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Book jacket proposal (front and back)—work in progress

Graphic Interruptions is reaching some sort of climax as I prepare the final artwork for a one off self-published book to go to print this week. As I near the end of this stage of the project, (i.e., an assessment hand-in for a 40 credit module in mid-May for my masters degree), for no reason what-so-ever other than a little procrastination, I’ve worked out some (sketchy) stats for the project to date:

—55 photographs in book, edited down from 224
—7 short psychogeographic writing trials
—1 long psychogeographic essay with umpteen drafts
—1 introduction essay of over 1300 words, 6 drafts and copious notebook ramblings
—3 book print trials
—7+ layout trials
—untold changes in direction
—7 months reading/researching, photographing, questioning, reflecting
—6 blog posts in duration of MA, (+1 associated)
—One 3 year old blog post, (genesis of project concept)
—3 presentations
—5 critiques
—2 ring binders
—63 plastic wallets
—2 sets of inkjet cartridges
—2 maps
—One 19x25cm Moleskine softcover notebook
—One 14x21cm Leuchtturm1917 softcover notebook
—3 or 4 Lamy rollerball cartridges
—untold visits to the library
—uncountable Google searches, RSS feed follow-ups and Evernote bookmarks
—1 part-related meeting with a publisher
—1 venn diagram

 

 

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Scribble cover. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

When you work with someone on a regular basis you tend to get to know them well. You tell each other stories, you share aspects of your life and you get to know their working nuances intimately. But just recently I’ve been spending time with my work colleague, friend and ex-tutor Russell Walker a lot more than I would normally outside of typical ‘office’ working hours. This is because Russell Walker, designer, illustrator and educator of some 30+ years has just published a book of his creative and educational life called Scribble, and I’ve been immersing myself in it.

Starting from his earliest memories of childhood in his father’s tailor shop, Russell’s close friend Mike Doherty narrates his move through school and on to art school, into the world of being a professional illustrator and times spent teaching generations of design students as a lecturer, course leader and senior lecturer. From the outset the pair proclaim that the intention is to share these memories and experiences in order that others can dip in and benefit from them in some small way.

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Fetchaset spread. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

From his days at Hornsey College to describing leaving student life as looking over a bottomless cliff, there is much here for the novice designer stepping out into the world of work to learn from, and all illustrated with the sumptuous and colourful portfolio that Russell has built up over the years. From initial excursions in the world of going freelance, tales abound of interviews, knock-backs, successes, international agents and working for some big name corporate clients. Those that know Russell as well as I do will know that his determination generally wins out in the end and this book is ample proof of a will to not so much stay ahead of the game, but to shape it. The phrase I’ve often heard Russell say to students: ‘if you are hungry for it you will get it’, couldn’t be more true of the man himself.

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Chairman Meow. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

While knowing much of this work already, albeit seeing it in singular sittings, the collection that Scribble presents brings a personal awe at the vastness of Russell’s output—witnessing this work again but in collected form only reinforces my understanding of his creative talent. From early drawings through to skilful air-brushing; onto digitally rendered outcomes before coming back to collage and the hand-drawn in more recent pieces; Scribble showcases the visual journey of someone who doesn’t like to sit on their laurels.

The fact that Russell has dedicated much of his career to the education of others, and in doing so has potentially sacrificed the fame other illustrators of equal standing may have afforded themselves, I would argue has kept him more creatively relevant. He has avoided pitfalls of stylistic cul-de-sacs and the development of his technical and stylistic approaches in visual attitude is on show here for all to see. To say someone is ‘of their time’ often suggests they are stuck in some distant past glory, but such a phrase used to describe Russell I propose suggests that each stage in his creative journey has been ‘of its time’; a continuous line of constant updating. Russell treads a fine line in remaining alive to nuances in contemporary illustration while keeping a firm grip on his personal visual language—this is in no way an easy task and is in part driven by the requirements of educating others.

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Run’m Up, Run’m Out. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

The importance of line, colour and composition in Russell’s work is present from the start of the book to the closing pages. The inclusion of original sketches, work-in-progress and quotes from others, (typographer and designer Jonathan Barnbrook tells of his time as one of his students, and this rubs shoulders with a portrait of Russell by illustrator Brian Grimwood), alongside his perspectives on design education make this a book that works on many levels for many audiences. The fact that this book has been produced in collaboration with alumni from the Graphic Design course at UCS who now run their own successful design studio, Three&Me—described in the closing pages as ‘design partners’—is testament itself to Russell’s dedication to encouraging and supporting the next generation of creative talent.

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Le Kit Adagio, Viande. Image courtesy of Three&Me.

The one thing that I can’t quite get my head around with Scribble is that to publish a book such as this suggests some sort of end point has been reached. But knowing Russell as I do, this will certainly not be the case. Ever a person to develop and push forward, there are many more chapters yet to be written for Scribble.

To purchase a copy of Scribble, contact Russell Walker via Fetchaset

With the day job taking over of late, it’s been a while since I’ve managed to get to a graphic design talk. But thanks to an invite from Kemistry Gallery for helping with their recent Kickstarter campaign, I managed to get up to London one evening last week for a talk that was boldly titled Graphic Design: what next? With design critic, journalist, educator and publisher Adrian Shaughnessy; Why Not Associates’ Andy Altmann and designer/artist Daniel Eatock speaking, it would have been rude not to attend. And besides, I was intrigued as to what they would claim was next for graphic design.

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Gordon Young/Why Not Associates: Comedy Carpet, 2011. (Photo: comedycarpet.com)

So did any of the speakers answer the question? Well, not exactly. One tried more than the other two, but Andy Altmann, who was up first, did swear at the beginning of his talk that he was instructed to talk about Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet—Why Not Associate’s joint project with artist Gordon Young. And why not, (to coin a phrase)? If anyone should attempt to break the ‘rules’, then I think Andy Altmann has had plenty of experience of doing so and no-one should expect him to change now.

The story of the Comedy Carpet is a truly awe inspiring one, and despite knowing much about the project already, hearing the tale from Altmann himself revealed much more than I could previously ever have known. Interesting memories were keenly told, such as the tale that meeting Ken Dodd at the launch of the project humbling Altmann. However, he still managed to break a cardinal sin of comedy—being bowled over by Dodd telling him a joke while standing on his creation, Altmann blurted out the punchline as he had previously heard the gag. Dodd was not pleased, apparently. (In case you are wondering; Q: “How do you get a fat girl into bed? A: “Piece of cake”.) And the story that Gordon Young, in setting up his own concrete company in order to cut the costs of the project, had to get in one of the UK’s leading experts on concrete who just happened to be Harry Hill’s dad, was gold-dust. (I will resist going into detail here about the Comedy Carpet for those uninitiated with it, check out the dedicated website to the project for more details.)

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FHK Henrion (Photo: Unit Editions)

When Adrian Shaughnessy took the stage he wondered how he was going to follow Altmann’s tales, and he was also concerned he had no jokes. But at least he tried to answer the question. In choosing designer FHK Henrion to discuss—of whom Unit Editions had published a book about in 2013—Shaughnessy put the case that as a ‘complete’ designer Henrion demonstrated an attitude that future graphic designers would need to have in this ever evolving discipline. Henrion started his career as a poster artist, in the footsteps of Cassandra and Games. He then went on to be instrumental in introducing visual branding to the UK, producing in-depth identity guidebooks. He also brought his social concerns to the fore by producing work for CND, become an educator, product designer, interior architecture designer and worked in a host of other areas of design, including the emerging field motion graphics for television. A true all-rounder, one of the key aspects of his approach was to bring an open mind to all projects, in terms of what could be achieved, which meant all his work was truly tested the boundaries of design thinking. If the phrase ‘can do’ was invented for anyone, then surely it was for Henrion. In pitching that future designers should avoid becoming a niche entity and be open to all experiences, Shaughnessy put forward a credible case.

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Daniel Eatock, 1996. (Photo: Daniel Eatock)

The third and final speaker was Daniel Eatock. I have been a longtime admirer of Eatock’s work and his approach in putting ideas at the heart of his outcomes. For his talk Eatock went for the middle ground and attempted to answer the question at the end after he had spoken about his work. Conceptual as ever, he decided on a system for his presentation: 20 years in 20 minutes, one project a year for one minute each, (an Eatockian Pecha Kucha if you like). He failed, due to over-talking about some projects, but this didn’t matter. It was interesting to hear him discuss his desire in his early practice to try to eradicate subjectivity from his work, fearing that style and decoration was too shallow and over-shadowed the concept. His family’s 1996 Christmas card pictured above was one attempt at this. I would argue that it is impossible to be completely objective in design, for even the choice of typeface and deliberate ‘non-styling’ becomes a style and subjective choice. Regardless, this was a fascinating insight into Eatock’s thinking and was genuinely thought provoking.

In wrapping up his talk Eatock finally attempted to answer the question of ‘what next?’, by providing a slightly awkwardly worded statement. It suggested, (and I paraphrase), that problems shouldn’t necessarily be the starting point of design, and that through investigating outcomes first, we will uncover problems we didn’t previously know existed. Or to put it in simpler terms, produce answers in order to find questions. In throwing out such a knotty statement, Eatock has, for my money, at least tried to answer the question with some sense of critical thinking and avoided defining graphic design purely in terms of commerce which is too often the case. The latter usually closes down critical thinking rather than opening it up, and if graphic design is to be anything other than a means to sell stuff, then we have to resist the market place defining our reference points, even if the market place is where most designers have to operate in order to pay their rent or mortgage.

This very enjoyable evening was rounded off with a Q&A session chaired by Ravensbourne Course Director Liz Friedman, in which education, a hand’s-on approach to design, and ‘post-digital’ became subjects of discussion.

Kemistry Gallery now starts the long haul towards trying to establish a centre for Graphic Design in London.

No lengthy introduction to my annual music round-up this year due to illness at the time of posting. My highlight releases and re-releases of the year, (those that I’ve returned to the most over the course of the last 12 months), have been, well, highlighted.

Most important band of the year? It can be none other than Sleaford Mods. Why? Well, for many reasons—because they are aesthetically the antithesis of Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage; because they have zero pretensions; because they are not a ‘protest’ band; because not even 6music can play them despite desperately wanting to jump on the bandwagon; because they were the only band worth seeing live in 2014, (which is lucky as they were pretty much the only band I did see besides reggae superstars Jimmy Cliff and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry); but mostly because of so many great lyrics, such as: “I can’t believe the rich still exist, let alone run the fucking country”; “The smell of piss is so strong is smells like decent bacon”; “Cameron’s hairdresser got an MBE, I said to my wife ‘you’d better shoot me'”, and, well, if you’ve heard them you’ll know. If you haven’t, scour YouTube.

Lastly before we get to the list, RIP SpaceApe. You’ll be sadly missed.

Kasai Allstars – Beware The Fetish
Laetitia Sadier – Something Shines
Swans – To Be Kind
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Dels – Petals Have Fallen
Mogwai – Music Industry 3, Fitness Industry 1. EP
Sleaford Mods – Tiswas EP
Robert Wyatt – Different Every Time
Fugazi – First Demo, End Hits, Instrument
Bo Ningen – III
Tony Allen – Film of Life
Hacker Farm – Poundland
Dead Rat Orchestra – Pearl Fishers / Boat Notchers
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls – Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls
Various – The Wire Tapper 36
The Pop Group – We Are Time / Cabinet of Curiosities
Kode9 & The Spaceape – Killing Season EP
Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin – Mynd
Jon Langford & Skull Orchard – Here Be Monsters
Mary Gauthier – Live at Blue Rock
Manic Street Preachers – Futurology
Rapeman – Two Nuns And A Pack Mule
Hacker Farm/Libbe Matz Gang – Crass In Africa
Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
Apex Twin – Syro
Big Black – Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape
Shellac – Dude Incredible, At Action Park
Liz Green – Haul Away!
Killing Joke – In Dub
Augustus Pablo – Born To Dub You
The Bug – Angels & Devils
Viv Albertine – The Vermillion Boarder
Fun Boy Three – Fun Boy Three
Mogwai – Come On Die Young / appendix
King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
Morrissey – World Peace Is None Of Your Business
Various – Studio One Dancehall, Sir Coxsone In The Dance: The Foundation Sound
Various – Frontline presents Dub 1975–1980
Various – Frontline presents Roots1975–1979
Edvard Graham Lewis – All Above
Eno . Hyde – Someday World, High Life
Cabaret Voltaire – #7885: Electropunk to Technopop 1978–1985
Death Grips – Niggas On The Moon
Various – Hyperdub 10.1
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Back At The Controls
Plaid – Reachy Prints
Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband
Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack
Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold + Tally All The Things That You Broke
The Bad Plus – The Rites Of Spring
Steve Ignorant with Paranoid Vision – When?
Fat White Family – Champagne Holocaust
Various – Wire Tapper 34
Sons of Kemet – Burn
Polar Bear – In Each And Every One
Liars – Mess
Iggy Pop – Zombie Birdhouse (thanks Ken)
Metronomy – Love Letters
Deadbeat & Paul St Hilaire – The Infinity Dub Sessions
Sleaford Mods – Chubbed up. The Singles Collection.
St Vincent – St Vincent
Various – Inner City Beat: Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers
Neneh Cherry – Blank Project
Beck – Morning Phase
Various – Evolution Of Dub Vol 8: The Search For New Life
Various – Studio One Rocksteady
The Upsetters – The Good, The Bad And The Upsetters
Young Fathers – Dead
The Move – Anthology 1966–1972
The Ex – How Thick You Think/That’s Not A Virus
Various – Songlines Top Of The World #98 +
Actress – Ghettoville
Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything
Warpaint – Warpaint
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Fire! – (Without Noticing)
The Spook of the Thirteenth Lock – The Brutal Here And Now
Primitive Calculators – The World Is Fucked

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

 

 

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.

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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.

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarber’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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong 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.”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd this film title sequence could be mistaken for some of the experimental and fluid graphic illustration coming out of the UK at the turn of 21st century by the likes of Dávid Földvári et al:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGRAPHICS 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis show has an impressive list of 40 contributors, and naturally for graphic design students, the more graphic and book orientated work seemed to appeal the most.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Hockney’s were particularly good and of interest to illustrators:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I was really taken with this mail-art piece by Eugenio Dittborn:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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.

Well, I’ve been back at the day job for a week now and my summer holiday seems like a distant memory. So before it stretches back any further, I thought I should post some of the cultural highlights from our two weeks away.

First up, we stumbled across the Bubble Car Museum when in Lincolnshire, and what a find. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and all I really hoped was that they had a Bond Bug, because I had a Dinky toy version as a little boy. But it has to be said, this was a gem of a little museum.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the outside the museum looked like a small shed, and I half expected to just see a few rusting, half refurbished cars. But no, the place was rammed with these amazing vehicles. There was something optimistic about these 700cc or less cars and bikes—futuristic and weirdly beautiful. And the museum curators had done an excellent job of displaying them all, trying to put them into context with mock-ups of 1950s shop fronts, front rooms and kitchens around the two exhibition rooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis museum is highly recommended and it has a great little no nonsense cafe with adjoining campsite. I think we might be bringing the tent next time we visit Lincolnshire.

On the drive home, as mentioned here, we went via the north Norfolk coast. Having holidayed there for several summers we stopped off in Cley-Next-the-Sea hoping to catch their summer art exhibition, Cley 13, usually held in the village church. This year in a field next to the graveyard, as we approached the church, we were greeted by these wonderful bird sculptures.

Created by artist Jessica Perry and the children of Stalham High School, they certainly grabbed your attention. And while there was interesting work on display in the church, it is very much like a very well crafted and presented college foundation course end of year show. Good, but not exactly challenging.  However, these birds were just fun and unpretentious and as a result blew everything else away.

We took a couple days out in London in the second week of our holiday. We were lucky enough to have been bought membership of the Royal Academy as a present so decided to check out the Summer Show for the first time. As I’d only ever seen it on TV before, it was interesting to see it in the flesh, but ultimately, it is a difficult thing to review, what with so much on show. However, it was quite a good way to assess your tastes, as we ended up just looking at what immediately grabbed our attention. With most exhibitions we go to being themed or of a single artist/designer, just letting your instincts and knee-jerk judgements kick in was refreshing, and almost the only way to react to such an overwhelming display of work. I found several pieces that I really liked, but equally was surprised by many of the entries being allow in. An ultimate favourite for me though had to be the Greyson Perry tapestries, most of which were created in response to his TV programme on taste. Seeing them in their full glory, and being able to concentrate of their detail and the narrative they told, only went to confirm my opinion that the man is an illustrator rather than a fine artist, especially with his work deviating from pottery.

While at the RA, we also took the opportunity to see the Mexico: A Revolution in Art 1910–1940, which I loved. It hadn’t had great reviews, but the fact it was a mix of painting and photography, I thought made it a strong documentary on the the changes and difficulties that Mexico faced during this time period.

While in London, we also took in the Ibrahim El-Salahi exhibition, some of who’s drawings blew me away. This was shown alongside Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art, which was sort of a museum within a gallery.

TateGaba’s show was really refreshing, not least because you were allowed to take photographs. Gaba wants to challenge the notion of what a museum/gallery should be, and over the years adds new ‘rooms’ to this travelling show, encourages audience participation, (in the first room there was a large Jenga type game for people to interact with), and showcases his life and work as part of the show, (he even had large scale photographs of his wedding and wedding gifts on display as an exhibit!). I wasn’t overly impressed with his individual pieces of work, with its over reliance on symbolism and a sense of having seen similar approaches done much better, but then the Museum has become an artwork in its own right. As a whole, it is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. And what he is trying to achieve with challenging the notion of an exhibition was a joy to behold and completely refreshing.

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Gaba’s wedding photographs and gifts

Just the fact that I’m able to publish photographs here that I took in the exhibition, and couldn’t photograph anything and publish it here form the, arguable much stronger, El-Salahi show, is testament to breath of fresh air this approach filled me with. Why can’t you take (non-flash) photographs in exhibitions? I’ve always thought it was fucking rediculous.

Lastly, while in London, we met up with Claire’s daughter and they both went off to watch a show at The Globe, which was a present from Callie to her mother for her birthday. So I took myself off the Design Museum. It was a shame because the whole place felt like it was winding down, readying itself for its move across London to its new building in 2014/15. But despite there being an air of the place being unloved, the Future Is Here exhibition was genuinely interesting, once I got my head around what it was about. It basically gathers together examples of new ways of working and designing/producing goods, including crowdsourcing ideas, 3D printing, producing construction materials on a building site, and small scale robot construction. These themes and exhibits, when taken collectively, demonstrated how manufacturing processes are changing around us and how new methods of industry were being formed in the now. The Design Museum was half proposing we are in times of a new industrial revolution, and while I’m not completely convinced, it was a thought provoking experience.

As if to reinforce the feeling that the museum is ‘winding down’, it had on display items from its collection themed into six categories rather than the usual second commissioned exhibition. While it is good to see this work coming out of the closet, and promises much for the new bigger space the museum will have in Kensington, (with some of their collection being on permanent display), it did give the impression that energies and finances were being diverted elsewhere. That said, I naturally made a beeline for the graphic design section, and it was good to see Calvert and Kinneir‘s road signage templates:

Maidenheadand the Design Research Unit‘s branding guidelines for British Rail:

BR

RandB

I’ve just finished reading Wilson Neate’s excellent book about Wire called Read & Burn. Much like Wire’s proclamations in 1977 that for the band there were to be: “No solos; no decoration; when the words run out, it stops; we don’t chorus out; no rocking out; keep it to the point; no Americanisms,” Neate states of the book that: “This book was not read, vetted, or approved by Wire; this book is not a biography of Wire collectively or individually; this book is not about the band-members’ solo projects; this book does not forensically dissect each of Wire’s albums; this book does not mention every Wire song, record sleeve, tour or gig; this book does not provide a complete discography.”

Except for the first statement above about Wire not approving the book, the remainder of Neate’s manifesto is somewhat inaccurate. It is a biography, it does forensically dissect Wire albums, and it has a pretty comprehensive discography at the back. Even the first statement is at odds with the fact that Wire sell the publication as part of a package with their latest album: Change Becomes Us.

Despite this, Read & Burn tells the fascinating story of the band from their pre-Wire days at art school up to the rationale behind 2013’s Change Becomes Us. On the surface of it this book will seem to have little to interest non-Wire fans. The trawl through album tracks and how they came about will be excruciating for those who don’t know the work. At times, and I count myself as a Wire fan, I had to go back and listen to tracks to brief myself on what was being discussed. But this aside, what I would recommend it for, to the non-Wire fan, particularly those who work in creative fields, is the insight into creative tensions and artistic endevour. Throughout the book it highlights different takes by individuals about the same events, and how collaborative working is a difficult beast when egos and pretensions clash. The fact that each band member, (and band associates), were interviewed separately allows individuals to recount their side of the story, deconstructing their methodologies, likes and dislikes about what they’ve done, all the while being acutely aware that each member of the band will probably read the book at some stage. Each band member are all highly critical of Wire as a project, of each other, and of their output. But they intelligently examine what they’ve achieved collectively, from the prospective of creating sound experiments and art pieces that form a body of work by Wire, (there is often a sense of detachment when they use the band name, as if it is a living entity in itself). And as pretentious as that sounds, Read & Burn can be read more as a study of the psychology of artists working together than anything else, which makes it all the more interesting than your average rock biography.

The fact that Wire are still going after all these years, through almost wilful self-destruction, (and not in a standard drink and drugs narrative), is remarkable. As a catalogue of advice of how not to create a successful band, the following should probably be taught at rock schools everywhere: they refused to play old music at their gigs up until recently, (they once hired a Wire tribute band to support them live so they didn’t have to play old material): they wilfully alienated fans by staging experimental performance art pieces at shows; they would showcase new and developing work live; they immediately rejected the punk scene that spawned them on the release of their first ‘punk’ album; they  created sound experiments based on their own invented ‘dugga‘ rhythms and played the piece that came from this, Drill, live on American TV rather than their latest single, much to the annoyance of their record label; guitarist Bruce Gilbert refused to play on tracks that were too pop orientated for his liking—all these things, and much more, show the band as being wilfully perverse in their approach to earning a living from what they did. Much of this is down to the creative tensions in the band, of four people who clearly don’t particularly like each other, but who realise that as a creative unit they make something special, something that has a degree of uniqueness and as a result is a refreshing antidote  to your average band fixated on stardom who will compromise any integrity they might have in the quest for success.

Wire have always been concerned with being contemporary and not playing the punk cabaret circuit of their 1977 peers, this drive has kept them pushing forward throughout their lifespan. For the non-Wire fan out their, you’ll need to skip through the muso moments in this story. But if you work collaboratively with others, this book will reveal itself to you as a brave and honest depiction of the realities of ego clashes and mixed agendas, poor communication and assumptions, deliberate obstinance and artistic integrity. And with this, they individually demonstrate a collective sense of what constitutes their aesthetic collective identity, and use this as a measure for what they do and do not allow Wire to do artistically.

Listen to Wire’s latest release, Change Becomes Us, on Soundcloud.

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