I first met wallpaper maker Daniel Heath when a friend treated me a workshop at his studio in East London. We were introduced to the importance of pattern repeat and had a go with the screens to print our own wallpaper. I’ve been fascinated by his magical, other-worldly designs ever since so it was a real pleasure to interview him.
Daniel grew up in Eastbourne where he drew inspiration from the sea and the South Downs in his early artwork. ‘I was always drawing’, he remembers – and indeed one drawing of a rabbit skeleton was selected for an exhibition of school students’ work at the Towner Gallery. One of five children, Daniel was given lots of encouragement to pursue his art by his parents. As he says, his dad, a nurse was ‘always doing creative projects at home.’
Growing up in the 1990s, plain walls and woodchip papers prevailed and Daniel tells me his dad ‘was always trying to get rid of it’, so on a school trip to Charleston Farmhouse, home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, he was struck by the uninhibited use of decoration throughout the house. ‘They were having fun with pattern on different surfaces’ he says, and he decided to do the same.
After a BA in Printed Textiles at Loughborough University, a course he felt ‘brought my imagery to life’, he learned to apply his illustrative style to a variety of surfaces, a skill which has played out in his later work – alongside printed wallpapers he also upcycles furniture and slate using laser etching and UV printing.
The Royal College of Art offered an opportunity to experiment, both technically and artistically, and by Daniel’s own admission, his work took a ‘dark and macabre’ turn and he enjoyed the freedom and lack of artistic boundaries. Here he met Laura, a colour and trend specialist, who later became his wife. As a student he started to explore the wallpaper archives at the V&A, observing how colours and layers were used to create a design, and more recently he has delved into the collections at the William Morris Gallery, near to his Walthamstow home.
At the core of his practice is having ‘an interesting story to tell’ and he embraces the natural structure of a narrative in the creation of his patterns, whether it’s Art Deco buildings, taxidermy birds or circus elephants. As he points out, a collection requires the creation of a lot of imagery and for him there are protagonists and sub-plots to be explored. For him ‘those narratives are what sell the work’, with the customers becoming a part of the story, a factor that he feels gives his work its integrity.
Daniel got the idea for his popular Perivale Art Deco collection from cycling round London and noticing architectural details above shops. Soon he discovered the Michelin Building in Fulham and the Hoover Building in Perivale, whose main doorway inspired designs like Onyx Skyline, Wallace and Globe.
Daniel primarily uses screen-printing for his wallpapers, enjoying the methodical process and the need to be economical with colour and design. As he admits, the minor imperfections ‘add a charm to it’ and give the impression of multiple art prints going up on the wall.
Most wallpaper makers are aware of a need to give their customers what they want and Daniel continues to offer his bestsellers, but now he is established he also enjoys the freedom of drawing inspiration from galleries, travel and, when at home, National Geographic magazine. When he teaches students, however, he makes a point of helping them understand the context of where their papers may end up so that they can have the best chance of commercial success.
He's intrigued by how his own customers use his wallpapers – they’re bold patterns so usually adorn a feature wall or a small room where he says the effect is like opening a treasure chest. He makes a great analogy, suggesting that a small amount of wallpaper in the home is like having a vibrant lining in a suit, stating that ‘to have wallpaper now is such a statement’. Following lockdown he has seen resurgence of interest in wallpapers as more people work from home and want to enliven their environment. He believes there’s a bright future ahead for wallpaper makers and we can only agree.
Find out more about Daniel at https://www.danielheath.co.uk/