A tea towel – like all necessary household products, the better its design, the more satisfactory the chore. Ahead of the Christmas season, artist Scott King has turned his attention to creating a series of Philosophers Tea Towels.
The name 'tea towel' originates from early 19th century Victorian England. The tea towel was the linen of choice for Victorian ladies who liked its absorbent, fine weave soft linen fibres. A popular Victorian pastime was to embroider personalised tea towels which were used at tea time to cover food, to wrap around the outside of the teapot (tea cosy), and to take care of any spills. King's brilliant series, created in conjunction with K2 Screen, depicts rare or previously unseen quotations by six of the 20th century’s leading philosophers including Walter Benjamin, Noam Chomsky and C.G. Jung.
Graphic design-trained King previously worked as art director and creative director at i-D magazine and Sleazenation, respectively. He has since worked as an artist, with exhibitions at galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the ICA; KW Berlin; and Kunstverein Munich. Here, King talks to AnOther about the ideas behind his designs and his personal household habits.
How did the idea for the tea towels come about?
I first designed a set in 2002 called 'Angry Brigade Tea Towels', that had the Angry Brigade press communiques printed on them. I imagined them as an alternative British Heritage product; another British history other than the official or tourist version. I've always been deeply attracted to and simultaneously repulsed by the stuff they sell in the gift shops they have at MoMA, Tate Modern, etc. Where Mondrian meets a pencil case, where Pollock becomes an umbrella and Rothko a tea cosy. I love all that sort of tat – that hybrid of art and product where these once noble ideas are turned in to over-priced nick nacks. The idea behind the Philosophers Tea Towels was partly inspired by that – trying to make that kind of stuff but as an artwork from its inception rather than as afterthought to flog to people before they go home.
Which is your personal favourite design?
I really like the C.G. Jung one partly because it's so hopeless. His situation is so hopeless as he tries to forge this great idea of Synchonicity. But my favourite is the Walter Benjamin one because it's so true. His words have been stripped of context – you see them displayed on gallery walls and on the opening pages of novels, as if reprinting his words will somehow lend gravitas to the work of the artist or novelist that has co-opted them.
Do you enjoy washing up?
I don't mind it really – I much prefer it to 'drying up'. I always hated that as it involves the unrecognised job of 'putting away'. People will thank you if you 'wash up' – or even if you 'dry up' – but nobody ever recognises 'putting away'.
"I always hated 'drying up' as it involves the unrecognised job of 'putting away'"
What's do you see when stood at your sink at home?
A blank wall. We were going to have a window put above the sink when we moved here, but never did, that window went the same way as the loft extension, it never happened – that said, if we did have a window put in, it would look on to another blank wall.
Do you have any household tips?
Yes. If you ever do any jobs at all – hoovering, cleaning the bathroom, scraping off wallpaper – always leave the tools out that you've used and leave a bit of a mess, as evidence that you've done it ... there's not much point in doing this if you live alone, of course.
For prices and more information about the Philosophers Tea Towels, email here. Two more tea towel sets of little known quotations by Artists and Pop Stars will be available in 2013.
Text by Laura Bradley