Eye, and a contributing editor and columnist of Print (magazine). The exhibition, at The Morovian Gallery, forms part of the 24th Biennial of Graphic Design Brno 2010, Czech Republic.
If you delight in the strange, as I do, I recommend the catalogue. It contains the work of some real favourites of mine: Jan Švankmajer – you are in for such a treat if you haven’t seen his short and utterly fabulous films. Vaughan Oliver (V23) , stunningly original designer famed for his work for 4AD and beyond. Vaughan is now teaching, BA Graphics at UCA, Epson and MA Graphic Design at Kingston. (The very thought of him as a tutor makes me want to be an art student again). And the star that is Andrzej Klimowski, Illustrator and Professor of Illustration at The Royal College of Art.
I am not just tipping my hat to these people – they, and their work are truly outstanding. More of them in later posts.
So, back to the plot. The cover designs of mine that feature in the exhibition are the Picador editions of the work of post-war Italian novelist, Italo Calvino. I think of my time as Creative Director at Picador as like having the biggest and best tin of coloured-pencils in the world. Sure, it wasn’t wall-to-wall bliss. Nothing is. It was also stressful. The external pressure of commercial imperatives and the general school playground that is London office life. ‘Nothing new there’, I hear you cry and quite right too! But internally you put demands on yourself. And if you don’t then you should. It is not in the Job description. It is part of being human, and driven.
How to live up to the standard of my predecessor, David Larkin? How to stretch to be worthy of many of the finest writers alive? How to work with a wildly talented generation of illustration talent? Vertiginous stuff. A thrilling mix of excitement and fear. Curiosity, and some unconventional approaches to work seemed to turn it all into energy.
Italo Calvino. I wish I had met this man. His writing is so simple, or rather, so apparently simple. Deceptive. How can such clarity be so intriguing? If I had the scholarship and skills of a literary critic I would lavish the language on him. His roots seem to come from earlier, undefined times of Italian city-states, paladins and purgatory. Several dozen expensive sessions on the psyche-couch may reveal more but I turned, with the inspiration of foreign stamps in the back of my mind the Quay Brothers. Timothy and Stephen Quay are identical twins from Philadelphia whose work is soaked in a Polish art tradition melded to Max Ernst. Enough, I’ll just sound pretentious – ask Rick Poynor. My instincts are strong but such critics can bring a deserved majesty and erudition to such matters that is beyond my qualifications.
And, just maybe, dissection will leave us none the wiser? A little poorer for the loss of elusive wonder? Their work is full of wonder.
On holiday on the black sands of Lanzarote. Hand luggage – clean T-shirts. Suitcase – manuscripts and bound proofs. The latest Italo Calvino, Mr Palomar, my guilty pleasure in amongst the bestsellers with their Kalashnikovs and silicone breasts. It’s a diamond. Small and perfectly formed. I try not to wolf it down in one go. Save some till tomorrow.
Morning coffee and the obligatory four-day old Guardian. I read of the sudden, unexpected brain haemorrhage and death of Ital Calvino. With this fresh information swirling in my head, I finish Mr Palomar. And find the last sentence, in what proved to be his last novel, reads “He dies.“
Back in the studio in Park Walk, SW10, I change the colour palette of the Calvino livery so that it has a large black band. A tiny mark of personal tribute to a great writer.