From the Archive; Aubrey Powell interviewed

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd's exhibition website

Screen Shot of Pink Floyd’s exhibition website

With the Victoria and Albert Museum staging the blockbuster exhibition, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, and an upcoming talk by Aubrey Powell titled, ‘Art of Hipgnosis and the Album Cover’ (14/9/2017), here’s an interview with the man himself. Back in 2000 I spoke with Aubrey on the phone while curating an exhibition, Sound Design, for the British Council, which featured the very best British record sleeve designs from the heyday of Rock to the rebellion of Punk, the eccentricities of New Wave and the innovations of Rave and Rare Groove.

The exhibition included extracts of interviews with all the contributing record sleeve designers but the complete interviews were not published, even though the designers gave permission for them to be compiled into a book. The publishing industry being what it was, at the time, the book didn’t fly, so look out for more interviews on this blog. My questions were quite general; the aim was to get the designers talking about what interested them. The interviews were edited from longer conversations, but I tried to keep the designer’s tone of voice, and each interviewee signed off on the final version. What’s particularly interesting is that at the time vinyl had been replaced by digital technology in the form of CDs; Web 2.0, online downloads and MP3s were still ‘experimental’ and the first Apple iPod wouldn’t be launched for another year. The implications of the Internet for the music industry were beginning to be talked about but not yet felt.

Why am I posting this interview now? To celebrate the work of Aubrey Powell and his (late) partner, colleagues and clients, and the V&A exhibition that he helped to create, which I also hope to review. For more information on the exhibition visit the band’s exhibition website and the museum’s extensive programme, here. To see masses of images check out the websites dedicated to Hipgnosis and Aubrey Powell; for the best of Hipgnosis’s work in print have a look at Aubrey’s book, Vinyl . Album . Cover . Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue, published by Thames and Hudson.

Aubrey Powell, interviewed by Liz Farrelly on 5/7/2000.

Liz Farrelly: How did you start Hipgnosis?

Aubrey Powell: We started Hipgnosis in the 1960s…It’s not what you know it’s who you know and Storm Thorgersen and I came from Cambridge and Pink Floyd originated in Cambridge – Syd Barrett, Dave Gilmore, Roger Waters – we all came to London at the same time, around 1965/66 and were all attending various art schools. Storm was at the Royal College of Art film school, and I was at the London School of Film Technique. Syd Barrett was at Hornsey Art School. And we were very together, all coming from Cambridge. We shared flats; Storm and I and then Syd and Dave had a big flat in South Kensington. Storm and I were looking to get some holiday money and we had a connection to photograph some cowboy book covers, and at the time everybody was getting stoned and dropping acid and were very drug-oriented. We were right in the middle of that psychedelic revolution. We were all part of that. Pink Floyd were doing gigs in tiny clubs like the UFO club on Tottenham Court Road and had just released their first album and were about to have a hit called See Emily play.
Continue reading

signature

Seminar Paper; Mediating Design, a case study in diversity

Modes of Mediating Applied Art and Design
7th Tallinn Applied Art Triennial
Soprus Cinema
Vanna-Posti 8, Tallinn, Estonia
21 April 2017

This is an edited version of a paper I presented amidst Art Deco splendor in Tallinn. While the city was still waiting for spring the reception was warm, and the audience and fellow speakers contributed to a lively discussion around the role of media in the mediating art and design. I’d like to thank Triin Jerlie and Keiu Krikmann for inviting me to speak, and the organising committee of the Tallinn Applied Art Triennial and the British Embassy Tallinn for funding my trip. Look for another post about Tallinn, the city-wide Triennial and the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design.

This paper is still in the form of a ‘talk’, but also constitutes work-in-progress that will inform the last chapter of my doctoral thesis on the future of design museums. In May, I presented a longer version to University of Brighton MA Art and Design History students as part of the module, Critical Reflection, at the invitation of my colleague, Megha Rajguru, and that version of the talk provided an opportunity to explore changing definitions of ‘interpretation’. The images are from my PowerPoint presentation, and either taken from the Internet or using my Apple iPhone 4S.
Continue reading

signature

From the Archive; Sagmeister’s first sabbatical

IMG_8258

On the occasion of an earlier blog post about The Happy Film, which began as one of Stefan Sagmeister’s sabbatical projects, here’s an article I wrote when his first book, Sagmeister made you look was about to be published by Booth-Clibborn Editions, as that too was the product of a ‘year without clients’, his first in fact.

I also worked with Edward Booth-Clibborn but wasn’t involved in the editorial or production process of Sagmeister’s book, so felt that it was OK to write about it. This article appeared in the esteemed German magazine, Form, subtitled ‘The European Design Magazine’, and is presented in German and English. Scans of the article are available through the magazine’s online archive, here (access requires registration).

Reading this article reveals that even then Sagmeister would seek collaborators with complementary skills, in this case, design writer Peter Hall (for The Happy Film, he worked with co-directors Hillman Curtis and Ben Nabors). But he was wrong about one thing; that once design work is published, it’s off the agenda. A star turn like Sagmeister is always going to be known for that poster (info for AIGA Miami scratched into his skin) and that CD cover (Lou Reed’s face overwritten with lyrics). If he doesn’t show then at a lecture or talk about them in an article it’s like your favourite band refusing to play their signature tune on stage; Sagmeister’s greatest hits keep his fans happy! This article also points to the performative aspect of graphic design; not only the lure of being ‘guest speaker’ at an international conference doing your best ‘show and tell’, but also with regard to selling ideas in client presentations…a very useful skill.
Continue reading

signature

The Happy Film; graphic design on screen

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

Stefan Sagmeister in ‘The Happy Film’, seeking discomfort on the streets of New York. Photograph: Ben Wolf.

The Happy Film
Duke of York’s Picturehouse
Preston Road, Brighton, East Sussex
14 June 2017 at 6pm

I’m not a fan of solo cinema visits but even with my partner-in-crime currently ‘away’, I had to see this just released, much discussed film at this special screening. Right on the money, the power-couple hosts of Glug Brighton, Carl Rush of creative agency Crush, and Helen, the renowned Illustration agent and founder of Agency Rush, invited graphic-design hero (and I don’t use the term lightly) Stefan Sagmeister to show his seven-years in the making documentary, The Happy Film. Despite the lure of a glorious summer evening, Brighton’s historic Duke of York’s cinema was packed with the city’s creative community including a good number of Graphic Design and Illustration students from University of Brighton, come to see the legend in action, for after a film of thrills and spills Sagmeister stepped up for the Q&A.
Continue reading

signature

From the Archive; listening to Kalle Lasn

2017-02-06 15.32.43

The outpourings of unease, dread and fear that recent political events have caused reminds me of an earlier era, 1999 (although back then we were asked to party too). The run up to the Millennium witnessed the kind of end-of-days headbanging practiced by religious zealots since the Middle Ages, spiced with a dose of fin de siècle decadence and topped with the techno-paranoia of the Y2K Bug and the predicted meltdown of communications, power and defence systems worldwide. With the Internet still in its infancy and social media merely a glint in its circuitry, hysteria was polarised. Mainstream media presented experts and button-holed politicians while conspiratorial survivalists used grass-roots networks to challenge official messages meant to placate the public.

One media practitioner commanding attention was Kalle Lasn not because he peddled doom-laden prophecies, although he was angry, but because the magazine he had launched a decade before seemed to (now) perfectly fit the zeitgeist. Adbusters gave a message of resistance and not from a place of despair. It advocated for urgent action using the incendiary power of the image, documentary and manipulated, while retaining a stance of positivity, and the look and feel of the magazine – colourful, glossy, eye-catching – helped promoted that can-do, future-focused message.
Continue reading

signature

From the Archive; Mysterious Absence at the Cutting Edge

Screen Shot from Women’s March on Washington webpage of downloadable graphics.

Screen Shot from Women’s March on Washington webpage of downloadable graphics.

Last weekend women the world over took to the streets to protest, making themselves visible and their voices heard, as they waved an array of protest signs. Hand-made, humorous, strident and strong, the signs were seen in Instagram feeds, shared via Twitter, broadcast on television and pictured in newspapers. The importance of graphic design to protest cannot be over stressed; multiples of engaging graphics will communicate and amplify your message. To that end the Women’s March on Washington website contains a page of downloadable graphics offering slogans and images to be used for free as posters, placards, t-shirt graphics, wherever and however.

That vision of graphic protest was anticipated in a recent a seminar text read with Level 4 Graphic Design and Illustration students at University of Brighton. Teal Trigg’s chapter on “Graphic Design” in Feminist Visual Culture (edited by Fiona Carson and Claire Pajaczkowska) contained a quote from Eye magazine about the activist group she co-founded: “They [WD+RU] aim to talk to women in all walks of life, but the first step is to initiate a debate that will politicise designers and prompt them to address gender issues through their work’ (p.157).
Continue reading

signature

Imaging New Tate Modern

2016-03-23 15.14.01

From digital to analogue, consider this a signpost to a printed, published article in Blueprint, issue 345. After interviewing Peter Saville, reading Tate Modern press releases, navigating official webpages and searching the media coverage, I wrote a review of an image created by Saville and team that was commissioned to accompany communications about the extension and renovation of Tate Modern, aka “New Tate Modern”. Eventually the image will be incorporated into a revamped identity for the entire Tate empire.
Continue reading

signature

From the Archive (and now); Destroy, punk and DIY

So an email arrived inviting me to the launch of Punk.London at Oxford Street’s 100 Club, and I have to admit it didn’t totally intrigue me. Instead in gushed cloudy memories of a dark, sweaty cellar and an uncomfortable din, which I must have endured (it feels like) a hundred times over a couple of decades. But a closer look at the invite revealed this to be an occasion for nostalgia, a celebration of a 40-year anniversary marking London’s punk moment and the start of a movement, a subculture in fact, the long-tail of which has affected both attire and attitude.

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

Screen Shot from Punk.London website, designed by Brody Associates, inviting D-I-Y participation in a city-wide cultural event

“Subversive Culture” is the strapline (pardon the bondage-tinged pun), which it is claimed has fuelled creativity (now the Creative Industries) ever since. Over the coming year a host of venues will stage events big and small, backed by the Greater London Authority (GLA); shouting about London’s past punk credentials must have tourist-attracting potential. With an identity and online hub branded by Neville Brody (still demonstrating punk attitude by being “notoriously abrasive”, according to Digital Arts), for me the most innovative element is an prompt to organise your own event; tagged “D.I.Y.” the page offers links to branding and fundraising advice, via the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Regardless of designated anniversaries punk is perennial, and it doesn’t need much of an excuse to hit the headlines. In 1998 I reviewed an exhibition, Destroy: Punk Graphic Design in Britain, and because it isn’t available on the magazine’s website I’m re-posting it, see below. Yes it was cheeky of me to declare punk to be the only “memorable cultural event in the 1970s”, but that’s a clue to my age. I may have been “witness” to the “heyday of punk” but only just; the article is unapologetically London-centric, too, hardly surprising as I was still at school and London was home. What isn’t mentioned is that I was a lender to the show too, having amassed a substantial collection of vinyl due to a fascination with indie record shops. I sold most of the best bits (the vultures were already circling at the Private View) as I became nomadic, leaving London in April 1998, and had neither the means (no turntable) nor inclination (changing musical tastes) to listen again.
Continue reading

signature

Sound Design UK Music and Graphic Design; reconstructing an exhibition

Welcome to Sound Design: UK Music and Graphic Design, an exhibition from 2000. Staged on the cusp of the digital communications revolution it has no online presence and is therefore “invisible”. This post is an attempt at digital reparation, an experiment in creating a “trace” for a long-gone temporary exhibition by providing details of the exhibition-making process. The idea for an exhibition on the graphic design of popular music came from David Elliott, then Head of Arts at the British Council in Japan and a keen vinyl collector. I was asked to pitch a concept that would fit the brief and then employed as curator. The exhibition was designed and organised in the UK by the British Council and toured Asia and Australia. Sometimes in a venue for just a few days, it proved extremely popular, surpassed all expectations and toured for nearly three years; before opening in Tokyo it was already booked into venues in Sydney, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. However, there is no British press coverage, probably because the exhibition wasn’t shown in the UK. Masses of media was generated in Asian and a pile of clippings probably resides in the Tokyo office; I saw the fast-growing folder, and recently found a review in The Japan Times (“The cutting edge of sound and vision”, by Jennifer Purvis, 3/12/2000). (Eventually the British Council realised it was missing a trick and started to give touring shows a short run in the UK, with a Press and Private View to provoke media interest).

119-1963_IMG

This is the poster, in situ, displayed at the entrance to the Tokyo venue, The Ground. Instead of installing the exhibition at the British Council headquarters, it opened in this concrete-lined bunker (not the easiest place to hang a show) close to the epicentre of Japanese trendiness (between Harajuku and Meiji-Dori). However, in some correspondence The Spiral is named as venue, which would have been an even bigger deal! David’s brief called for an exhibition of UK music graphics; from the golden years of vinyl when British designers helped to invent the genre of “album sleeve art”, to recent annexation of the aesthetic high ground by indie labels and various subcultures. The aim was to come right up to date with examples of ingenious CD packaging.
Continue reading

signature

Manchester, old and new; accessible history in a city of museums

Gallery

This gallery contains 26 photos.

Manchester is a city well provisioned with museums run by Manchester City Council, University of Manchester, independent charitable trusts, and national museum groups that receive government funding. Courses in Curating and Museum Studies are taught at University of Manchester and … Continue reading