Archive for March, 2009

Exclusive Barney chat with Art Chantry

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Like Barney Bubbles, the designer Art Chantry engages and communicates by combining illustrative invention and graphics excellence with a finely honed wit and a way with intervention. 

Art at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art Chantry at a recent exhibition of his work.

Art (who once played pool with Ted Bundy, fact fans) has long occupied an important place in my record collection as the designer for such too-cool-for-school labels as Estrus.

A couple of years back he published the indispensable Some People Can’t Surf, so it’s with great pleasure we post this exclusive tete-a-tete packed with insights into Barney’s working practices and enduring influence.

“I wish his voice were still active,” declares Art. “We need more monkey-wrenchers!”

We started our chat at the beginning:

PG: When did you first come across the work of Barney Bubbles?

AC: Living in the remote upper Northwest corner of the United States, I really didn’t take notice of him until the punk era.  I was unaware of Hawkwind or even Oz, but was in college when punk first started to emerge (in the Pacific Northwest, that was the mid-70s) and that’s when I encountered him through his work for Stiff and, of course, Elvis Costello.  

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

Back cover, Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello, 1977.

I didn’t know what to make of it.  I was a budding young graphic design student, reared on hippie/disco culture, comic books/TV and fine art history.

The first time I saw a real punk poster on a telephone pole, I was stopped dead in my tracks.  I peeled off that poster and hung it in my little apartment and stared at it for weeks. It took me a long time to process what I was looking at.

When I ran into Barney Bubbles’ work shortly thereafter in a record store, it was like looking at messages from Mars, utterly alien to everything I had learned about design and art. Even after the initial impact of punk, it was still an intensely foreign language to me.

What singled out his work from that of other sleeve and poster designers?

Several things struck me immediately.  Of course, he had an intense colour sense.  His personal palette comprised bright primaries and stark contrasts. This was unlike most of the work of the 1970s, when (at least in American popular culture) earth tones dominated in the beautiful designs produced by people like Gary Burden for the mainstream Southern California rock scene: Eagles, CSN&Y, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne.

To be suddenly smacked between the eyes by Barney Bubbles’ colours was a sound jolt.

Rare collectors edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

Rare sealed collector's edition, Damned Damned Damned, The Damned, 1977.

But the really contrasting aspect was his thinking.  Whatever was going on, he did the opposite.  It may not have seemed that way in his mind (for instance his industrial and architecture work in your book points out a seamless path to the work on The Damned LP cover Music For Pleasure), but to the general pop culture trend at large around him, it was coming from an alternate position. It even seemed contrary to punk.  

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, the Damned, 1977.

Front Cover, Music For Pleasure, The Damned, 1977.

Compare his careful, studied, playful work to the other major design tastemaker of the period: Jamie Reid. Again, he is totally opposite. It was even startling from the punk perspective.

The other major factor which grabbed my attention – more than all of the other designers working in the period – was his wondrous sense of humour. He must have been a wonderful guy to hang out with.  

Every one of his covers is a carefully rendered inside joke. To me he is at his most marvelous when he references the very process of design itself – through intentional MISTAKES!  

I found the off-registered version of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model in the import bin and it blew me away.  In America, they released the cover which eliminated the joke. Apparently, the captains of the music industry didn’t get it, and thought it was a real mistake or something. You could only find the original design in the import section – along with most American punk, which had to imported before it could be sold in an American record store.  Strange times.

Front cover, This Years Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

Front cover, This Year's Model, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1978.

This Year’s Model completely flabbergasted me. It actually took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t a misprint. And, when I realised it was a joke, I never looked at graphic design in the same way again.  

I firmly believe that “contrary thinking” was his biggest contribution to graphic design. His ability to step outside of the accepted conventions and poke them with a stick endeared him to an entire generation of designers desperately trying to re-invent the language of design. And that’s why punks loved him.

Do you detect a coherence given his variety of forms, methods, materials and styles?

Yes, definitely. I hate to use Picasso as a comparison in any context, but Barney Bubbles’ use of medium precluded his method and style.  It really didn’t matter what his material or form, his work remained idiosyncratically his own and simultaneously reflective of the mood of the times.

Like Picasso, who would work in graphite, oils, assemblage, or metal or stone or ceramic, etc, etc, yet the end result always looked like a Picasso.  Barney Bubbles’ masterful approach made his chosen method or style just a simple tool to get his thoughts across.

The work was never anonymous. You could always spot him, no matter how dramatically his style shifted from project to project.

Tell us about your favourite Barney Bubbles design.

Aside from This Year’s Model that would be the (again) imported-from-Europe, un-American version of Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello And The Attractions. That carefully scraped “wear ring” around the area where the vinyl record label would actually have rubbed through the printing as it was handled? That knocked me for a loop.  

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Front cover, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

As I examined the cover further, I saw how he crudely overlapped colours to create new levels of imagery, just like the old-time album sleeve designers in the era he was referencing. It just nailed it for me. Get Happy!! was a brilliant tour-de-force of inside-graphic-design fetish-collector humour.  I love that.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

Inner, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, 1980.

In what way has Barney Bubbles influenced you?

You see Barney Bubbles’ thinking popping up everywhere in my work. He was a huge influence on my design development. I’ve used his “wallpaper” idea from the cover for Do It Yourself  by Ian Dury & The Blockheads over and over again. Only once have I used the actual wallpaper sample idea – on a poster – but I have taken the basic approach with velveteen paper, metal, garbage, etc, etc.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

Front Cover, Do It Yourself, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, 1979.

That stepping outside the printing process and then throwing in a spanner will forever be part of my thinking as a designer.  I’ve also used the “wear-ring” idea, the “off register’ ideas, the primary color overlapping humor, the retro-revival of lost styles idea…

All of these quirks and jokes have been morphed into a base-level part of my particular graphic dialogue.  I NEVER grow tired of that sort of thinking.

Do you detect his influence on other contemporary designers?

Barney Bubbles’ influence works directly through people like  me.  I’m of the directly influenced generation.  Then there are the successive generations who not only see his work, but have seen mine and the work of so many others (including Paula Scher and Tibor Kalman) and simply followed the trail.  

By now Barney Bubbles’ influence has become so diverse and foregone in the language of graphic design that his thinking is used and referenced without awareness.  His ideas worked their way into the shared language of graphic design so that, at this point, he is one of the most often imitated master thinkers, and it’s all unnoticed.  He has become a prime influence through his imitators. 

Had he lived, where do you think Barney Bubbles’ work would be at today?

I think it would stem from his manipulation of processes. He would be one of those guys taking computer systems apart and exquisitely breaking them and re-wiring them to do things that were never meant to do, so obvious and yet ignored. I wish his voice were still active. We need more monkey-wrenchers.

Why is the revival of interest happening now, more than 25 years after his death?

The very idea of “graphic design” as a worthy discipline is still in its infancy and the history of this discipline is still in the hands of the academics and the amateurs.  

They tend to gather around the pillars of the imagined “great men” of graphic design, ignoring the vast majority of design language out there that is created by direct interaction with popular culture.  

Barney Bubbles’s work is NOT academic.  It’s learned and intellectual, but decidedly outside of academia.  As a result, he has been hidden from the mainstream of design culture thought.  

Most of the truly great design dismissed as “vernacular” by academia is unfairly judged to lack introspection, history and authorship.  

Nothing could be further from the truth and Barney Bubbles personifies my point. The historical and visceral power of his ideas is as plain as the nose on your face.  Yet, like so many before and after him, he has been overlooked.  At least until now.  Thank you for writing this book. We all thank you. And thanks for this opportunity to ramble on about one of my heroes.

Art appears in the forthcoming rock poster art documentary American Artifact, which also features Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Frank Kozik, EMEK, Tara McPherson, COOP and Jay Ryan.

Check out the trailer here.

The artistry of Antoinette

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

From time to time we examine the work of those who collaborated professionally with Barney Bubbles; there are few who fulfilled as wide a range of roles as Antoinette Sales.

Back cover, Pure Pop For Now People, Columbia Records, 1978.

Not only was she the creator of clothes which appeared on Barney’s record sleeves, including the iconic “Riddler suit” sported by Nick Lowe on the back of Pure Pop For Now People (the US issue of Jesus Of Cool), but Tony was also his sometime model. It is she who is adorned with curlers, a face mask and bisected ping-pong balls for eyes appearing alongside a child’s doll in Barney’s disturbing Stiff Records music press adverts for Devo’s spring 1978  single (I Can’t Get Me No) Satisfaction.

Music press ad board, (I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction, 1978. Antoinette Sales Collection.

Music press ad board, (I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction, 1978. Antoinette Sales Collection.

Music press ad board, (I Can't Get Me No) Satisfaction, 1978. Antoinette Sales Collection.

And, in 1980, Tony received a six-week crash course in graphics from Barney at his studio in Paul Street in London’s East End, enabling her to become a fully fledged record sleeve designer in her own right.

A fashion illustrator and Stiff/Radar/F-Beat label boss Jake Riviera’s first wife, Tony had already  produced a number of sleeves, among them Elvis Costello & The Attractions’ biggest hits Oliver’s Army,  Radio Radio and Accidents Will Happen and Lowe’s American Squirm and Cruel To Be Kind.

Billboard, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, 1979

Billboard, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, 1979

Tony came up with the title of Lowe’s 1979 album Labour Of Lust, and designed the billboard promoting its US release on Sunset Strip. But she characterises the  month-and-a-half she spent learning the craft from Barney as  “an apprenticeship”.

Front Cover, Radio Radio, Radar, 1978.

Front Cover, Radio Radio, Radar, 1978.

Tony fondly recalls how she would catch the Underground from her home in west London across the city. “As soon as I arrived we’d get going,” she says.

Reversed out freehand drawing; Art center school assignment, Tony Sales. Note F-Beat style crown logo.
“I loved Barney and we were great friends, but when there was work to be done, you got on with it,” she says. “He basically instructed me in the mechanics of sleeve design and packaging.”
Hand-drawn label by Antoinette Sales, 1979.

Hand-drawn label by Antoinette Sales, 1979.

And this is evident from Tony’s subsequent output. She created a series of photo-driven sleeves for her friend (and Lowe’s wife) Carlene Carter, for whom she also designed stagewear. These included Baby Ride Easy and Do It In A Heartbeat. “I have an aversion to copying anybody else but the choice and arrangement of the typefaces was definitely influenced by Barney,” she says.   Tony also handled the sleeve design for Carter’s album Musical Shapes. The front cover shoot was art-directed by Barney, who created a set out of F-Beat singles and sleeves and constructed the wire sculpture communicating the album title.

Front cover, Musical Shapes, F-Beat, 1981.

Front cover, Musical Shapes, F-Beat, 1980.

“Barney set that up in the dining room of our house in Chiswick,” says Tony. “I designed and set the graphics on the back. He’d taught me how to lay down Letraset and make the placement and spacing impeccable. I had fun with the “N” for Notes, “S” for Selections and “P” for Personnel. In the self-effacing Bubbles tradition, there is no artwork credit.”

Retail info sheet, Teacher Teacher, 1980.

Front cover, Everly Brothers EP, F-Beat, 1980.
Back cover, Everly Brothers EP, F-Beat, 1980.

Tony was responsible for the sleeves for Rockpile singles Teacher Teacher and Wrong Way, as well as Edmunds’ singles Crawling From the Wreckage, Girl’s Talk and Queen Of Hearts. And she came up with the title for Carlene Carter’s 1983 album C’est C Bon, though the sleeve for that was produced by Barney.

Back Cover, Teacher Teacher, Rockpile, F-Beat 1980.

Back Cover, Teacher Teacher, Rockpile, F-Beat 1980

During this hectic period, Tony also created a welter of point-of-sale and retail promotional material, backstage passes, badges, letterheads (for holding company Riviera Global, publisher Plangent Visions Music and studios UK Pro) and the label for reissue imprint Edsel.

Backstage passes, 1980.

Backstage passes, 1980.

Tony also produced music press ads; she recalls working at Barney’s studio on one for the NME to promote The Attractions’ “solo” album Mad About The Wrong Boy (to which we’ll be returning in the near future).

Double page spread ad for The Attractions, NME, August 30, 1980.

Double page spread ad for The Attractions, NME, August 30, 1980.

These days a film and TV costume designer , Tony lives in Austin, Texas and is extra busy supplying musicians (Paul McCartney’s guitarist  Brian Ray wore one of her shirts to the recent Grammy’s) as well as working with such fashionistas as Boudoir Queen’s Dawn Denton and South Paradiso Leather’s Romulus Von Stezelberger.

New Knockout R&B tee

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

To mark the launch of this blog we’ve produced a limited edition t-shirt based on the one in Barney Bubbles’ award-winning poster Knockout R&B Here Tonight.

Women's tee. (c) Reasons 2009

As originally modeled by Barney’s friend, the “mod queen” Lorry Sartorio, the tee name-checks Twickenham art school band The Muleskinners, whose ranks included Ian McLagan, superstar keyboard player with the Small Faces, The Faces, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

T-shirt detail. (c) Reasons 2009.

And, to seal the connection,  the back of our new tee has a reproduction of the “Cossack” ticket for a Muleskinners’ performance on Eel Pie Island (or “Eelpiland” as Barney called it).

We’ve given tees to Barney’s family members as well as some of his close friends, including Mac and Lorry, who were suitably knocked out when we presented them. 

Custom made tags. (c) Reasons 2009.

To cover the costs of production we are now making available a very limited number in Men’s L and Women’s M sizes. These come with tags with a potted history of the shirt and a reproduction of a frame of Lorry from the photo-shoot.

For more info and to buy, click here.

Sunday Implosion postponed

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

The Sunday Implosion event due to take place at The Roundhouse on Sunday March 8 has been postponed until June 7 after Hawklords’ leader Nik Turner suffered an injury at the weekend.

Further information is available from hawklords.com

Meanwhile, congratulations to the winner of our competition for two free tickets to the event. Trudi Woodhouse’s name was pulled out of the hat, having identified Robert Calvert as the person who recited Michael Moorcock’s Sonic Attack on the 1973 Hawkwind album  Space Ritual

Well done Trudi and thanks and commiserations to all the other entrants. Best of luck for next time.