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Scott King launches Service Industries with a new range of tea towels

Artist Scott King has history with the tea towel. As a format ripe for subversion and satire he’s previously created a set dedicated to the press communiqués of the 1970s left wing revolutionary group, The Angry Brigade (2002), as well as a series featuring various ‘quotes’ by a range of philosophers and thinkers – from Wittgenstein to Benjamin and McLuhan (2012).

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Top of post: The Jet Age, hand-coloured with marker pens on white 100% lightweight cotton; illustration by Will Henry, taken from King and Henry’s ‘Anish & Antony Take Afghanistan’ (2014), originally published by JRP|Ringier, Zurich. Above, taken from King’s ‘The Alcoholic’s Coloring Book’ (2008), originally published by White Columns, New York

Service Industries, King’s new product shop created with designer Rhys Atkinson, offers a new set of tea towels emblazoned with artwork that relates to some of the projects he has worked on over the previous years.

For example, one reproduces a panel from his and Will Henry’s comic book satire of public art commissions, Anish & Antony Take Afghanistan (JRP|Ringier); while another continues his series of gig-based artworks – The Jesus and Mary Chain’s infamous North London Polytechnic concert of 15 March 1985, rendered in reductive detail.

Designs for two of King’s other favourites bands (Sleaford Mods and Earl Brutus) are also referenced in the new set.

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The Jesus and Mary Chain, North London Polytechnic, 15 March 1985

For King, the products sold in gallery and museum shops hold an intriguing allure and have almost become an obsession – “The Mondrian pencil cases at MoMa, the Rothko cushions at Tate Modern … these kind of mementos of your ‘museum experience’,” he says. “I sort of love this stuff – well, I love it and hate it – this kind of ‘half-art’ which is essentially kitsch but is somehow meant to suggest ‘good taste’ or ‘artistic appreciation’.” 

As a response, King decided to try and construct an alternative – could you create a store that became a place of critique, where the products were more interesting than the art in the gallery? Service Industries is the result – a space where King can “make the tea towels ‘the art’, rather than the spin-off product of ‘the painting’,” he says. 

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The legend ‘Now Wash Your Hands’ often appeared as a footnote on Earl Brutus’ artwork: a line lifted straight from Izal toilet roll packaging

As for working with tea towels, King says his fascination goes back to seeing his Grandma’s collection reflect some of the places she’d visited (“Bridlington, Torquay and more bizarrely, Toronto”). 

“They’re an old-fashioned form of democratic art in that sense aren’t they?” he says. “Cheap paintings for people who’d never think to – or maybe could never afford to – own an original painting. Similarly, I like the way you still see them in traditional fish and chip shops – grease-stained memories of a seaside past. So the idea to do Service Industries is about that, too.”

New products will be added to the Service Industries site over the next few weeks and announced via Instagram and Twitter. These products include King’s ‘Stop Mumford & Sons’ poster and copies of his record ‘You’re My Favourite Artist‘, alongside mirror tiles, place mats and, naturally, T-shirts. 

“Our idea is to create product,” says King, “but hopefully product that’s a bit nastier than most”.

The tea towels are screen printed on white 100% standard premium cotton, 70 x 50cm (£25), except for The Jet Age edition which is for display only (it is coloured with marker pens) and made from white 100% lightweight cotton, 60 x 50cm (£100). See serviceindustries.co.uk and scottking.co.uk

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Taken from a series of cartoons created for the band by Scott King and Will Henry

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