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Degree show time is upon us, and this year the Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration students from UCS Ipswich have branded their show he110 after the studio number R110 they’ve been working in for the last 3 years.13131441_1000143950071523_6870947813051939198_oThe show opens to the public on 3 June in the UCS Arts Building, (weekdays 10:00–18:00; weekends 11:00–15:00), with the Private View on the evening of 2 June from 18:15–21:00.

This year the graphics students have been busy marketing their show and are posting daily on their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles. They’ve also launched their own he110 website with links to their personal portfolio sites.

Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration students are exhibiting alongside other degree courses: Computer Games Design; Dance; English; Fine Art; Digital Film Production; Interior Architecture and Design; and Photography. The Photography degree show is on in the UCS Waterfront Building until 8 June before going to Free Range in London.

For details of how to get to UCS follow this link and come along to the show and say he110

 

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Impact

PhotoEast, Suffolk’s first festival of photography, was launched this week in Ipswich and can claim to be a major success, even within its first few days of existence. The half-mile walk along Ipswich’s waterfront from DanceEast to Cult Cafe brings dramatic images from around the world to this small Suffolk town. Local history and Ipswich life are presented alongside contemporary photography as part of the fabric of the waterside architecture. There is even a projection room inside a shipping container at the far end of the marina.

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Further to the monumental quayside exhibitions, two poignant projects looking at ageing and the family by Zed Nelson and Julian Germain are displayed in UCS’s Waterfront Gallery. Alongside these keynote exhibitions, the BA (Hons) Photography degree show in the UCS Waterfront Building lobby showcases the next generation of photographers emerging from the region; while a PhotoEast Young Person’s Fellowship exhibition of local school and college students’ work is on display in the nearby Arts Building.

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While walking around the quayside several times this week it has been hard not to notice a buzz in the air that this very public exhibition has brought to the town. Listening in to the conversations of teenage skateboarders making their way home from the local skatepark as they discuss the images is as fascinating as the work itself. And you can watch the drama of some of the photographs stopping people in their tracks in order to contemplate and comprehend what they are looking at.

Accompanying the exhibition is a one-day series of talks. This morning Claire and I went to hear the Picture Editor of The Guardian, Fiona Shields, talk about the challenging job of choosing the right image to illustrate a news story from some of the 25,000 pictures she looks at everyday! This afternoon we are heading back into a lecture theatre to hear George Georgiou discuss his commissioned project of photographing Ipswich from the top deck of a bus. In-between these there is a programme of talks from Mark Edwards, the Course Leader for the Photography degree course at UCS Ipswich; social documentary photographer Julian Germain will discuss his work in the Waterfront Gallery; and curator Katie Barron is in discussion with Chloe Dewe-Mathews about her WW1 tribute Shot At Dawn. The scale and breadth of this festival, both aesthetically and cerebrally, is truly impressive.

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The festival continues in Halesworth and various other venues along the A12 towards Lowestoft. Tomorrow Claire and I plan to visit an exhibition of Rodchenko’s photographs in a garden nursery at Darsham, and People and Their Dogs at The Cut in Halesworth. PhotoEast organisers are hoping to host exhibitions in more towns throughout the region as the festival develops over time.

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In considering what has made this festival so successful there are three key ingredients which need to be taken into account. Firstly, the calibre of the work on show is extremely high, a parochial exhibition of sunsets this is not! Secondly, the presentation is what you would expect from any metropolitan gallery or major arts event. Thirdly, the festival branding brings all the disparate aspects of the festival together with a cohesive graphic unity. If any one of these parts was not as fully considered as they have been I am in no doubt the sum total would have suffered as a result. PhotoEast is evidence of just how to put on a culturally exciting and vibrant arts event in a small town that engages local audiences well beyond their geographical boundaries.

Congratulations to the organisers for their vision, to all those involved at UCS, and to all the sponsors and supporters for helping to make this happen. PhotoEast 2016 continues until 25 June across various venues in the region. Check out the PhotoEast website for more details.

 

imageTwo days in to this New York trip with my colleague Russell Walker and UCS graphic design and illustration students and they’ve been busy ones. I can’t even try to imagine how many miles I’ve walked so far.

The journey wasn’t without its problems, which I won’t go into here, but now we’ve settled in and are walking, walking, walking, and filling up memory card after memory card of photos. Here’s a few I’ve taken, with comments, while I manage to jump on Macy’s free wifi from my hotel room.

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The first day I went to The Highline, an overhead deserted rail line that has been converted into a mile and a half long public park. It is absolutely stunning. Luckily the weather was excellent and it was a good choice of activity for the first day. It really helped me to feel embedded within New York as you get a real sense of location walking a few metres above the Avenues and Streets of this city and in amongst apartment blocks.

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I was also very impressed with the honesty of the rubbish bins, labelling landfill waste as just that.

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Other graphics that have impressed included this cycle path road sign with the addition of a cycling helmet. And no trip to New York for a graphic designer would be complete if it didn’t include some vernacular type spotting.

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There have also been a plethora of Graphic Interruptions for me to record, such as this:

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Today I went to The Guggenheim and saw an excellent Fischli & Weiss retrospective titled How To Work Better, and a Photo-poetics exhibition. The F&W exhibition opened my eyes to a lot of their work I hadn’t seen before, and I drew parallels between them and designers like Daniel Eatock, (as well as explaining to a few students I bumped into that the Honda ‘Cog’ ad ripped them off). With the photo exhibition I’ve found a few new names to research for my Masters, such as Erica Baum. Obviously though, it doesn’t really matter what is on at The Guggenheim as the building is stunning in itself and worth the entrance fee just to see the architecture.

I had planned to drop into MoMA on my way back to the hotel after visiting The Guggenheim, but having walked from the bottom of Central Park to the gallery and back, I was exhausted so jumped on a bus back to the hotel for afternoon tea. However, I did manage to get a few tourist shots in Central Park.

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So as I write this I’m sitting in my very basic hotel room with a heater rattling away in the background, which at least helps to drown out the sounds of the street at night. Not that I’m getting much sleep, as while I hit the sack at a reasonable (US) hour, my body & brain seem to be colluding and waking me up in UK time, so sorry if this post is slightly uncoordinated and bitty. But I’m ploughing on regardless, and tomorrow I plan to take a boat trip around Manhatten Island that some of the students have done already and highly recommend. It’s predicted to be colder than today, (snow forecast for Friday), so I’m glad I packed some gloves because the camera will be out all the time.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo I’ve taken so far, a shrine to rubbish, but expect more to follow on Flickr once I’ve had a chance to go through everything in a few weeks time.

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In my teens in the 1980s, as I was becoming politically aware and active, (going on CND demonstrations and reading radical publications), it is difficult for me not to be very familiar with the work of Peter Kennard. I think I must have held several of his images in my hands as placards and certainly stuck some of his photomontages on my bedroom wall torn from pages in lefty rags. When I heard he was having a retrospective at the Imperial War Museum, titled Unofficial War Artist, I debated whether I should go or not, thinking that I knew what I would get and worried about it being an exercise in personal nostalgia. It wasn’t until I read Art-e-facts’ review of her several visits to the show that I decided to go, and without a shadow of a doubt it blew me away, (no pun intended).

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From the outset it was refreshing to see an exhibition with both process and application on show, as you can see below in the anti-apartheid image for The Guardian.

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It was equally good to see some sketchbook work that wasn’t ever applied.

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The skilfulness of Kennard’s photomontage is without question. There is an assured confidence and directness in his visual metaphors that makes them work with little-to-no text. His use of imagery isn’t subtle, but then neither are the effects of war. In that respect Kennard’s work creates a powerful message that hits its target again and again. Regardless of this skilfulness of technique, it is amazing that one man can find so many ways to keep attacking power-mongers’ lust for weaponry. For all of Kennard’s sheer determination we should have seen the back of nuclear weapons years ago, and it seems unfathomable to me that Jeremy Corbyn is criticised in 2015 for coming out saying he would not press the nuclear button, but I digress.

Up until I saw the show, what I knew of Kennard’s output was largely confined to his ‘Thatcher’ period. Before attending I considered what it is to be so defined by an era, just as John Heartfield was to the 1930s and Jamie Ried was to the mid-late 1970s. As the 80s moved to the 90s it isn’t surprising that Kennard became somewhat dejected, stating: “a mixture of personal experience, disillusion with organised politics and the use of the media of innumerable digital photomontages,” caused him to, “question the effectiveness of photomontage as a critical, social probe”, (exhibition panel.) Imagine coming to the realisation that such dedication of energy doesn’t appear to have actually won any battles and that the ‘opposition’ then adopt your mechanisms of protest for their own ends. While you could call any faith in art being able to change the world naive, with Kennard you need to remember that he cut his political teeth on the student protests of the late 1960s, when a different world really did seem possible.

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Not knowing much of his work past the 1980s, (save for the infamous Blair Photo-op), it was what Kennard did following this period that really blew me away as he started making work that was even more powerful, direct, and particularly brutal.

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From the large eyes staring out at you from the Reading Room exhibit, and the hands clawing at newspaper columns, you sense humanity grasping and pleading for some sanity in a world full of marginalised desperate people. Then a corridor of paintings suduces you in with ghostly portraits that stop you in your tracks as their mouthless, thus voiceless, apparitions stare back at you. I was stunned into silence also by their power.

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And all this before you enter the room with his most recent work, The Boardroom, an ongoing project of Kennard’s that revisits photomontage but in a 3D space. This room is not for the faint-hearted—the imagery is particularly brutal while equations and statistics about war, hunger and poverty adorn the handrails you just might need to cling to in order to steady yourself against the visual onslaught.

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No photograph can do justice to this room—it is truly powerful stuff. If you do not feel emotionally affected by its overload of the injustices of war then you either do not have a soul, or you are a government minister.

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The statistics displayed are as equally an important element of the work as the visuals are. In the exhibition’s accompanying book, Kennard states: “I realise the seed for the idea…was actually planted a quarter of a century ago, … I made a speech at the UN to open my exhibition that began with a series of numbers I heard from Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director General of the World Health Organisation. I recounted in the speech how these numbers had been haunting me. For one billion dollars, he had said, or the cost of 20 modern military planes, the world could control illnesses that kill 11 million children every year in the developing world. At that moment, I saw that the connection between children needlessly dying from illness and bloated military spending was concealed in our society; the numbers that are the foundation of our modern world”. (2015, Kennard, IWM.) That phrase is worth repeating as you look at the image below: the numbers are the foundation of the modern world.

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On leaving the exhibition and reflecting on the necessary brutality of The Boardroom, I thought of the bravery of the Imperial War Museum to commission this exhibition. It continues until May 2016, and I hope that when it is taken down, the museum consider making this last room a permanent exhibition in their collection.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is free: go see.

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Last week The Cabinet of Curiosities caravan pulled up outside University Campus Suffolk to coincide with an exhibition of the same project in UCS’s Waterfront Gallery.

This visit and exhibition is the culmination of a year long project by UCS Fine Art Senior Lecturer Jane Watt. Jane and her bright blue caravan have visited various locations, and in particular many around Cambridge throughout the Autumn of 2014, providing an opportunity for people to come and document curiosities via cyanotypes. “At each location my assistant Amy Sage and I went through the same ritual: paper ready, aprons on, lights on,” says Jane. “The blue door is opened, the sign put outside inviting people to ‘Bring in your curious object’. Each venue brought many new visitors with unexpected objects and related unique tales.”

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Claire’s claw

Claire and I went to pay Jane a visit and take our curiosities. I took what I believe to be a one-off metal cycle handle-bar spirit level for measuring hill gradients, (I suspect it is from the 1950s and the like of which I haven’t seen anywhere else), and Claire took along a claw. Delicate objects were processed inside the caravan under a lamp on coated paper, (see above), while more robust objects were left in the sun before being fixed.

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Jane Watt inside her blue caravan

The caravan itself is a traveling exhibition as selected cyanotypes are hung up on clothes pegs or stored away in draws for visitors to inspect. Each print is numbered and all information recorded on a card in, obviously, blue ink.

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I find this project fascinating for many reasons. What seem like randomly chosen objects to a casual observer at first glance reveal on reading the accompanying card that these items mean something to their owners. In some respects this aspect reminded me of the Museum of Water that I visited when it was at Somerset House last year—art that relies on audience participation and records an aspect of their lives will forever be intriguing to me. There is a democratisation at work here; but at the same time the hand of the artist controls the visual output ensuring a considered rather than chaotic display. The artist’s vision is supported by those that choose to take part and ‘buy into’ the concept, and sates in them a need to document what they feel is important in their lives. In a nutshell, projects such as Jane’s have a real sense of humanity at their core and art blurs into anthropology.

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A (very) small section of the exhibition in the UCS Waterfront Gallery

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The exhibition in UCS is a mass of cyanotypes that Jane has recorded in the past year. Don’t expect to see the exhibition in 5 minutes, as a visit can drag you in to looking at all the objects recorded and trying to work out what many of them are, resulting in the need to read their accompanying cards. In many respects the cards are as fascinating as the objects.

From a design perspective what I also really like about The Cabinet of Curiosities is its overarching branding and the attention to detail that Jane and those that she has worked with have gone to. Badges, postcard packs, a hardback book and accompanying website have been thoroughly thought through by the design team she worked with: LMNOP.

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The accompanying hardback book, designed by LMNOP

Despite the caravan only being outside UCS for one day last Saturday, you can still see the results of much of Jane’s work as the exhibition continues in the UCS Waterfront Gallery, Ipswich, until 4 September. It is well worth a visit.

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Wall by the stairwell entrance to Hestercombe Gallery © Nigel Ball

Galleries that deal in driftwood ‘art’ and knick-knack souvenirs might be the predominating cultural experience you’d expect from a holiday to the beautiful Dorset coast. With this in mind, Claire and I were careful to make sure we investigated what cultural attractions were available to visit before travelling last week to a small hamlet just outside Bridport for our 2015 summer holiday. If washed-up sea craft ticks your art box then you won’t be disappointed from West Bay, Lime Regis and Charmouth et al, but if they don’t, we can highly recommend a couple of exhibitions.

We discovered before leaving that a colleague of mine, UCS senior lecturer and photographer Mark Edwards, was part of an exhibition at Hestercombe House & Gardens in Somerset. Being only about an hour’s drive from where we were staying we decided to pay it a visit. The show is titled Double Take: Photography and the Garden, and features two other contemporary artist photographers alongside Edwards; Sarah Jones and Helen Sear. It also showcases photographs by landscape gardener Gertrude Jekyll’s, who alongside Edwin Lutyens, designed the Formal Garden and Victorian Terrace at Hestercombe. It is an interesting exhibition in that each artist takes a very different approach in responding to the theme of the garden. Jekyll’s beautiful black and white shots from the early 1900s record garden vistas, plants, and most interesting to me, the gardeners working either horticulturally or on hard landscaping. Although none of these were of Hestercombe, they all come from a collection of photos Jekyll took of her own garden at Munster House near Godalming.

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Hestercombe Gardens by Jekyll and Lutyens © Nigel Ball

Edwards photography is a much longer process than the ‘shots’ by Jekyll, as he finds locations and returns to them repeatedly before photographing them. He often captures gardens that are about to revert back to nature, on the cusp of becoming overgrown or are overlooked and as a result, despite the fact they can appear as everyday scenes that in the flesh you may not take a second glance at, but as large scale prints they have an underlying sense of tension between nature and nurture. Sear’s work is much more manipulated which can lead the viewer to question whether they are actually looking at photographs—some appear as if ceramic tiles and others potentially paintings or tapestry. Jones’ work has a more menacing tonality to it with very dark backgrounds that focus the viewer in on, for example, a woman lying on a large tree branch, or to pick out the detail of a rose bush and thus forcing you to pay equal attention to the thorns and branches as you do to the flowers.

The show is part of Hestercombe’s programme of showcasing art in reclaimed spaces, and much of the gallery attached to the house is in a poor state of repair, clearly having been reclaimed from going into ruin just in time. This adds a temporal air to the whole show which creates an atmosphere that contrasts appropriately to the very orderly gardens outside. It also helps to echo the fact that gardens that aren’t continually tended, much like buildings left unmaintained, soon destroy themselves, a feature that is not lost as you look at some of Edwards work in particular.

Apologies for not showing any images of the exhibition to accompany this post, but I was so engrossed in the work that I neglected to take any of the work on the walls, (and I didn’t want to scan in images from the catalogue for copyright reasons). The show runs until 18 October 2015, and the £10 admission price includes access to the exhibition, gardens and house.

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Claire and I had also planned to take a look at Bournemouth at sometime during the holiday, as I believed, (wrongly), that I had never been there. (As we drove part the Pavillion, I was reminded that I went to a conference there some 30 years ago!) Unfortunately we left this visit until our return journey back to Ipswich, so didn’t have time to mooch around the town as we wanted to take in the Alphonse Mucha exhibition at the Russell Coates House and Gallery before continuing our drive back to Suffolk.

The house itself is a visual overload—a clash of Victoriana and Art Nouveau—rammed as it is with paintings, furniture, garish carpets and ornate internal architectural mouldings. A feast for the eyes and a fascinating insight into the lives and tastes of yuppie hipsters of the day. As the Russell Coates websites states: “In 1901 Merton Russell-Cotes gave his wife Annie a dream house on a cliff-top, overlooking the sea. It was an extraordinary, extravagant birthday present – lavish, splendid, and with a touch of fantasy. They filled this exotic seaside villa with beautiful objects from their travels across the world, and lined the walls with a remarkable collection of British art, creating a unique atmosphere in a most dramatic setting.”

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In many ways it is the perfect location for a Mucha exhibition outside of Paris, and the museum has done a good job of framing the entrance to the Mucha show with paintings that were contemporary to his work, thus informing the visitor of just what Mucha may have been influenced by. Once in the actual exhibition, (which you have to walk through the entire house to get to), there is a sense of calm after the visual overload you are subjected to beforehand.

I know Mucha’s work well, but what is impressive about this exhibition is actually seeing the life-size posters rather than reproductions in design books. Getting to see the work at this scale bought home to me once again just how important he was to the development of not just poster art but to Graphic Design, (poster art being the precursor trade before the concept of the ‘graphic designer’ emerged). His typographic excellence is something to be truly admired, and both his use of graphic architecture within an artwork to frame the subject/steer the viewer as well as his incorporation of type into the actual image must have appeared revolutionary in its day.

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One thing that did strike me for the first time, seeing the work up close, was that in much of the early work he wasn’t particularly good at drawing facial features. In many pieces I felt there was a tentative hand at work when working in these areas whereas he displayed sheer confidence in figures, illustration, graphic patterns and typography. His execution improved as his techniques developed, but this difference was noticeable to me for the first time on looking at this early work at their intended size.

The exhibition isn’t large, it only occupies two rooms, but it does also include a video of his life, photography of some of his models which he would later draw from, and examples of packaging alongside preliminary sketches. All in all it is well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area and is on until 27 September 2015. The entrance fee is £5, (inclusive of house).

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A large corner of my loft is stacked with vinyl records, mostly 12″ LPs, but there is a smaller pile of 7″ singles. They are going to stay there, save for the odd time I want to change the artwork in my three album-art frames that deck our landing. It is fair to say I haven’t jumped on the supposed vinyl revival—there’s already enough nostalgia in the world, I don’t need any more.

What I do miss about vinyl is the sleeves, hence my love of my album-art frames. Unfortunately 7″ single sleeves were never quite as explorative and there are few I can recall that deserve being displayed; a couple by The Clash, Sex Pistols or The Smiths maybe, but generally the design of 7″ single sleeves wasn’t anywhere as near as engaging as their LP counterparts, being more of a disposable commodity. But that’s certainly not the case with the recent Secret 7″ exhibition at Somerset House that I accidentally stumbled on last week when visiting Pick Me Up 2015. Secret 7″ is a project in its third year that chooses 7 tracks and presses each to 7″ vinyl. The organisers then invite designers and artists to interpret the tracks as they see fit and submit a cover, displayed anonymously, which the public can then buy for £50 apiece. All money goes to charity, and this year the chosen beneficiary is Nordoff Robbins, who are dedicated to transforming lives of vulnerable children and adults through music therapy. Like similar secret postcard projects, you don’t know whether you are buying a future collectors’ piece by a famous creative, or something whipped up by someone’s 5 year old daughter, (which could equally be a future collectors’ piece, of course).

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It is interesting to browse the racks not knowing who produced what and trying to guess the track. Many are clearly ‘just’ artworks that make no attempt to represent or link to their musical content. The fact that no title or band name is displayed obviously separates these sleeves from a standard 7″ sleeve—while some designers of commercial records have previously and deliberately not listed a band or track title on a cover, it is still the case that the vast majority of record sleeves do have this information adorning them, as obviously the reason d’être of the 7″ single from a record company’s point of view is to sell as many units as possible. But seeing so many sleeves displayed in one place with no typographic indication of band or title, I felt does reduce this exercise, in some cases, to appealing to an artist’s vanity and results in purely aesthetic outcomes rather than embracing communication—much like Pick Me Up, I felt there was a fair amount of style over substance. Regardless, taking a standard form and asking a plethora of people to work within its confines does lead to some interesting and innovative outcomes.

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I was personally taken with those creatives that had worked with photography, especially as the vast majority of the sleeves were illustrative. As a result, the photography pieces did tend to jump out to my eyes.

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Alongside the rows and rows of sleeves, seven designers were asked to create a bespoke poster for one of the 7′ tracks chosen. These posters were also available to buy for £50 but limited to a 100 print run and included submissions from Erik Spiekermann, Craig Ward, Spin, The Counter Press, Peter Bankov, Felix Pfäffli and Bread Collective.

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Unfortunately I’m writing this post on the last day the exhibition is open. However, the sale of the sleeves doesn’t start until tomorrow, 4 May 2015, so there’s still a chance to grab a 7″ single sleeve and give money to a good cause. Go to the Secret 7″ website for more details.

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The selected tracks for 2015 are:
The Chemical Brothers—Let Forever Be
Diana Ross and the Supremes—Reflections
The Maccabees—Go
Peter Gabriel—Sledgehammer
The Rolling Stones—Dead Flowers
St. Vincent—Digital Witness
Underworld—Born Slippy (Nuxx)

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And while on the subject of singles:

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University Campus Suffolk (UCS) Waterfront Gallery is currently hosting a retrospective of Bernard Reynolds, (1915–1997), to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Reynolds was an innovative sculptor and educator from East Anglia whose name is well established in Ipswich. However, wandering through the exhibition the other day I was struck by how much of an important review of his work this is, especially as he was overlooked in favour of many of his contemporaries who went on to be world-renowned. Reynolds’ website states: “…although Bernard is most widely known as a sculptor, he possessed the capacity to be an inspirational teacher as well as an artist, and he fulfilled both of these roles with his own particular kind of integrity. Far from flamboyantly ‘arty’, Bernard’s approach was no less passionate for the application of a quietly rigorous self-imposed discipline to every project he undertook—and his projects were many and varied.”

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Bird sculls feature heavily throughout the show in a variety of different mediums. It is also good to see his preliminary drawings and sketchbook work alongside finished outcomes.

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I noticed a sense of comic exploration in many of the pieces, alongside a strong mythical presence. I was reminded of headwear I’ve seen adorned by people in photographs or documentaries examining English folk-lore customs—particularly in that of the parrot and crows’ head sculptures. While a large aspect of this is due to the subject matter itself, it is as if Reynolds has accentuated these qualities in his work. While I was aware of Reynolds before I saw this exhibition, and had seen some of his public work in Ipswich, much of what is on show here was new to me. Despite this, I couldn’t help feeling very familiar with his approach to sculpture and artistic vocabulary.

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Although Reynolds was of the modern era of sculpture, some of his subject matter, as mentioned above, seems at odds with this austere movement. He clearly didn’t want to over-complicate his work with intellectual theories and as a result there is a real sense of joy in both subject matter and in Reynolds’ act of making. This is by no means a dour ‘serious’ exhibition, and his work is feels fresher and more immediate as a consequence.

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It is also great to see displayed a test piece for two large plinths that once formed an entrance piece to Ipswich’s Suffolk College. Built in 1961, the college became an extension of the now renowned Ipswich Arts School, and when UCS was established in 2007 from the degree courses run at the college, the old FE buildings were demolished. Thankfully Reynolds’ entrance pieces were left, but as they stretch into the sky they now feel lost of their original purpose. I’ve always admired the planners who decided not to demolish these plinths along with the brutalist 7-story Suffolk College tower, but they now stand largely ignored as they flank a new sports centre built on the old college grounds. Should you visit the exhibition, it is worth taking a short 5 minute walk, (across the UCS car park away from the quayside and under the library), to find these giant concrete totems.

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100 Years of Bernard Reynolds runs at UCS Waterfront Gallery until 6 May. Catch it while you can, it comes highly recommended.

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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

 

 

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