Friday, 1 May 2015

Pick-me-Up 2015 at Somerset House

Pick me up 1

Once again we took our students to the current offerings of Somerset House’s Pick Me Up, Graphic Arts Festival. I really wanted to see something different, something inspiring, something to amaze me and I came away feeling mostly flat. The ‘festival’ seemed to have lost its buzz and its edgy excitement . There was little of any substance but then that’s partly what Pick Me Up seems to be about. (No, it’s not me getting old, many of my students felt the same way.) Even the exhibitors appeared to have lost their zest for the occasion, looking quite glum and crestfallen. I suspect that there were fewer exhibitors this year and that made it feel emptier.

Pick me Up is a niche happening. It’s a mixture of the zany, the quirky, the colourful and the cheerful. Typically you’ll see cartoons, surreal and abstract prints and alphabets and much of it now looks like a reproduction of each others style and a rehash of much from previous years, only now it’s looking a little like a tired clown. Pick Me Up appears to have become increasingly safe in churning out pseudo-cheerful work with little to say. Imagine a nursery school with a letterpress, good paper stock and plenty of day glo colours only far more strained in its results. Well, with the few exceptions that’s Pick Me Up 2015. There were some noticeable strong participants and their differences in both technical skills and content made them stand out. My favourites by far were the sensitive and lively drawings of Zoë Taylor and wonderful paper-crafted works of Hattie Newman. Both were a real delight to find.

Visual work aside, the range of speakers this year was good and I was lucky enough to hear Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of ‘pioneering publishing house’ GraphicDesign&  deliver a great talk on graphic design.

In recent years I have genuinely enjoyed much of what has come out of PMU and the associated genre of art that has emerged. I particularly like the way in which many of the PMU creatives are doing things for themselves, on their own terms and in their own way, however, I can’t help yearning for something fresh or perhaps more importantly a more diverse range of styles. Contemporary graphic art is so much more than what PMU has come to represent. A little substance goes a long way.

PMU_2015_2
Lucienne Roberts (L) & educator Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign&
Out students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Our FE & HE students taking part in using coloured scraperboard at the Blink Art stand
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
Workbook of Hattie Newman
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson
The work of Kate Hudson

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The Crystal: A model for sustainability (and exhibition design?)

The Cystal 2

Well, this is something of a hidden gem.  I’m not alone in saying I’d never heard of The Crystal. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to says they’ve not heard of it, even those teaching design in London! Having been there I left impressed and feel like spreading the word particularly given that The Crystal is the “World’s largest exhibition dedicated to urban sustainability.”

Having been tipped off by a student who stumbled across it, my teaching colleague and I decided to organise a visit. This striking building in London’s Royal Victoria Dock in east London contains a permanent exhibition about sustainable development. It is owned and operated by Siemens and is an exemplar of sustainability in architecture. The Crystal “is one of the world’s greenest buildings” and it emits an impressive 65% less carbon dioxide than other comparable office buildings and consumes 50% less energy. But as well as being of interest as a model of sustainability part of our reason to visit The Crystal was to see how had been it is designed as an exhibition space and how it was presented in terms of display graphics. The same student who told us about the building mentioned that the exhibition graphics were good and he was right. Typographically the building contained a real mixture of design that the materials and surfaces must have provided the graphic designers with as much pleasure as they did challenges. (These can be seen below.)

The most important thing was that I took something with me when I left. This was both a mixture of hope and a slight dread for the futures of the coming generations. The exhibition was a great way to drive home the importance for planning and anticipation as well as an acute need to reflect upon our needs and our behaviours.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

‘Time: Tattoo Art Today’ at Somerset House

2014-09-26 12.16.01

Today was the first of our annual college trips for new academic year. Time to get out of the design studios, look up from our Macs and seek inspiration from elsewhere. This time it was a visit to London’s Somerset House to see ‘Time: Tattoo Art Today’  The exhibition is unique. Some 70 tattoo artists have been commissioned to create a work of art and inlcudes work from Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, Rose Hardy, Chris Garver and Claudia De Sabe. What struck me immediately was just how talented these people are when not working on skin. Works included painted sculptures—two of my favourites being Chris Garver’s ‘Indigo Dragons’ and Henk ‘Hanky Panky’ Schiffmacher’s ‘ACBC’, a mesmerising and sensitive portrait of a tattooed Christ. (Directly below)

The theme of ‘time’ lead to many of the artists producing works reminiscent of medieval memento mori, clearly referring to our measured time in this world, along with the message that youthful beauty is fleeting.

The collection is incredibly diverse and is well worth the visit, but don’t expect to see tattoos, that’s not what’s on show! However, it would have been a bonus if only to have had a small image of each tattoo artists’ work, just to give the viewer a glimpse of what they create as tattooists. It is a great exhibition, and, for the most part, entirely unpredictable as you move from piece to piece.

Time: Tattoo Art Today ends October 5th.


Above: ‘Rouge’ (detail) by Rose Hardy.

 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ivan Chermayeff: ‘Cut and Paste’ at the De La Warr Pavillion

Chermayeff_DLWP

One of the most cheerful and playful exhibitions I’ve been to this year has to that of Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste, currently at the De La Warr Pavillion in Sussex. Charmayeff, founding member of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, is a designer of international repute, and has maintained a lengthy and prolific career. He is known particularly for his logo designs that include, among many, Mobil, National Geographic and NBC. Whilst this exhibition contains some of Chermayeff’s commercial work, the exhibition, as the title suggests, is a collection of his personal works that mostly consist of collage together with some calligraphic works. These works demonstrate the bright and witty thinking that one might associate with a successful designer.

The collages are seemingly made of whatever the artist has to hand, be it envelopes, postage stamps, coloured card and other found materials to form fresh and engaging pieces. I’m a big fan of this type of work and I also love the work of the late Alan Fletcher who was also a master of creating similar, quick witted and intelligent collages. I also like these as I think they are a great way of both relaxing, having fun and problem solving at the same time. It appears to be a good time for collage becoming highly visible. Last year I saw the incredible works of Kurt Schwitters, and earlier this year the powerful collages of MatisseIt’s great to feel inspired, but it wasn’t only me that felt that way. To the end of the exhibition hall there was an area for having a go at making your own collages, and my 7 year old sons did a grand job rising to the challenge, as can be seen below. Future Charmayeff’s in the making, perhaps?!

Many of Charmayeff’s collages have been collated in this book titled ‘Suspects, Smokers, Soldiers and Salesladies’, published by Lars Müller. (There are images of Chermayeff’s work in this link.)

The exhibition ends 14th September 2014

Bones1

Bones2 S_Bones

A_Bones

 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The AOI Illustration Awards 2013 at Somerset House

johnson_pj7
Kristen Stewart © Paul X Johnson from the cover of
Little White Lies magazine

Last week I took my HND and BA Graphic Design students to the ‘AOI Illustration Awards 2013′ held at Somerset House.  Overall, I found the work of this year’s exhibitors as equally impressive as last year’s. The awards are “the only independent jury selected illustration competition in the UK…that recognises exceptional work ” and which promotes “illustration as an essential contributor to global visual culture.” The exhibits certainly were exceptional and I believe these works addressed that latter aim too.

It was a genuinely refreshing exhibition with some unexpected approaches. For me, most noticeable was the absence of some of the clichéd styles of illustration that have hung around for some while now. This was a strong and mature show. By that, I’m not just referring to the high quality of the work in terms of technique and compositional skills but also its content. The work was genuinely engaging and that’s arguably been missing from certain genres of illustration for a while. Before anyone takes umbrage to the last comment, I should couch that by acknowledging that there’s room for all types of illustration, and that illustrators often have to do whatever they can to eke a living. I simply felt that it was refreshing to see illustration with substance dominate this exhibition.

Many of the pieces were placed into context to show the illustrations functioning as intended. It is so important for students of illustration to see illustrations working as pieces of visual communication, supporting a text rather than just pieces of image making. An image is not an illustration until it illustrates something. That might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I am surprised at how often I find myself reminding students to consider that.

Most of my favourites came from the shortlisted pool; and of particular interest were the lively and well observed sketches and drawings of commuters by Steve Wilkin, captured with great character and then set within text as drawn without apparently being tweaked. Again, it was good for students to see that illustrative solutions often reside within the sketchbook. As a process to learning illustration, there can be a stultification of the work when taken from the freedom of the sketchbook and then overworked into what the student might view as a neatly polished final. One can ‘kill’ an illustration with too much tweaking. Knowing when to leave it alone is a skill in itself.

One of my favourite works had to be Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations for the Folio Society’s ‘The Box of Delights’ by John Masefield. I found these simply engaging and intriguing. They are illustrations to be pored over which is exactly what I did, returning to look at them several times.

Also intriguing were the beautifully drawn works of Jun Cen (see below). These graphite book illustrations possessed a slightly surreal, dreamlike quality. The images gave me the sense of having stumbled into a scene whereby one has to quickly determine what’s going on. The illustrations were sensitively drawn, yet the dark graphite gave them a density and contrast that creates a powerful presence. It would have been great to have seen these set within their intended book. (Perhaps I missed this if they were.)

Some of the work reminded me of the styles that were familiar to me from being a pre-digital student of illustration—22 years ago in my case—when many of us at my college would use just gouache or acrylics to produce painstakingly detailed works. I’m thinking particularly of Simon Bartram’s incredibly detailed acrylic works for the children’s title Bob, The Man of the Moon.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and already look forward to next year’s offerings. My students on the other hand, seemed to favour the appropriately titled ‘graphic art’ of ‘Pick me up’, the annual exhibition that also takes place at Somerset House. Perhaps because it’s more trendy, for want of a better word? However, I got the impression that they felt that the standard of work produced at the AOI Awards was a product of skills unobtainable to them, but they appeared not to consider the enormous journey that each illustrator has likely taken to attain such standards. With that in mind, I think perhaps the visit was in itself a good lesson in highlighting the importance of sustained practice, particularly as we live in such a culture of immediacy.

The category winners can be seen here, and those shortlisted here.

L'abbraccioA3
L’Abbracio © Giulia Ghigini
cARDS
Jonathan Burton © 2012 from the Folio Society
edition of playing cards Odd Bodds
Nate_Kitch_Lost Mariner (Re- Oliver Sacks)
Lost Mariner © Nate Kitch
Cen
Entrance/Exit © Jun Cen
balbusso_a_and_e5
Anna and Elena Balbusso © 2012
from the Folio Society edition of Eugene
Onegin

AOI_illustration

Somerset_House