Olly Moss messes with Willow Ware

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Olly Moss is a British designer who sets out to mess with what others have designed before him. He’s best known for his re-thinking of existing movie posters, which are sometimes clever and cheeky, or just visually present different aspects of the films. The designs are always done in an eye-catching composition in bold colors – the end result from the viewer is a knowing grin. All of this talent has brought him actual work for entertainment heavies such as Marvel Comics, New Line Cinema and Sony Computer Entertainment.

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And now he’s gone subversive with a classic, British design – blue Willow Ware china. He’s taken the recognizable graphics – a crowded Chinese scene featuring trees, birds and temples – and rendered it in low-tek computer graphics, as if it’s a video game one can play.

When one thinks of subversive design, one thinks of firms like Timorous Beasties, and their slipping of unexpected and sometimes downright unsavory subject matter into pretty toile wallpaper patterns.

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Or Shao Fan, who blasts open the notion of the traditional Chinese chair.

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But back to Olly Moss and his particular treatment of Willow Ware.

Although Willow Ware used to be more ubiquitous in the cupboards of grandmas and aunties, you find it less nowadays. It is still available today as brand new merchandise, or in antique stores and on sites that deal in vintage, such as ETSY and ebay. It was first designed and issued by Thomas Minton in 1790, inspired by the Chinese porcelain made for the western market. These plates are in the transferware category, as the design has been transfered or stamped onto the plate. You typically find them in blue, but they also exist in red, brown, green and even purple.

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Although the plates have one or sometimes two bands of decoration around the rim, the center image, whether large or small, a sort of one-dimensional plane of objects in a Chinese landscape, is always the same. Excellent marketer that he was, Thomas Minton created a story to explain the design, lending a certain romance and feeling of antiquity to the pieces.

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The story went that a wealthy Mandarin was planning to marry his daughter, Koong-se, to a Duke. She, unfortunately, had fallen in love with her father’s lowly clerk, an impossible match. Her father built a high fence around his estate to keep the two apart. He kept his plans for her marriage to the Duke, and lo, soon enough, the Duke arrived by boat with a box of jewels for his bride. The wedding was set for the day the blossom fell from the willow. (Time was not money back then.)

On the day of the wedding, the clerk snuck into her room and the two of them escaped with the Duke’s jewels on his boat to a secluded island, and there they lived for years. But one day the Duke learned of their location and had them killed. The Gods, sympathetic to their plight, turned them into doves to live happily . . .

That’s right, all of this is traceable in the design of the plate.

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Well, in Olly Moss’s version, the image is altered – in a few different ways. There are the familiar trees and temples and birds, but the scene transforms into the landscape of a video game. Characters are crossing the bridge as they would, controlled by a joy stick. There are angular hearts popping and even a few Pac Man-ish silhouettes, all totally non-existent in even 1790s England.

Somehow, between the staid, old Mandarin of the tale and the equally staid tradition of taking British tea, the end result is proper. In a cheeky way.

Happy Hunting . . . Anne

And I just saw these teacups and saucers by Trixie Delicious!

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