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Archived posts: Art

God’s Own Junkyard

We nipped into Chris Bracey’s God’s Own Junkyard in Soho yesterday – what a treasure trove!

Bracey creates neon signage for fashion and film, and the exhibition / pop-up shop collects together a stunning mix of his work as well as some found signs, old movie props, and other bits and bobs. He started making signs in Soho back in the 70s (his work feels entirely at home on Beak Street) and he’s since worked with the likes of David Lachapelle and Martin Creed, Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick. Not a bad client list.

God’s Own Junkyard is at Circus of Soho, 47 Beak St, London W1 until the end of January.

British Design 1948–2012

We nipped along this morning to the big new show at the V&A, British Design 1948-2012, a retrospective of the creative industries in Britain since the end of the Second World War. Timed to make the most of the Olympic hordes who’ll be hitting the capital this summer (the show ends the same day as the Olympic closing ceremony), it’s a clear attempt to grab back some of the glory from the sporting crowd. Which is no bad thing.

This is the first big exhibition of post-war design that the V&A has staged, and it covers fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial products. It’s good to have all of that creative output lumped together, even if it does mean that you can only have a few key pieces from each discipline. Pleasingly there’s rather more graphic design than we’d anticipated, particularly from the period just after the war, with work from Abram Games, Edward Bawden, Reginald Mount, and David Gentleman.

The show is grouped into three main areas, Tradition & Modernity; Subversion; and Innovation and Creativity, which run more or less chronologically from 1948 to the present day. The three groupings don’t necessarily help, creating rather forced divisions between periods and styles. But there’s lots of great stuff on display, including four hand-painted maquettes for British road signs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert; and a page from Design Research Unit’s British Rail Design Manual.

The second section, Subversion, deals mainly with the rise of the art school and a more youth oriented period of design – so you get Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols posters, Vivienne Westwood’s punk clothing designs, some Beatles album covers, and of course Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles and Neville Brody. Which is all well and good, but unfortunately this part of the exhibition is designed with a rather clichéd underground vibe – lots of black walls and industrial fittings, which really cheapens the work on display, making it feel like we’re walking through some sort of gaudy themed tourist attraction.

The third section focuses more on manufacturing industries, technology and architecture. Somehow the curators have managed to use Apple’s iMac as a pioneering example of British technology design (Jonathan Ive, the iMac’s designer is from these shores, sure, but come on…). Elsewhere there’s a model of Concorde, an E-Type Jag, a Topper sailing boat, and Kenneth Grange’s Brownie Vecta camera.

Meanwhile, graphic design in this section is represented by Wolff Olins’ hideous London 2012 logo (it just doesn’t get any better does it?); their Orange logo from 1994, and Alan Fletcher’s lovely V&A logo from 1989 (rather happily referencing Ian Dennis’s National Theatre logo, which is shown earlier in the exhibition).

Our favourite exhibit though was these Globoots from 1969:

They were unique at the time of their production, being double dip-moulded in two different plastics, so that the translucent uppers and opaque soles were made in one piece, without seams. And crikey, don’t they look like a certain coloured computer designed in the USA by a British bloke called Jonny?

Our only real gripe is that it features way too much art. The show is British Design 1948-2012, not British Art & Design 1948-2012, but we’re treated to work from Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones, David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Obviously there’s crossover between the disciplines, and many of those artists worked in design as well as art, but the pieces shown are their artworks rather than their design pieces. So for example, we get Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging painting rather than any of his fantastic stage designs. This seems like a real shame, given how much great design has had to be left out to make room for the art.

Overall though, it’s a great show, and anyone interested in design should get along quick smart.

The show opens on Saturday 31 March, and runs until 12 August.

Picture credit for top image: Children crossing sign, by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir for the Ministry of Transport, 1964 © Margaret Calvert

Serpentine Pavilion 2011

We nipped over to the Serpentine Gallery over the weekend just in time to check out their latest pavilion (we’re a bit late on this one – it’s been up since the beginning of July, and comes down at the end of this week). It’s the 11th in their series of annual commissions, this time by architect Peter Zumthor.

Sometimes the pavilions can be architecturally audacious, but slightly disappointing as an actual experience. Here, that feeling is reversed – the architecture is restrained to the point of absolute minimalism: a simple black box, which frames a garden designed by Piet Oudolf (the chap behind New York’s brilliant High Line).

The black simplicity of the box feels very sombre, almost funereal – although this is slightly offset as you get closer to it, and realise that it has a rough, organic texture.

You walk into a corridor between two walls, which works to separate the internal garden from the outside world, helping to create a quiet, contemplative space. The light within the corridor was very beautiful in itself, with pools of daylight at the doorways:

We liked the fact that the black box playfully references the classic white box we associate with art galleries, and that inside it you find yourself contemplating the sky* and the other visitors as much as the garden. We were there on a dull autumnal day, and we’d love to see it at different times and in different weather conditions.

*In that resepect, it reminded us a great deal of the artist James Turrell’s work.

If you’ve not been, and can squeeze it in, it’s definitely worth a trip – and this weekend the Serpentine is holding a Garden Marathon, the 6th in their marathon series: a two day event with artists, scientists and thinkers exploring all manner of garden related ideas.

Good stuff.

Nick Asbury on Tunnocks

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from really-rather-good freelance copywriter Nick Asbury. ~

This is a post about one of the great designers of the last century, whose work helped build one of the best-loved confectionery brands in the world: Tunnock’s.

First, some background.

Tunnock’s have played a big part in my life this year.

It started when someone tweeted about a poem Ted Hughes wrote on a Tunnock’s wrapper back in 1986. It’s now on display in the University of St Andrews, home of the Tunnock’s Appreciation Society (yes, there is one).

This led me to set up an online project called WrapperRhymes, full of poems written on wrappers. Greig Anderson of Effektive Studio created the identity and website. We’re open for submissions if you’re interested.

Later, I stumbled across another example of Tunnock’s-inspired art, this time of the visual kind. It’s an exhibition that took place in Glasgow last year, and it’s quite lovely:

Above: Greyfriar’s Bobby, by Joy Bain

Above: Mr Tunnock, by Callum Thom

Above: More cake? by Fiona Watson

What’s fascinating about all this is that the art takes its cue from the Tunnock’s packaging, rather than the product itself.

Largely unchanged since the 1950s, the wrappers have been key to the brand’s success. It’s not just that they’ve gained a retro appeal over the years. The point is that they were beautiful in the first place, and no one has messed around or ‘refreshed’ them since.

So who designed the Tunnock’s packaging? The packaging that has inspired great art and poems by Poet Laureates? Once again, it’s the work of the most prolific designer in the business – Anonymous.

It’s strange how a lot of the best design work slips out there unattributed and unheralded and is only properly appreciated years later. I’ve read just about every article I can find on Tunnock’s and there’s no mention of any name.

Pause a while and think on that when you’re designing your next logo.

Then have a teacake to cheer yourself up.

[Images from Glasgow Art Exhibition are copyright Glasgow Print Studio]

 

~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

Clare Skeats on Foundation

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from the marvellous Clare Skeats – an incredible book designer, and brilliant design teacher. ~

Since 2009, I’ve been lucky enough to work as an Associate Lecturer on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Course in Art & Design. This involves leaving my stress-inducing desk for a day each week and immersing myself in the creative educations of 30 or so young people. For those of you who don’t know, Foundation is the year of study (usually undertaken around age 19) in which students experience learning in every art and design discipline, before deciding what to specialise in for a BA. Its main objective is as much to de-programme school conditioning, as it is to inform, provoke, equip and inspire.

I often find myself having to explain to people who have not come through an art or design education, what, exactly, the point of Foundation is. A frequently occurring question is ‘why do they need to do that?’. Fair point. Why should it take a year longer to graduate in jewellery design than say, marine biology? Doubts aside, almost everyone I speak to who has done this year of study (myself included), cite it as one of the most vital, pivotal and enjoyable years of their education. But it’s a year that is quickly overlooked – it’s the support act for the more talked-about BA. It’s also no secret that some Foundation courses are facing closure due to funding. So I wanted to use my 15 minutes in the We Made This spotlight to celebrate this stage in an artist’s or designer’s development and explain why I think it’s so special.

One of the first things we have to do on the course is to get students over their fears – fears of a new place (often a new country), new people, a new way of working – and one excellent (if unlikely) way of doing this is to get them to do something where we deny them an element or two of their control.

These two objects (above and top) are the results of an exercise where the students were asked to sculpt an elephant from clay, in 30 seconds with their hands behind their backs. When restrictions such as these are imposed, it’s impossible not to produce something with this much honesty and charm – it’s such a pure and uninhibited response to a creative brief. The laughter that ensues when these roughly-hewn grey lumps are offered up, represents a significant threshold of the first few days experience.

A major requirement of Foundation students is for them to keep a sketchbook. A Foundation sketchbook is instantly recognisable by its bulging form. It is the fertile receptacle of ideas, inspiration, tests, mistakes, frustrations and triumphs.

I love the sense of urgency and spontaneity that comes across in this spread by Sing Yu Chan (progressing to BA Fashion Design Technology (Menswear) at London College of Fashion); the instant visual connection he makes between the reference on the left and its hasty translation to cardboard and string weaving samples in the centre.

This impressive escalation of an idea (below), which grew from an exercise in folding a sheet of paper, is another example of sketchbook brilliance from Yang Yang (progressing to BA Costume Design at Wimbledon College of Art). It demonstrates so succinctly how a sketchbook can give a platform to the most ambitious (if ephemeral) creative plans.

One of the things I get most excited about with teaching at this level, is the scale of ideas that can be suggested through the most humble of materials.

This rather unassuming-looking object by Florence Lam (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins) was produced in response to a visit to a recent exhibition of South African photography at the V&A. The black line (which is intended to be continuous – encircling the floor, walls and ceiling of the gallery space), is intended as a comment on Apartheid. I was surprised by my reaction to this piece when I saw it – yes it’s just some bits of foam board and black paint – but peering through the miniature doorway, it was so easy to imagine oneself in this impossibly cavernous and divided space. The scale is so perfectly judged and the whole piece is so much more than the sum of its parts – it’s an unexpectedly powerful expression of an idea from very limited means.

Another masterful deployment of basic materials can be found in these wonderful, organic, pod-like objects from Yao Wang (also progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins). Who knew that a balloon, a bucket, Plaster of Paris and physics could produce such beautiful forms?

When I was speaking to Yao, shortly after her prototype stage, she had an urge to remove the shreds of balloon – an understandable drive to ‘finish’ the project as she’d first intended. But we decided that the unforeseen beauty of the red latex stretched over the smooth plaster was way too interesting and so ‘finishing’ the project in its most conventional sense became completely unimportant. Whilst we try to instil a disciplined approach with a focus on pragmatic problem solving – it is these unexpectedly brilliant outcomes and deviations that keep the students open to possibilities and reminds us as tutors not to be too rigid.

Allowing students the flexibility to bend rules is always a difficult one to judge. On the one hand, we put time and effort into writing a brief and we want the students to learn to respond to set questions with rigour and focus – but on the other, we run the risk of sucking the life out of a project if we’re too dogmatic. The following film piece by Venice Wanakornkul (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins), is the most perfect and playful example of why we need to allow students to bend rules. When faced with a brief to produce a piece of work in response to a culture (chosen from artefacts within the V&A), Venice opted to focus her outcome on the culture of museums. Hm…. not quite what we’d asked for – but the idea Venice had, subverted the brief in such a delightful way, we simply had to allow her to pursue it. Here is her film:

I never cease to be surprised and impressed by how sophisticated some students are in their thinking at this stage – how they utilise research and process information. The images here are from the sketchbook of Michael Ng (progressing to BA Product Design at Central Saint Martins) and they are such an impressive demonstration of lateral thinking in response to the Culture project described above.

Having made some initial drawings of these Japanese artefacts in the V&A (traditional cases for holding small objects), Michael undertakes further internet research, before leaping to references of inter-locking pens, stacking crates and coffee cups, then back to Samurai warrior helmets for a further re-think on the form, before producing this prototype to a more geometric design. Michael went on to develop the design even further, incorporating lights, (yes lights!), but I think even up to this stage of his project, his sense of investigation and spirit of ‘how can I make this better?’ is so wonderfully clear to see.

The experience of teaching on Foundation has lead me to re-appraise my own working methods and to be more open to wider influences. It has made me reconnect to my own experiences on Foundation and reminds me of a time when everything seemed new and different – sometimes uncomfortably so. But most importantly, it puts me in an environment once a week, where industry cynicism makes no unwelcome intrusions and anything can be possible.

With thanks to the staff and students on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Plus course, 2011.

[The opinions expressed above are those of Clare Skeats and do not necessarily reflect those of Central Saint Martins.]

 

~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

British Isles Map

So this is rather lovely – a map of the British Isles created out of text that relates to its geographical location – so the Isle of Wight is illustrated with the word 1970, for the epic festival that occurred there in that year.

It’s by Angus McArthur & Alison Hardcastle, and you can pick it up from Theo.

Ephemera and Car Boots

There’s a couple of rather fine events coming up this Sunday – the latest Ephemera Society Fair kicks off at 11am, with its usual mix of bits of printed ephemera from the past couple of hundred years. You’ll find it at the Holiday Inn on Coram Street WC1N 1HT, and it runs until 4pm.

Just a few miles away on Brick Lane, the latest Art Car Boot Fair gets into gear at midday. It’s a great place to pick up exclusive art works at bargain prices, from the likes of Damien Hirst, the Chapmans, Peter Blake, Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin and Harland Miller. They’re also promising a band on a car, Sarah Stockbridge as a human snowstorm, a big fat gypsy fortune teller, live magazine production from a car boot; and the chance to have your portrait done Star Trek style by Jessica Voorsanger! It’s only £3 to get in, and there’s normally a queue, so it might be worth getting there for the pre-sale of tickets at 11am… The entrance is on the corner of Brick Lane and Buxton Street.

Jimmy Turrell

JT3
 

One of our favourite illustrators, Jimmy Turrell, stopped by the studio recently to show us some of his latest work, which combines handmade collage, drawing and painting alongside digital mark making.

JT1
 

He's worked with clients such as Nike, Channel 4, The Guardian, The New York Times, XL Recordings, and Dazed & Confused; with  more recent projects such as the D&AD winning book cover for Heart Agency's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (designed by Pentagram) as well as promotional artwork for Glastonbury 2009.

JT2
 

While he was here we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his working process.

WMT: A lot of urban/street artists are beginning to make careers out of selling prints and originals of their work. Is that a road you'd like to go down? (Jimmy already sells a few prints online.)

JT: Yeah – it's definitely a part of my work I want to develop more. The way things have moved over the last ten years with illustrators selling their work from their own sites and through online galleries – it's broken down the boundaries of what it actually means to be an artist.

WMT: Can you describe the process you go through on an average piece of work, from briefing to finished piece?

JT: Basically I sit down with my sketchbook and flick through old books and mags to try and get a feel for the piece. I’ll then start cutting things out and sketching and I’ll begin to make a visual scrapbook of ideas and themes. Once I’ve got my primary ideas fleshed out I’ll begin the drawing/painting/collage process proper and then I’ll scan the work into the computer and continue from there.

JT4
 

WMT: Is there anyone you'd particularly like to work with?

JT: I've been lucky enough to work with some of the companies I've always respected  (Intro, Pentagram, Colette, XL) but it would be fantastic to work with one of the greats – Saville, Glaser or Hipgnosis.

WMT: Is there any advice you'd give to someone who's thinking of becoming an illustrator?

JT: Financially it can be a bit of a slog starting off. When the magazine I was working for folded I thought my world had ended and that I’d never work again. In actuality it kicked my arse into gear to start looking down different paths. If you have the talent then it will eventually shine through – so keep at it.

Jimmy's been good enough to let us have a unique hand-made print (below) to give away to one of you lot – it's one of ten he created for The Guardian's Glastonbury 2009 Guide, featuring a mash-up of Lady Gaga, La Roux, Bruce Springsteen and The Prodigy.

Jt_print
 

This is how the final artwork was used at Glastonbury:

Jt_guide 

To be in with a chance of winning, just drop us a comment below.
 

Characters for an Epic Tale

Epic_tale

Tom Gauld has just released his Characters for an Epic Tale as a rather lovely letterpress print, signed and numbered in an edition of 150. Grab it from his site for £75.

Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy

Anishkapoor 

We nipped along to the Royal Academy over the weekend to check out the Anish Kapoor show that opened there recently. 

The show collects together a few of Kapoor's early pieces, including some of the pigment works from the 80s; as well as two of his amorphous works: When I Am Pregnant (1992), and Yellow (1999). 

The rest of the exhibition is made up of work from the past three years. Of these, there are a range of mirror pieces, the Non-Object series, which are like a hall of mirrors for grown-ups; and three large site-specific installations. The largest of these, Svayambh (2007), takes up five rooms in the gallery, and is an immense thirty-ton block of wax that inches its way on tracks through a series of the Academy's arched doorways.

The companion to this is Shooting into the Corner (2008-2009), in which a canon is fired at twenty minute intervals, shooting twenty pound shells of red wax from one room into another, in the process splattering the walls, floor and ceiling of the gallery with wax shrapnel.

All in all it's an intriguingly visceral show, with the installations working particularly well in the classical spaces of the Royal Academy. Unfortunately, our experience of it was hampered by a rather rigidly enforced no-photography policy, with gallery attendants actually shouting at anyone they saw trying to take a picture. We just don't get why galleries do this. We emailed the Academy to ask about it, and Vistitor Services Manager Natasha Bennett replied:

"Photography is not permitted in the Anish Kapoor exhibition owing to copyright issues. I am sorry if this affected your enjoyment of the exhibition but this is standard in loan exhibitions, as the Royal Academy of Arts does not own the works."

To our mind it's a damn shame, preventing visitors from interacting with the work in a creative way. And since you can photograph one of the works in the gallery's courtyard, surely it can't hurt to let people photograph all of the works. After all, people are going to take pictures anyway, as this Flickr search happily reveals.