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Snape birdwalk by Peter Silk (Spring, 2011 brochure)—image courtesy of Silk Pearce website

I popped up to Snape Maltings near Aldeburgh in Suffolk at the weekend to find two great, if small, exhibitions.

The first celebrates 15 years of Colchester based graphic design agency Silk Pearce‘s work for the annual Aldeburgh Music festival. Their branding of the festival and programme designs have often featured in design magazines such as Creative Review, and a large display of all of their programme covers collected together features as you enter the show. This is followed by many framed prints of artwork they’ve created over the years, featuring techniques including collage, photomontage, screenprints and digital illustration that reference many aspects of Snape and Aldeburgh. Often fun and full of wit, the work vibrantly shows a diverse approach to image making, and visually dispels any notion of Aldeburgh Music being po-faced as many similar ‘serious’ music festivals might come across. Whoever commissioned Silk Pearce 15 years ago made a wise decision, and the brief must be an annual joy for the studio to anticipate.

Max Gill exhibition—image courtesy of LCAT website

Max Gill exhibition—image courtesy LCAT website

The second is an exhibition of the work of Max Gill, the younger brother of the more famous Eric Gill, at the Lettering & Commemorative Arts Trust‘s centre, also at Snape. The centre is worth a visit in its own right for the amazing letter craft, stone masonry and calligraphy on display, but Gill’s maps and book work are absolutely stunning in the main exhibition room. I was particularly taken with his Tea Revives The World map, being a big tea fan myself.

It is unusual enough to get exhibitions of Graphic Design anywhere, but the fact these exhibitions are on together is a rare treat. You’ll have to be quick to catch the Silk Pearce show as if finishes at the end of August, coinciding with the Aldeburgh Music Proms. The Gill exhibition is on until 12 November.

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“You’re not an artist, you’re a wanker,” or so Viv Albertine claims her husband said to her in her brutal and honest autobiography: Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys. Neither the former nor latter are true, actually. The latter is proved wrong in the book’s opening with Albertine claiming in a chapter dedicated to the subject that she has never masturbated; the former isn’t true as her story is one of struggling for self-expression against the many obstacles life has thrown at her.

Viv Albertine is most famous as the guitarist and co-songwriter in the all female punk / post-punk band The Slits. But Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is about so much more than this brief period in her life. It obviously covers her growing up as punk emerged around her, and her friendship with some of the key characters, not least showing a fascinating insight into Sid Vicious’ character. But as the book moves on from her being a central character during the early punk years, it covers her struggle with her own creativity as a film maker, surviving cancer, being traumatised by IVF treatment, domestic boredom, to finally to her throwing away all of her comforts in exchange for feeling creatively fulfilled again. This is the story of an artists’ struggle to survive as a creative individual regardless of the worth of her output, as she readily accepts the flaws in her work, but champions the need for expression and taking her own path far beyond any desire to be deemed ‘good’ at what she does. As a result she demonstrates a real bravery and determination that should be a tonic for any aspiring artist.

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Sid Vicious and Viv Albertine circa 1976

The book is raw throughout, with Albertine being nothing but completely and refreshingly open. She never attempts to glamorise her experiences and keeps coming back to her lack of self-esteem throughout—the constant tension between lack of self-belief but determination to do her own thing provides a driving force to the narrative all the way through the book. Her matter-of-fact tone adds believability to an extraordinary life story that could otherwise be read as a movie script. Sex, drugs, blood and bodily functions are spoken about as easily as discussing record deals and famous associates. Her thoughts on domestic boredom in a stale marraige are laid bare alongside tales of battles against sexist attitudes that she has encountered in all areas of her life. Despite this, Albertine’s deep routed feminism never displays an anti-male agenda, but it does expose her experiences with individuals that left this male reader with a sense of disbelief that such attitudes still exist in the twenty-first century. But ultimately, her story is one of trying to be an individual—to be herself—and the fact that she is female has just thrown the added obstacles of sexism and misogyny into the mix.

I initially picked up Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys because I loved The Slits first album ‘Cut’. But the book gave me so much more than just a history of the group and the evolution of punk in mid-to-late 1970s Britain. I would go as far to say that this is an important story that even goes beyond Viv Albertine herself. See through the shock / marketing tactics of the publishers putting a chapter about masturbation at the very beginning and read a book that is focussed on the quest for individuality and artistic endeavour against the odds of a lack ‘natural’ talent and closed worlds. Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, in my opinion, should be on the national curriculum as an honest account of individualism, determination and refusing to accept your lot.

Below, Confessions Of A Milf, from Albertine’s 2013 album The Vermilion Border

I never place much importance on traditional English New Year celebrations, and as I’ve grown older, I’ve found I’ve stopped staying up to hear the ship horns blasting at 00:00 from Ipswich docks, and will now gladly go to bed before 10 o’clock if there aren’t any decent films on TV. But as my summer holiday ended with a jolt and a return to work yesterday, I started thinking about the concept of a ‘year’, as going back to work usually signals a start of a new year in my mind much more than 1 January. In considering this, I came to realise there are so many different ‘years’ in my calendar, that I decided to share my thoughts as a point of interest.

My calendar
—There’s the obvious January to December 12 month measurement.
—My personal work year, where-in I count one year ending and another starting depending on when my summer holiday falls.
—The academic year I work to as an educator. This runs from September to August, although work for this obviously starts well before September, and is usually signified to me by returning to work after my summer holidays as mentioned above.
—The finical year April to March. Thankfully now I don’t take on so much self-employed work, I don’t have to fill out an annual tax form but I have to keep it at the back of my mind in case I ever do take on a well paid commission and I have to contact the tax office.
—My workplace, University Campus Suffolk, has its own finical year which runs from August to July. This means any budget I have responsibility for has to be spent by the end of July.
—Subscription year pt 1. One of the luxuries I consider of having a job that pays reasonably well is that I can afford several magazine subscriptions, such as to Eye, Creative Review, The Wire and Baseline. Eye and Baseline, the latter in particular, have a somewhat loose relationship to regular publishing dates, and I think my current annual subscription to Baseline has been active for nearly 2 years.
—Subscription year pt 2. Outside of magazines, there are professional memberships to keep topped up such as D&AD, Typographic Circle and Design History Society. The former is currently free with the fact that the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course at UCS is a member, and were it not a member, I’m not convinced I would see the worth in paying to be a member myself. Thankfully, over the years, (no pun intended), I’ve managed to stagger magazine and membership subscriptions so that as few as possible fall within the same month.
—Annual fees. These include paying for no ads and domain name mapping on WordPress, domain name and hosting renewals for other websites, and a variety of things that I’d forget if they weren’t programmed into Omnifocus on my phone and tablet.
—The football year. This doesn’t really register with me, not being the slightest bit interested in football other than knowing when home matches are as Ipswich is a massive football town and the traffic system grinds to a halt at certain times on a match day.
—Clocks changing year. With the soon to be drawing in summer, I look forward annually to Autumn, my favourite season, and the changing of the clocks signals this as much as the changing weather.
—The Chinese year which runs differently to our new year. The only reason I need to remember this is to wish the Chinese couple who run our local chip shop a happy new year when it comes around.
—Finally, not technically anything that affects me, but I’ve always been interested in the Ethiopian year since the time of Live Aid when I heard that Ethiopia follows a completely different monthly cycle to ours and, according to Wikipedia, it is actually 2006 there at the moment.

2006, that means I haven’t started work at University Campus Suffolk yet. I expect that won’t be a justifiable excuse for taking a slightly longer holiday and extending my year a little longer.

Printer'sProgress

I’ve just posted scans from, and notes on, Printer’s Progress 1851–1951 over on The Small Letter blog. Bought recently from a second hand book shop in Felixstowe, it has leap-frogged other publications I have bought and that have been waiting to be showcased on The Small Letter as it is such a fascinating book. Written in 1951 by Charles Rosner, it attempts to study the difference in printing techniques and processes used at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 with those used at the time of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Rosner worked for a Cambridge based print firm, Balding & Mansell, and this is clearly a promotional item for them. However, it is an important study and document of the changes in that one-hundred year time period. As Rosner points out in the introduction, if an exhibition of printing techniques had been hosted in 1800, the exhibits wouldn’t have differed much from those used in 1500. However, by 1951, and with the advent of photography, everything had changed.

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An example of printing an illustration from 1851

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An example of printing techniques from 1951

The importance of photography to printing is highlighted in the layout of the book itself. Examples of the different era’s printing techniques and processes are segregated to the front and back for 1851 and 1951 respectively—these eras are separated by a dramatic full page photograph of a close-up of a camera lens.

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As well as providing ample examples of different processes from both eras, Rosner also provides lengthy analysis of all areas of printing, including the economic and social standing of printers themselves, and of the emerging designer of his era. A fascinating book, check out the scans and my notes over on The Small Letter.

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A 1951 review of Printer’s Progress from The Times Literary Supplement.

I’d read about Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft on the Design Week blog last year when it reopened after being refurbished. It made the design press largely because of the rebranding by Phil Baines, in which he re-drew Gill Sans for all accompanying graphics. In truth, what Baines had done more than help advise on the dressing of the museum was to shine a light on an important historical design gem. And when I realised we wouldn’t be too far away while holidaying on the Kent / East Sussex boarder last week, it went on the itinerary of possible things to do. But rather than visit after going to the Chermayeff exhibition in Bexhill on our return journey home, we decided to go on a separate day, worried that two exhibitions in one day would be too much.

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As it turned out, the museum is very small, and we could have easily done it after visiting the De La Warr pavilion rather than travelling the congested A259/A27 from Kent on a hot summer’s day especially to see it. But Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft’s size, (and accompanying over-priced admission fee), was the only disappointment for what is otherwise an excellent museum that focusses mainly on Ditchling’s rich typographic and printing heritage. For it was in this sleepy village that Eric Gill founded an artist community that attracted the likes of Edward Johnston, Philip Hagreen and Hilary Pepler, amongst others.

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As one would expect, much of the museum is given over to Gill, although it is interesting to note that his controversial animal and child abuse accusations are glossed over. The only mention I could find anywhere was on a display board that simply read: “Controversy and debate were part of Gill’s day to day life when alive and they continue to be part of this artist’s legacy”. Regardless, the important work that he produced, along with all other exhibits, are given plenty of space for visitors to study.

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Some of my favourite work displayed were these small wood engravings by Philip Hagreen, and it was interesting to note how the importance of the faith of those involved in the artist community spilled over into social welfare considerations and general philanthropy.

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It was also refreshing to see sketches and preliminary work alongside finished pieces.

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There is even a small mock-up of a print room.

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This was a delightful little museum to visit. The sensitivity with which the branding and display presentation has been approached is testament to the attention to detail paid by Phil Baines, and ensures due respect is paid to some of Britain’s most important early twentieth century graphic designers and typographers.

Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft website

 

 

It’s not everyday your local Tory MP big’s you up in the local newspaper. But to my surprise, I found my McJunk project featured in MP Ben Gummer’s weekly Ipswich Star article yesterday.

While I’m not sure Ben has completely seen he point of McJunk, (see McJunk essay here, and website here), and I’m certainly not sure that the free advertising McDonald’s are getting from this is appropriate, I can’t be too harsh on the man as I expect that Ben’s love of beef burgers is a family thing that he is unable to distance himself from.

McGummer

Ipswich Star, Friday 25 July 2014

 

 

We’ve just returned from our annual family holiday and 2014 saw us spending a week on the Kent / East Sussex boarder. This is an area we’ve come to grow fond of over the last few years, spending time in both counties for extended weekends and trips out, but never a whole week. Seven days gave us plenty of time to explore the area further, and aside from the usual holiday type stuff, it struck me just how much cultural activity there is to be had in this region with Hasting’s Jerwood Gallery, Brighton’s excellent Museum and Art Gallery, and further around the coast, Margate’s Turner Contemporary. Despite not visiting any of these this time, (we did make it to the Jerwood, but it was closed for a rehang), we did end the holiday on a graphic design high by visiting Ditchling Art+Craft Museum, (more of this in part two of Holiday exhibitioning, to follow shortly), and the opening day of the Ivan Chermayeff: Cut & Paste exhibition at Bexhill-On-Sea’s De La Warr Pavilion.

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The Chermayeff exhibition was truly inspirational. I knew some of his work previously from seeing it in design history books, but I didn’t realise how prolific he was/is. The walls of the large gallery were packed with work, and as the title suggests, the focus was on assemblage. There were some posters for specific corporate and cultural clients, but the vast majority was of work he has done in his own time. Throughout, regardless of whether for a client or personal work, whether tackling something frivolous in nature or weighty in tone, there was a real sense of play and wit throughout the exhibition. So much so that I came away feeling like I had just seen one of the best graphic design exhibitions I had seen since Alan Fletcher’s retrospective at the Design Museum in 2007. Ideas, puns and visual play runs through all Chermayeff’s output.

ChermayeffCircus

ChermayeffDoorman

Chermayeff once worked alongside Fletcher, so it is no surprise that there should be some commonalities. There are also obvious comparisons to the art world’s Matisse, Picasso, Ernst and Schwitters in his collages and paper-cut montages. I’d come away from the Matisse show at Tate Modern recently not feeling overly impressed and that somehow the work on display was largely vacuous (1). Chermayeff’s creative approach was refreshingly opposite to this as it either had communication at its core, or it challenged the viewer to think differently about found objects and how one connects different visual elements to create a new narrative. In Cut & Paste’s catalogue, Milton Glaser writes in the introduction, “In a catalogue of Ivan’s collages 1987–2011, Louis Newman states, ‘Chermayeff is among the few who can transpose design into high art,’ referring to his big, red unforgettable sculpture ‘9’ on 57th Street. I always find the phrase ‘high art’ to be problematical, more like the relationship between haute cuisine and ‘home cooking’, where the differences are contextual, rather than the nature of the ingredients. I prefer to think of design and art as separate characteristics like sex and love—each can be significant and pleasurable by itself and every once in a while you get both at the same time—solving a problem is one thing, changing consciousness is another.”

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Ultimately, as the quote above and an excellent 12 minute film in the show suggests, Chermayeff places a heavy importance on the art of seeing and finding connections, and this shone through in the collection displayed at the De La Warr Pavillion. As Alan Powers says later in the catalogue: “We see them [Chermayeff's collages] and think, ‘I could have done that,’ and so go out with our eyes sharpened to see the second reality behind the first. This sharing of pleasure is hardly a didactic form of art, but it relates to Ivan’s mission as a designer, which, along with serving his clients to his best ability, includes a wider desire to teach the world how to see by exercising what John Milton in Paradise Lost called ‘the visual nerve’.”

Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste is on at the De La Warr Pavilion until 14 September 2014. Entry is free.

Chermayeff: Cut and Paste Guardian review

 

(1) I know Matisse was important in terms of breaking concepts of painting, and his use of colour and form are visually amazing, but much of it looked like pointless non-applied surface pattern to my eyes. I felt his output worked much better when applied to a context, such as a book jacket, magazine cover or stain glass window. Hanging on a wall, it did nothing for me.

 

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Reflection over yellow. From Graphic Interruptions visual investigation published via Ongoing page

Over the past few days I’ve been updating several things on this site. Those that come here regularly will find a new page which collates some of my ongoing photographic projects. These visual investigations have for a while now been buried on Flickr, and while I’m a supporter of the improvements Flickr have made over the last couple of years, one of the negative aspects of these changes is that ‘sets’, or ‘albums’ as they are now called, are not as easily accessible as they used to be. Instead of being able to make them visible on your front page, they are now buried in a menu system. For someone like me who used sets to collate related material into themed projects, this makes showcasing projects to others more complicated. Alongside this, I had been considering creating a new website which hosted these, my portfolio and my blog all in one place. Unfortunately, I have neither the technical ability nor the time to build this. Equally, I don’t have the money available to get someone else to do it for me.

As a result I’ve put together a compromise here on WordPress until I have built up the technical knowledge or saved up enough money to go bespoke. The Ongoing page currently features 5 projects, with more to follow. They are each separately hosted on Tumblr sites, with links back and forth between WordPress and Tumblr. A further advantage about this arrangement, as opposed to leaving it all on Flickr with no views, is that it allows me to write about the projects as they evolve, directly in Tumblr so the context is there with the imagery.

While going about this, I have also taken the opportunity to tidy up a few other areas of this site. I have moved a few items to what used to be called ‘work’, but is re-titled Archive, as well as updating copy and links on other pages.

I will still continue to use Flickr for general photography, but themed projects that demand more than simple online storage will be hosted on Tumblr in future with a link through from here.

Letter to the East Anglian Daily Times, re: an article printed on 28.06.14 regarding the publication of the 2014 State Of Ipswich report

Dear EADT

I write to take issue with analysis of the State of Ipswich report in Paul Geater’s article on Saturday. It claims “…the poor standard of education probably contributes to it, [Ipswich], having one of the lowest average wages of any town in the country”. Such ‘analysis’ that makes assumptions without presenting any evidence is compounded when, in a reference to the fact that 25% of Ipswich workers earn below the ‘living wage’, it states there is: “a difference between the genders with 18% of men earning below this figure, [£7.65 / hour], but 32% of women below that line”. This is despite the fact that Mr Pinter of Ipswich Borough Council is quoted as saying, “that this difference in wages was in spite of the fact that girls did much better than boys at school”.

In summary the article presents the view that women are worse off in employment than men despite doing better at school, but it is ultimately the education system that is at fault for low wages. While there may be many things wrong with the education system in Ipswich that need addressing, I’m afraid that the blame for low wages and gender differences in the workplace can only be laid at the feet of employers. Such reporting does not hold employers accountable for poor wages and inequality, and in doing so excuses such unacceptable behaviour.

Nigel Ball

Last week I was lucky to catch the Museum of Water exhibition at Somerset House before it closes at the end of this month.

tunnel

The Museum of Water is a project by Amy Sharrocks who has been collecting donated water and associated stories for the last 2 years. As the museum’s website pronounces: “In a time of relative plenty in Britain, we are gathering a collection of water for future generations to consider. Clean water is more and more difficult to access across the world: will people look back at our current profligacy with horror and amazement…will the notions of fountains, swimming pools and baths become as archaic as the Broad St Pump now seems? We need to hold on to it, consider what is precious about it and how we are using it now in order to explore how we might save it for the future.”

The museum doesn’t have a permanent site, and tours the country showing its collection in different locations. But for the month of June it is being hosted in the basement of Somerset House.

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madagascar

antartica

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The basement of Somerset House is a suitably dark and damp venue, with the added feature of a leaky roof complimenting the exhibition. Volunteers are on hand to talk you through the exhibits and show you the filing systems used to log all the donations.

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In this location, a sense of a victorian curiosity show is overpowering. The shelves are laden with vast amounts of bottles and the dark wood and sensitive lighting help to focus the attention of the viewer on the different shapes of bottles and the explainers contained next to each.

The stories of people donating water veers from the poignant and academic to the pointless and banal. There is a unifying sense regardless and the whole feels very human and touching, let alone thought provoking. It struck me as I view the different donations that water is a single source, as all of it is contained within this world of ours. What I drink out of a tap today, and then pass into the British sewage system could end up half-way around the world. So despite some of the donations being from Madagascar or Delhi, it is fitting for it to sit next to water from Suffolk. And at the same time, because of the discolouration of some of the samples, (and yes, there are some of those sort of ‘samples’ as well), it becomes blindingly obvious that safe drinking water is easier to come across in Ipswich than in Delhi.

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There are interactive ‘puzzles’ in some of the alcoves in the basement as well which are fun. For example, one alcove contains a bowl of water with pots surrounding it; if you pour water from one pot into the bowl, you form a connection and a recording of someone talking about their relationship to water starts playing. And it immediately stops if you break the flow.

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It is a shame that the exhibition is only on at Somerset House for the month of June. So depending on when you are reading this, you either haven’t got long left to see it, or you’ve missed your chance. However, this is an ongoing project, so some aspects of it will be viewable in other locations in the future: follow the Museum on Facebook or Twitter to keep abreast of its development, or view its Flickr page to see photographs of more donations and different locations to Museum has visited.

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Museum of Water website

Museum of Water on Facebook

Museum of Water on Twitter

Museum of Water at Flickr

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