, one thing I knew was that I certainly didn’t want to sell bad art to vulgar people.
It also occurred to me at this time that I wouldn’t be able to get by on print exhibitions alone, that there needed to be something else, something more commercially viable.
I have a memory as a child of looking up and seeing a Grecian frieze depicting a chain of perpetual buggery in profile. Whether I conceived it myself or not remains a mystery, but what matters is that the idea for my first repeat pattern was born and morphed itself into my very first wallpaper; Grecian Love.
I moved to London immediately after returning from New York and being broke was forced to take a job in a restaurant that left me working full time, on minimum wage and without tips.
It was during this time that I began frequently to visit Babette Kulik, proprietor of The Society Club, a members’ bar and bookshop in Soho. It was here that I would neck a couple of glasses of wine during my break between shifts, just to soften the blow for my return to work. After talking about my designs she finally gave me the chance I’d been waiting for and allowed me to paste up two of my wallpapers in her downstairs loos.
From this point Babette campaigned ceaselessly for my cause, leading to commissions from Mark Hix to The Academy Club and still continues to propel me forward. At present there is an exhibition of my woodblock prints at the bookshop, some of which have made their way from their humble beginnings in Bath’s public conveniences.
To date most of the wallpaper has found its way into bathrooms and toilet cubicles, so take a seat; I have a few minutes of your undivided attention to view the toilet paper.
– Tom Maryniak