Graphic designer Vaughan Oliver will be giving a talk on his work on wed April 1st a 2.30 in the Epsom Playhouse (free tickets from college reception).
Slightly Off the Ground a show of his work will then open here in the Gallery and you are welcome to attend the private view at 6-8pm also on wed 1st Apr
As a graphic Design: New Media students please make every effort to attend both these events.
The posters in this exhibition look back over the unique work of Vaughan Oliver and largely reflect his intimate connection to the post-punk independent music scene. The seminal sleeves and posters Vaughan produced after graduating from Newcastle in 1979 quickly gained recognition leading to commissions of work from the arts and business alike.
Vaughan is among the elect of the third generation of British designers of music graphics that include Malcolm Garrett’s Assorted Images, Rob O’Connor’s Stylo Rouge and Peter Saville. They followed a transitional generation that saw the development of the discrete music sleeve designer, exemplified by Storm Thorgerson’s Hipgnosis (with longstanding collaborators Geoff Halpin, George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead); Roger Dean and the late Colin Fulcher (Barney Bubbles). The first generation had already established careers by 1964 when British pop music sleeves became ‘art’ rather than ‘commodity’ packaging. Notable in this new genre were practitioners from a wide range of disciplines such as Alan Aldridge, Robert Brownjohn, Robert Freeman, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. A diversity of authorial discipline has always typified this work in the music business (even the musicians, very occasionally, get their say) and in-depth collaboration of varied creative disciplines is the norm.
Vaughan’s creative essence is collaborative. Working initially with photographer Nigel Grierson as 23 Envelope then with Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of record company 4AD; and now, for over 20 years, with creative partner Chris Bigg in the guise of v23. Collaborating photographers include Simon Larbalestier, Dominic Davies, Jim Friedman and more recently Marc Atkins. Another of Vaughan’s creative partners is the music, and in this he has been privileged: a virtually unique career feature, in the early years of 4AD, was his input into the choice of artists to record for the label – a contemporary parallel was music journalist Paul Morley helping Trevor Horn select ZTT’s roster. This rare experience; giving insight into a band’s internal persona and their music, reinforced by Vaughan’s studio being within 4AD’s building; is the intelligence feeding the close, moody atmosphere of his work.
A prime source of visual inspiration shared by practitioners of graphics and advertising, and also Vaughan, is Surrealism. Most designers follow the route of Magritte building coolly detached ironic observation. Vaughan’s work is of the Dali stream: immersive, fluid, an emotional experience – no smile in the mind here, more a thump of the heart. His work is full of delight in process, where hand crafted elements are mediated through copy stand or PMT (photo mechanical transfer) photography. In France his method is paralleled in the work of Grapus, in America by April Greiman. This working mode is prescient of the current ability of graphics programmes to produce layered images. The tactile loss in the use of these programmes is regretted by Vaughan (as is the format loss of 12 inch vinyl). What’s missing from this software is chance: the serendipitous, the mutability of time, focus, light, and viewpoint; transitory elements that Vaughan works to select the moment of his images and those of his photographers.
His final, perhaps most intimate, collaborator is typography – handled with the assurance of a master and playful innocence of a naïf. Choice of typeface is eclectic; rules, borders and boxes and open letter spacing are often employed to change the textural colour and emphasis of the copy. Type layout follows a capricious logic of its own varying from the disruptive and starkly assertive, to text so amorphously blended and positioned that it melds into the rich background depths of an image – backgrounds imbued with the grain and grit of life. With Vaughan text and image enjoy a symbiosis seen in few other designers work.
These posters are an extraordinary poetry of vision, from a dark angel of the north.
Senior Lecturer: BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Epsom
UCA University for the Creative Arts