Captivating new wallpaper commission blends modern day scenes of Exeter with those of 200 years ago

Detail of the wallpaper commission by artist and printmaker Emma Molony © Emma Molony 2023

Commissioned by Arts and Culture, this strikingly beautiful wallpaper has been inspired by 19th century engravings of works by JMW Turner which are held in the University of Exeter’s fine art collection.

It has been designed and created by Emma Molony, an artist printmaker who lives and works in Exeter and East Devon. Two hundred years after JMW Turner visited and sketched Exeter, Emma followed in his footsteps and drew scenes along the River Exe. She chose three of these views and another on Streatham Campus as the basis for the wallpaper design.

Printing copies of the original 19th century engravings onto transparent acetate films, she cut designs from these images, scratching into them, combining and overlapping them, arranging them to make four collages of the Exeter scenes, made entirely from the marks of the engravings. This collage design forms the darker layer of the screenprinted wallpaper.

For the citrus-coloured layer beneath, Emma used her own drawings of plants, trees and grasses following the style of the engravings as inspiration. She screenprinted both layers of the design onto painted lining paper in a repeat pattern.

As part of the commission Emma ran a series of drypoint printmaking workshops with staff and students at the Streatham campus. Exploring mark making and landscape, the workshops offered participants the chance to create their own intaglio landscape prints using a very similar engraving technique to that Turner used himself. The results from both workshops were stunning and the workshops themselves provided staff and students with valuable time to step back, pause, and enjoy the immersive process of creative making.

Speaking about the commission Emma said “I hope people will enjoy seeing marks created nearly 200 years ago by master-engravers, reprinted and interwoven with contemporary views of Exeter. I loved the exaggerated and romanticised rendering of Devon in the original engravings and how it can encourage us to consider our landscape in creative ways. I also hope the project also enables people to see the potential of printmaking and the endless possibilities it offers. This was such an exciting commission for me; seeing the engravings first-hand, printing with staff and students and the challenge of designing and printing large-scale artwork with different 21st century printmaking methods.”

This is the second wallpaper installation commissioned by Arts and Culture. The idea behind the installations is to give artists an opportunity to design and realise a wallpaper which connects with an aspect of the University of Exeter, be it the physical environment, our collections or our research, and give it a new perspective. And of course, each installation will be there for a year, for all to enjoy.

Naome Glanville, Arts and Culture Co-ordinator said “Emma has captured beautifully the essence of the 19th century engravings from our collections, yet she has brought them into the modern age with her contemporary design and use of colour. I encourage everyone to come and view the wallpaper installation, so that Emma’s creativity and skill as a printmaker can be fully appreciated.”

You can see the wallpaper installation throughout the 2023/2023 academic year outside the senior common room, first floor Queen’s Building, Streatham Campus. Find out more about the process behind creating the wallpaper here.