From the Archive; Sagmeister’s first sabbatical

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. (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; then the LDF launched and constituted an even better reason).

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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.
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From the Archive; Pop Panel at Pick Me Up (version three)

Pick Me Up: Contemporary Graphic Arts Fair
Somerset House, London WC1
24 April to 5 May 2014
Review of Music x The Graphic Arts panel discussion at Pick Me Up 2012
23 March 2012

Over the years at Pick Me Up, the importance of getting visitors involved in workshops and events has become more and more central to the whole project. By Pick Me Up 2010, Somerset House Curator, Sarah Mann, had responsibility for programming the vast and varied offering, from academic conference to kid’s weekend. She invited me to co-organise and chair a panel discussion examining the role of Illustration and Graphic Design in the music industry, tackling such issues as how the packaging and branding of music and bands has changed as digital delivery rocks the edifice of corporate control and a DIY spirit emerges. The speakers brought a range of expertise to the discussion, drawing on their experience working with music, from the late-1970s to now. The review below first appeared on Eye Blog.

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Wednesday 7:48am, 28 March 2012
Pop panel
Originally published on Eye Blog

Music design session at Pick Me Up with Malcolm Garrett & Kate Moross

On Friday night, as part of a “packed programme” of events, talks and workshops at Pick Me Up (the graphic arts fair at London’s Somerset House, now in its third year), I chaired a “Music x The Graphic Arts” panel discussion. Since the digital revolution of the 1980s, the music industry has undergone radical changes in formats, distribution, style and substance.

The panel: designer Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks, Duran Duran); critic (and Varoom editor) John O’Reilly; the prolific Kate Moross; and Tom Oldham (label boss at No Pain in Pop and Berserker, an online music/comics magazine).

Malcolm kicked off with his schoolboy Hawkwind obsession, which led him to Barney Bubbles. Highlighting the polarised nature of Britain’s tribal counter-cultures in the 1960s and 70s (naming IT and Oz magazines as “the birth of blogging”), he suggested that with Punk, “it all changed”. Later, in the 1980s, the zeitgeist was celebratory; the music industry sold lifestyles, with video and “merch” paramount, and the first sponsored tour was by Duran Duran, brought to you by Coca-Cola.
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Guest blogger; assessing Peter Saville, legend

Peter Saville Blueprint spread

Interview, 13 September 2013
Published, Blueprint, issue 331, 10 December 2013
Interview: graphic design legend Peter Saville talks to Liz Farrelly
Further contribution by Paul West, Form

For as long as this interview is available on the Design/Curial website, I’ll redirect you there; after that, I’ll repost it. It was a pleasure to be commissioned by Blueprint again after a few year’s hiatus. I worked in house from 1990 to 1994 beginning as Editorial Assistant, and writing from day one; I reached the heady heights of Deputy Editor, then freelanced under every editor until about 2006. Being asked to interview Peter Saville was the bonus; this is the third time I’ve had the opportunity to conduct a long interview with Peter, as well as having a few good chats along the way. He’s a great talker and it shows in the two and half hour transcript! Peter was to be honoured with the London Design Festival’s major award, which prompted the coverage. The award spiel mentions the winner’s contribution to design in London, and I realised that Peter’s amazing affect was as an inspirtion to and an incurbator of a considerable amount of graphic design talent that has gone on to make London the most important city in the world for graphic design. So, I asked around, and got a bunch of people to talk about their favourite work by Peter. Paul West had worked for Peter, and so I’m posting his contribution here as I couldn’t get it to the magazine by the deadline. Thank you Paul for adding such a great further contribution to the story.

Paul West: Where to start with Peter’s output. Who can’t love FAC1; the “Unknown Pleasures” pulsar; the “Closer” tomb, photographed by Bernard Pierre Wolff with the beautiful Lapidary typography; the “Blue Monday” floppy disc, his Section 25 work — the list is endless. To even go on more is redundant, so well catalogued is his work (alongside designers including Martyn Atkins, Brett Wickens, Richard Smith to name but three) that it’s entrenched in our popular counter-culture, in turn influencing culture.

True Faith

If I could name ONE piece of work I have loved above all other it is the fabulous “True Faith” 12″. This beautiful gold leaf suspended or floating on Yves Klein’s “International Klein Blue” backdrop, with the absolute minimum of information on the back cover (Name — Title / bside — Copyright — the all important Fac183 catalogue number — pre barcode!) and the way it fused art, hi-tech, independent couture, anti-couture; it feels as new now as it did then.

In 1987 I wrote my college thesis on Peter Saville Associates and Vaughan Oliver (V-23) and as a result I got through the doors and worked at PSA ’88 to ’89. I remember asking Peter about this cover and I him saying that the expanse of white on the back sleeve made the front sleeve look like an art piece, with the back cover serving as the catalogue descriptor. I loved that. It was so Warhol.

Of course so much of Peter’s great “visual” work is thanks to the genius of Trevor Key who had a studio space next door. I remember watching the exploratory work Peter and Trevor were doing for “Fine Time” and “Technique” and thinking how great it was, to be so progressive with such a spirit of discovery and invention, it was incredibly inspirational for a 20-something graduate. One day I was in Trevor’s studio talking to him about his work and looking through a massive pile of old test polaroids (including, X-Ray Spex “Germ Free Adolescents”) and I saw THE polaroid of “True Faith”. l had to ask. “Can I have it?”. “Piss off” came the reply. #legend.

From guest blogger, Paul West, Form

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