First published in 1962, The Drowned World is set in a future where the polar ice caps have melted and London is a tropical swampland. Alligators roam the streets and The Ritz’s grand facade is covered in foliage.
Ballard’s richly imagined vision of the capital provided the inspiration for Folk’s latest collection – a limited edition range of t-shirts, sweatshirts and summer shirts designed in collaboration with artists Nick and Phil Goss. The artists created designs based on scenes and creatures from the novel: Nick has created a radioactive sunset print while Phil has drawn flamingos, reptiles and watery blue zig zags.
The collaboration came out of a chance meeting between Folk founder Cathal Mcateer and Nick Goss in Folk’s Soho shop. Mcateer had previously seen Nick’s work at Josh Lilley Gallery and Nick regularly shops at Folk. The pair discussed working together and Phil Goss suggested using The Drowned World as a starting point.
“I always liked The Drowned World as although it is technically a science fiction novel it is set in everyday London – for example, the main character lives in the Ritz, so it’s not about traveling to a far away land but looking at your surroundings in a new, intense way,” says Phil.
“Working from a book like The Drowned World gave us leeway to play with more lurid imagery than we would usually allow into our work,” says Nick. “Submerged tower blocks, carnivals of alligators, the surface of the water burning in the sun – Ballard has an incredible way of describing a scene and giving the reader enough room to develop their own interpretations.”
Nick Goss is known for his layered paintings inspired by places – his recent exhibition at Josh Lilley featured paintings based on shops and businesses on Green Lanes in north London. His brother Phil studied visual communication at the Royal College of Art after graduating from Edinburgh University with a degree in English Literature and has designed prints for Paul Smith and interiors for Alex Eagle. He is also the Director at London gallery space the Centre for Recent Drawing.
After discussing initial ideas with Folk, the brothers re-read Ballard’s book and made drawings and paintings inspired by certain scenes or extracts. “I was drawn to a description of a lamppost encrusted with barnacles,” says Nick. “I loved the idea that something so commonplace and mundane could become so quickly exoticised and made so beautiful by such a natural intervention. I happened to be walking past St James’s Park thinking about the project and saw the pelicans they have down there living in the pond. When I [got] to my studio, I drew a pelican perched on the barnacled lamppost and this is one of the motifs used for the garments.”
Phil was inspired by Ballard’s descriptions of the red sun that looms over the city. “It is always present in the sky, between the buildings and reflected in the mirror like water. This becomes more and more intense as the character’s psychological state disintegrates. It was an important image for the collection so the red sun manifests itself in different ways,” he says. Prints are also designed to look “mirage-like” – inspired by the fact that the book’s characters are often mesmerised by reflections in the water.
Some of the prints were created using fabric dyes on canvas. Others were created using watercolour and inks on thin Japanese papers. The Goss brothers worked closely with Mcateer throughout the process – “Early on, we had a lot of meetings with the Folk team and we passed ideas back and forward. We would show Cathal drawings and discuss them and in return he would talk to us about different fabrics and how they could work as clothes,” explains Phil. “The designers asked us to redraw a few things but most of the prints came directly from quite early drawings.”
Nick first read The Drowned World ten years ago while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art and says the book has stayed with him ever since. “Humanity’s relationship with nature and particularly water is something that crops up in both our practices frequently. Maybe it’s spending a lot of time in Holland growing up and witnessing first hand how fragile a relationship there is there between the sea and the land. Maybe it’s the fact Phil lives on a boat – we are drawn to watery worlds,” he says.
“The book was published in 1962, a good while before any popular discussion of climate change,” he continues. “At its core, the book is about humanity having the rug pulled out from under its feet, about entropic forces that are impossible to fathom. These are all themes that seem incredibly pertinent to the London we live in now.”
Items are on sale at a pop-up shop at 45 Redchurch Street (E2 7DJ) alongside drawings and paintings by the Goss brothers. The collection will also be available online at folkclothing.com from Friday 7 July. It’s the latest in a series of interesting collaborations at Folk – the brand has created exclusive collections for Liberty and Mr Porter and often teams up with Japanese label Hobo. You can read our interview with Mcateer about the brand here.