Image: Ken Gray
Rachel Maclean’s work is, at first glance, bright and whimsical, but deeper inspection reveals dark meanings and a menacing reality. Maclean’s inspiration comes from a variety of places including pop culture, horror movies, television, music, video games, and reality television.
Dovecot first connected with Maclean at the National Gallery, London in 2018, where she was exhibiting The Lion and The Unicorn, alongside Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen. Conversations continued with the artist through 2019 and 2020 as a design for a set of rugs evolved. The two rugs were completed by Dovecot’s tufters, Louise Trotter and Ben Hymers, in November 2021.
This set of seemingly identical rugs is a dark representation of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Body Dysmorphia), a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, flaws that are often unnoticeable to others. The main character in the set of rugs is Maclean’s animated character, Mimi. The images represented alongside her include ‘duck-rabbits’ and ‘horse-frogs’. These creatures symbolise those flaws that, once noticed, cannot be unseen. They are hung side by side and each one is an upside-down, and reversed, version of the other. Stylised writing in each piece reads ‘I’m Fine’ which is seen as ‘Save Mi’ when read upside down, illustrating the harsh realities of mental health disorders such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Dovecot’s tufters Louise Trotter and Ben Hymers worked from digital images of Maclean’s designs to create the rugs. Maclean was interested to explore synthetic fibres, alongside traditional wool, to give a more artificial and manufactured appearance. Hymers and Trotter experimented with different artificial fibres to select the best material for the design. The use of polypropylene creates a shinier finish than wool, reflecting the digital aspect of the design. 3D elements have also been included to form Mimi’s hair. The bright yellow pigtails emerge from the rug onto the surrounding walls. The combination of the synthetic fibres and the level of detail in the design was the most challenging aspect of the process for both tufters, and was a different process from what they normally work on.
The development of the rug involved a large amount of sampling, both to find the correct synthetic fibres and colours but also how to use the materials by experimenting with effects through alternating pile lengths, and looped and cut pile to create variations of texture. The creation of these rugs proved to be complex, pushing the tufter’s equipment, and their skills, to gain as much detail as possible.
The design is connected to Maclean’s character Mimi, who featured in her permanent outdoor installation for Jupiter Artland 2021 The rugs were displayed in an exhibition of Maclean’s work at Josh Lilley Gallery in London at the end of November 2021 and in Dovecot's exhibition Scottish Women Artists: 250 Years of Challenging Perception, from 28 July 2023– 6 Jan 2024.