It is interesting to think why a signature on a piece of work attracts people to part with more money for an item than that item would otherwise be ‘worth’, particularly for work by graphic designers.
This week UCS Graphic Design and Illustration students held an International Design Auction of work they had, not to put too finer a point on it, ‘blagged’ from well known graphic designers and illustrators around the globe. The event was packed with people wanting to get their hands on (in the main) mass produced items that had been made unique with the quick squiggle of a fine liner.
I am very happy that I got the Tom Gauld piece I won, (pictured above), and I had earmarked this to bid on because it was a one off piece original artwork, (you can still see traces of tippex on it), and because I’m an admirer of his work. While the signature authenticates this as an original, had it been a signed print I would have been less interested. I also bid on other lots because I actually wanted them, such as Sam Potts’ poster celebrating 100 years of the Tour De France:
However, I got carried away and bid on some items purely because they had a signature, such as the Johnson Banks ‘Power Of Creativity’ poster and a Karlssonwilker book that carried an invite to visit their New York studio, (but alas, without the addition of plane ticket). Don’t get me wrong, I like the work, this wasn’t some act of design star worship, but I now question whether I really can justify the purchase of something I wouldn’t have otherwise have wanted to actually buy and would have been happy admiring from a distance. I can categorically state that it was the lure of the signature that got me!
Signing work is a controversial subject for some designers. We produce work that is reproducible not a one-off, (in the main), and a signature can lend the self-indulgent and egotistical air of pretension that dogs fine art. So to mark something out as ‘special’ goes a little against the grain for some in our trade. When design students last year ran the inaugural International Design Auction at UCS, I approached Javier Mariscal’s PA to see if he would sign a children’s Camper shoe box I owned, (it is adorned with some of his illustrated characters). The answer came back that Mariscal was not happy to do this because he was a designer, not an artist. Likewise, Barney Bubbles, record sleeve designer to Ian Dury and Elvis Costello et al, famously never put his name on a piece of work, not wanting to draw attention to himself and seeing the musicians his work showcased as its reason for existence. He was not in the game of self-publicity, and very much saw that graphic designer is a service industry.
But while I have strong sympathies with such beliefs, which at their heart, I believe to be political constructs of anti-elitist leanings, I can’t help being attracted to the ‘specialising’ of an item and the promotion of ‘ownership’ that such activity breeds. Over and above what I bought at this week’s auction, I also own a limited edition poster by Build celebrating 50 years of Helevtica signed by Michael C Place and a poster by Experimental Jetset that is collectively signed ‘EJ’ by the threesome, (both of these were competition wins). And recently I bought a poster by Unit Editions advertising their monograph on Ken Garland, signed by the man himself.
The Garland poster is a little odd in some ways: the poster wasn’t designed by him, and it is advertising a book that he didn’t write, so it seems slightly at odds with his self-effacing manner. Yet when Unit Editions posted on Facebook they were selling these as a limited run of 50, I had a knee-jerk reaction and bought one on the spot, being a fan of both Garland, and Unit Editions output.
Maybe a less aggrandising way to approach the concept of designer signatures is one I found by the great Paul Rand. On buying a copy of the children’s book he wrote and designed with his wife, ‘Sparkle and Spin’, I took a sneak peak at what lay behind the dust jacket, only to find Ann and Paul’s signatures printed onto the hard case (which was completely different to what the dust jacket portrayed):
This book feels just as special to me as any of the uniquely signed books or posters I own, because it is a little secret that you have to discover. The Rands, I believe, thought this hidden gem adds a personal touch to the piece, despite the fact it is mass produced. If I’m right in this assumption, it worked on me.
This week saw the first exhibition in London by UCS Ipswich Graphic Design graduates. Titled We Are, the exhibition was held at The Coningsby Gallery, and was a deliberate attempt to try and buck the trend of the morale sapping rigmarole of New Blood, New Designers and Free Range graduate exhibitions, where by thousands of graphic design students compete for attention all at the same time of year and all under one roof. Notably at such events, those from the design industry tend to seek out the courses they already have contacts with, and rarely spend time looking for new talent from emerging courses. What successes come from this first UCS solo exhibition this week are as yet to be seen, but as this was the first of its kind for our students, it was a bit of a trial run and will hopefully develop over the coming years.
It appeared to inspired current first, second and third year students, who we took up to the gallery at various stages this week. And during a very busy period for current final year students as they are in the middle of writing their dissertation proposals and completing course work, they are also preparing for their International Design Auction which will help to finance any such ventures for them in 2014. The ‘We Are‘ graduates ran one last year, and raised nearly £2000 for their end of year show and London exhibition, and if the lots that are coming in so far this year are anything to go by, the 2013 auction is likely to raise a lot more money. There is signed work from Stefan Sagmeister, Tom Gauld, Jessica Hirsche, Milton Glaser, Armin Vit…I could go on, (and on, and on). While in London on Monday to catch the We Are show, current students even managed to find time to visit Margaret Calvert to pick up her 3 donations to the auction, (as well as accept her hospitality of tea and biscuits).
International Design Auction 2013 is being held at University Campus Suffolk’s Waterfront Building in Ipswich on 27 November at 17:30. Check out the lots on the students’ website for the auction, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for up to date information.
Graduates from the Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration courses at UCS Ipswich are taking their end of year show, We Are, to London’s Coningsby Gallery next week. The show will featuring work from their time on the course as well as new work completed since graduating.
The show is the result of the overwhelming success of an International Design Auction that students held last December, when they managed to blag work from such luminaries as Jonathan Barnbrook, Brian Grimwood and Gerald Scarfe, among many others.
The show opens to the public on 12 November and runs daily until Friday 15 November from 10:30–18:00.
The Coningsby Gallery, 30 Tottenham Street, London, W1T 4RJ
Watch this space for details about a follow up International Design Auction being held by current final year Graphic Design students at UCS Ipswich to be held on 27 November.
The last time
Two years ago Claire took me to see Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Apollo as a birthday present. The fact the gig was the day after my birthday, and not some distant point afterwards, made it all that more special.
We spent the weekend with good friends in a rented apartment in Hammersmith, and it was they who first asked us if we wanted tickets. I’d never seen him live before, but was concerned, knowing that his voice was long shot. Lou singing songs that were written for his voice as it currently was, was one thing. But him trying to sing songs written for a voice that was long past, could be painful, as was attested by the live recording of the Berlin album he had made a few years before. But we said yes, and justifying the hefty ticket price by asking ourselves if we’d ever get the chance to see him live again, knowing the life he had lived and the toll this must have taken on his body. As it turned out, we wouldn’t.
I need not have worried, he was excellent that night. We were five seats from the stage, and just the thrill of seeing him that close was enough to create some sort of strange disconnected connection with the past and everything he had done—there was a sense of Warhol and the Factory that hung to him. This man had been there, the myth personified and right in front of me.
But this wasn’t just a nostalgia trip—nostalgia being something that I usually run a mile from—it was truly a great performance. The band he had were super tight, yet relaxed. They knew when to let the noise out of the bag, but kept it controlled at all times. The set was a surprise as well, with half of it being tracks from albums I’d passed by, such as Ecstasy, Legendary Hearts, Rock N Roll Heart, Songs For Drella among others. (Regardless of the quality of any Lou album, and there are a lot of shit ones, I’m convinced every release he’s made contains a nugget of gold in there somewhere.) He did a couple of intimate acoustic jazz versions of Velvet’s classics, before launching into an explosive rock version of Sweet Jane that made the audience erupt. The band encored to a gloriously riotous version of The Bells.
We knew then that all wasn’t well. He had to be helped on and off stage, and had to have his guitar lifted around his neck by someone. He appeared to be shaking for much of the set, and was unsteady. But despite this, his confidence in front of the mic and with a guitar round his neck was captivating. Claire and I, on leaving our friends to stay a week longer in the apartment and driving back to Ipswich, we pretty much spoke of nothing other than how great the gig was on the 2 hour car journey back to Ipswich.
The first time
I think it must have been Transformer I heard first. I obviously knew Walk On The Wild side, but my 14 year old ears didn’t really make the connection between this song I occasionally heard on the radio and the artist that my older sister’s boyfriend was going on at me about one time I was staying with them during a school summer holiday. I was hungry for new music, too young to experience punk first hand, catching its coat tails with post-punk and Two Tone and I was soaking up any and all music that wasn’t what my school friends listened to, (mainly heavy metal and prog-rock, punk didn’t reach Mansfield, where I was then living, until about 1982). So after bouts of staying with my brother or sister in London over the summer holidays, who would expose me to wonders I would never otherwise have come across and opened my mind to new possibilites, I would return to the cultural backwaters of Mansfield and raid the local library’s catalogue for anything that seemed strange, exciting, and that didn’t have pictures of satan or fairies on the cover. It was there that I borrowed Transformer and fell in love with it immediately.
But what cemented my love of anything by Lou Reed, was buying a foreign import Velvet Underground compilation record on the back of listening to Transformer. It only had six tracks, and was cheap, hence my paper-round money going on it. It also had a great booklet stapled into the 12″ gatefold sleeve, (in Spanish, I think), with some iconic photographs of the band. To a 14 year old anxious for rebellion and musical adventure, holed-up and feeling alienated in an east Midlands town, there could have been no better purchase I could have made at that time.
Venus In Furs is the track that first got me. I had never, ever heard anything like it before. The droning, the sonic overload, the sheer density of the song. And then there were the strange atonally voiced lyrics. I have a fantasy list of songs I wish I could hear again for the first time, that feeling of being totally amazed and dumbfounded by a new audio experience—Venus In Furs is at the top of that list.
The second track on the album that cemented my view of Lou being a songwriting genius, (and that is not a term I use lightly), which juxtaposed Venus In Furs completely, was Pale Blue Eyes. I lost count of the amount of times I played it over and over after that first hearing. Once heard, I immediately lifted the needle and put it back at the start of the track. I don’t think I’d ever heard a song before that almost ‘wasn’t there’. The lightness of touch, the minimalism, and the tenderness made it somehow rawer than the explosive and chaotic Venus In Furs. I then knew I would never ever be able to write and record a song as good as that, and for someone who was desperate to be in a band, that was an acceptance of failure before I’d even really started.
So I became a Lou Reed and Velvet Underground fan. I didn’t immediately buy everything, and there are still albums of his I don’t know. Spotify has proved the most useful tool to me in finding out what it is I want to buy and own and cherish; and what will take one listen to know that I don’t need to purchase that particular album. Most recently, and somewhat timely, I downloaded Magic and Loss, an album Lou wrote about death in 1992 that I hadn’t previously explored. I haven’t yet listened to it—it sitting in my iTunes library waiting to be dedicated some time to—and I sense it may take a while for me to pluck up the courage to do so.
I’m not nostalgic, nor do I put celebrities on pedestals. I hate musician’s egos, (and in fact, many of the lyrics I’ve written over the years for different bands I’ve been in have lambasted such stupidity). And with Lou Reed, his best was past him—such a shame that the Metallica/Lulu project will be his dying record. But Lou Reed has followed me throughout my life and has influenced my opinions about what music can be more than any other artist. I don’t think any musician or lyricist has had a greater impact on my life, and so when I got the text from a friend on Sunday evening telling me the news he had died, I was floored. Not surprised, but speechless and tearful. Echoing my brother’s comments on Facebook as we swapped Lou Reed lyrics, I had to keep telling myself to ‘get a grip’ when tuning into Tom Robinson’s tribute on 6music while cooking dinner that evening. Thankfully it wasn’t played while I listened, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to listen to Pale Blue Eyes for some time.
In all the epitaphs that appeared online, and in all the lyrics being posted on Twitter, I searched for a suitable one to post myself. In Candy Says, Lou’s protagonist asks: “What do you think I’d see, if I could walk away from me?” That has always been a poignant lyric to me, and it was more so in that moment. And to try to answer your question Lou, I guess you now know what you see.
The project is aimed at repositioning the views of young men about themselves in a world of negative stereotypes. As Caslin puts it on his website: “As a nation we have pushed a significant number of our young men to the very edges of society and created within them feelings of neglect and apathy. It is now time to empower these young lads and give them a sense of belonging. I cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall. However, I can create something more meaningful than any bureaucratic promise and generate a more positive social impact than many published articles, political broadcasts or speeches.”
At the centre of the project is the subject, in more ways than one—as Casiln explains when discussing the process of creating the work: “Find them, draw them, get them to stick them up”, and the positive power of this action on the participant/collaborators can clearly be heard in their voices in this video:
In watching the video it is refreshing to hear the observation of one of the lads involved: “When you’re walking around town you see these huge billboards with pictures of celebrities and models for big brands, it’ll be good just to see a giant image of a normal teenager”. This brings into question stereotypes beyond those of anti-social behaviour and challenges the perception that all teenagers are brand obsessed and incapable of decoding when they are being manipulated by advertising.
This project is a positive one on so many different levels, and it probably takes Caslin to sum it up best: ”A drawing has the power to go further than words. But a 40ft drawing has the potential to resonate and disrupt the visual landscape of a city. It has the power to pull a passer-by from the mundane, the power to trend and the power to gain real social momentum. It will re-establish respect for and showcase the capabilities of our nation’s sons.”
The project has just recently moved from the streets of Edinburgh to Caslin’s native Ireland and the dramatic Achill-henge. Read here what the local news made of the project.
To start the new academic year off with a shot of inspiration, we took all Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration students at UCS to GRAPHICS, the Romek Marber exhibition at The Minories in Colchester.
Marber’s influence on British Graphic Design can not be underestimated. His most famous work was for Penguin Books, particularly their crime series, producing many of the iconic green covers utilising photography, collage and drawn imagery to full effect to capture the title of each book he designed for. He also famously designed one of the grid systems that Penguin used for many years.
Among the covers on display was also his rationale behind the layout. As the exhibition literature states: “Romek Marber’s work often communicates in a clear and direct manner that is bought by combining a stripped down use of colour with well defined formal structures within which text and image are framed. A sense of pragmatism and design that grows out of necessity in terms of delivery of message results in an efficient visual imagery that wastes nothing but at the same time appears to leave nothing out.”.
Some of Marber’s typographic work balances a tightrope between experimentation and reductive modernist austerity, clearly influencing many designers working today. In fact, the covers he did for The Economist only look dated because of the mastheads—Marber’s type explorations themselves could grace many contemporary magazines and certainly wouldn’t look out of place on Bloomberg Business Week.
GRAPHICS exhibition is highly recommended, and runs until 25 October: details here. Thanks to Cydney and Kaavous at The Minories.
While in Colchester, and with the Firstsite Gallery a stone’s throw from The Minories, we also took the opportunity to take a look at the Xerography exhibition that is on there. This celebrates the role of photocopying in art, from the 1960s through to the modern day.
The show is mixed enough for something to appeal to everyone, although I doubt that there would be anyone who would like everything that was on show. But despite its breadth, the one obvious omission for me was the lack of graphic design. For an exhibition which is tied together by the process of using a photocopier to produce work, this seems like a massive black hole. For example, there are no punk era fanzines such as Mark P’s Sniffin’ Glue which helped to define the aesthetic of an era. This form of instant publishing also helped to introduce some to a career in graphics, such as Terry Jones. There were also no rough and ready record sleeves, whether by the likes of practicing designer Linder Sterling or by the many unknowns who embraced the Do It Yourself nature of punk in 1976/77.
Omissions aside, this is a worthwhile exhibition to go and see, especially if you can go when the Marber exhibition is still on at The Minories, as the juxtaposition between the two makes for refreshing contrast. Xerography runs until 10 November, details here.
Thanks to Sue Hogan for the student talk.
On eating it, I glanced at the packaging to see the declaration above—that Ginsters had donated the side of the pack to a charity. I turned the packaging over, and, as they claim, there was information about the Royal Voluntary Service.
This struck me as somewhat insidious because of how this supposed act of corporate social responsibility was being turned into a marketing opportunity. In my opinion, the fact that Ginsters have felt it necessary to so prominently proclaim their act of altruism defeats any good will the act itself might bring to the company. To think that Ginsters’ marketing department didn’t realised this potential reaction might happen—that no one who see through this forced ‘look at us, aren’t we wonderful’ approach—is incredulous. The contempt for the consumer is further compounded by the additional emotional blackmail of the question ”what could you give?”. Coming after the statement about their ‘donation’, (as if it really cost Ginsters anything other than a couple hours of a graphic designer’s time), is insulting as it suggests that the company believe they have done their bit and now the responsibility lies with the consumer.
Corporate social responsibility is an important issue in contemporary business practice. But if companies like Ginsters want us to believe that they are genuine in their commitment to the voluntary sector, then they need to stop patronising consumers and use their involvement in social issues for more than a marketing opportunity.
It was nearly enough to put me off a sandwich I wasn’t particularly enjoying.
I’ve just added some scans to The Small Letter archive of an Intertype type primer titled: Making Your Acquaintance With Some Type Personalities. This is a great little wir-o bound booklet, that dispenses typographic advice as a method of displaying a range of typefaces. The compliment slip above was found in the wrap-around cover.