Archive for November, 2010

Maisie Parker’s 1962 postcard from Colin Fulcher

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

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Postcard (front) with contact frames from Colin Fulcher to Margaret Minay, 1962.

maisie-cardbackBack of card. Courtesy: Maisie Parker.

We’re indebted to Barney Bubbles’ fellow Twickenham art school student Maisie Parker for providing the chance to post this precious hand-made card dating from 1962.

Bubbles, then 20-year-old Colin Fulcher, sent it to Parker – then Margaret Minay (whose maiden name he misspelt) – following a photographic modeling session in his bedroom in Whitton, Middx, for a putative project for Queen magazine.

There is no evidence to suggest the exercise reached publication, though portraits of Parker appeared in a college sketchbook, along with musings on art and life.

At one point on Saturday October 27 1962, Fulcher writes: “It is now 9.30 in the evening and we have decided to go up the pub, Margaret and me.”

One of these portraits along with text was featured in Reasons To Be Cheerful; another was an exhibit in recent exhibition Process: The working practices of Barney Bubbles.

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maisie-sketch2Above: Maisie Parker portraits + musings, sketchbooks, 1962. Diana Fawcett Collection.

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Bottom left: Portrait in Process exhibit vitrine, Sept-Oct 2010. Photo: Andi Sapey.

Parker, a West Country-based artist, was in the year below Fulcher. “I was aware of him from the very start of my time at Twickenham,” she says.

“He was very distinctive looking, quite loud and laughed a lot in the canteen,” she says. “But I was such a mouse I was terrified of speaking to anyone other than a few classmates. It wasn’t until my second year that he actually spoke to me, and then it was to joke about something or other.

“I was aware that he made the tickets for the end of term dances that we had on Eelpie, and remember discussing with a few other people how we were going to dress up for the Cowboys & Indians bash.

“I lino-printed raw linen with Wild West designs and made myself an Indian squaw costume, along the lines of the ticket design.”

Parker’s postcard provides another piece in the jigsaw of Barney Bubbles’ life and work: the self-portrait he drew on the wall of his bedroom in the early 60s. In Reasons To Be Cheerful brother-in-law Brian Jewiss recounts how this was subsequently covered over during redecoration. It has never been seen publicly…until now.

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After teaching art and design in London secondary schools for a number of years, Parker is currently studying for a degree in fine art. She clearly recalls the conversations recounted in Fulcher’s sketchbook texts.

“I was very politicised; my family were incredibly left-wing, and musicians,” she says “I’d also just blown nearly all my grant on a leather coat!”

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The students shared a love of jazz; in fact on the evening of October 27 1962 Fulcher records they listened to Thelonius Monk’s 1960 album At The Blackhawk.

“I kept a lot of the cards I received from him, though over the years most have disappeared,” says Parker. “One was particularly funny and ‘Colinish’: he knew I’d gone to a Thelonius  Monk concert and did a little painting of who he thought was Thelonius Monk, but in fact was Stevie Wonder…he cracked up when I told him.”

Visit Maisie Parker’s site here.

Kim Ann Foxman’s Creature clip

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Check out the Barney Bubbles references in this clip for Kim Ann Foxman‘s track Creature.

Comprehensive: The Art Of The Album Cover

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

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“How can something so square be so hip?”

Designer Richard Evans sets out to answer this question in the new illustrated history of the 12in album sleeve, The Art Of The Album Cover.

Evans, The Who’s in-house designer for 35 years, provides a comprehensive overview in this glossy hardback which presents many examples of Barney Bubbles’ plundering of the history of record sleeve design for his palette of possibilities: think the crazy lettering and daring mix of photography and graphics of Alex Steinweiss and his 40s brethren Jim Flora and George Maas and, in the 50s,  the work of the cool ruler, Blue Note’s Reid Miles.

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Evans shows how Miles’ admiration for the “blotted line” illustrative work of Andy Warhol in the 50s resulted in gorgeous sleeves for Johnny Griffin and Kenny Burrell, while tribute is paid to the work not just of examplars such as William Claxton and Burt Goldblatt but also the teeming “unknowns” who populated the art departments of (mainly American) record labels in the 50s and 60s.

As design critic Kenneth FitzGerald recently set out in his new collection of essays, Evans recognises that everything changed with The Beatles’ 1963 debut album sleeve by Robert Freeman, setting design for music on the path to Sgt Pepper’s four years later and then onto the 70s boom-time. There are name-checks for all the leading art directors, illustrators, designers and artists, including Cal Schenkel, Neon Park, Kosh, Hipgnosis, Roger Dean and Evans himself as well as Barney Bubbles, whose work Evans deeply admires.

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“I don’t have enough words of praise for the delightful and brilliant work of Barney Bubbles,” writes Evans. “He was the graphic designer’s graphic designer; a man full of the best ideas executed with great wit and originality.”

With concise sections dedicated to Neville Brody, Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett and Stylorouge, Evans tracks the familiar tale of the damage done by the shrinkage of the packaging with the rise of the CD and the ultimately restrictive practices wreaked by increased digitisation.

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As in FitzGerald’s Volume, however, the obituary for the vinyl sleeve outlined in Aubrey “Po” Powell‘s introduction (“The art of creating album covers belongs to a bygone age”) looks again to be premature in an era of renewed vigour in the field.

And Evans’ declaration that album sleeve design now resides in CD booklets also seems wrong-footed; the digital format is being rapidly forced down the gurgler by the download generation yet the demand for vinyl – though necessarily much more limited than in it’s heyday – is once again the smart choice.

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The Art Of The Album Cover is available here.

Michael Tucker and the Brownjohn connection

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

16_logotypes4Minerva Detector Co logo, Michael Tucker, from World Of Logotypes Vol 2 by Al Cooper, 1978.

The most exciting moment in preparing the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful arrived at 6 o’clock one morning this summer when I cracked a major mystery surrounding Barney Bubbles’ life and work: the identity of his first full-time employer, the person who Bubbles said taught him “everything about typography”, instilling the rigour which resonated throughout his professional life.

In turn, the trail I uncovered lead me to establish a hitherto unacknowledged connection between Bubbles and one of the greats of graphic design, Robert Brownjohn.

During my research, family, friends and associates had recalled little about Bubbles’ first employer, least of all his name.

While stressing the importance of this mystery figure in his life, Bubbles himself declined to name the individual in his only ever interview (in The Face, published November 1981).

tucker-facequoteFrom Dave Fudger’s interview with Barney Bubbles, The Face, 1981.

So that early morning in June, after years of cross-checking directories and entering any number of search engine variations, I experienced the “Eureka” moment when the name Michael Tucker + Associates popped up halfway down page 6 of Googlebooks.

This chimed not just with an address and phone number I had accessed, but also contemporaneous correspondence in which Bubbles mentioned “M.T.”.

Within hours I had confirmed that this was indeed the commercial art studio where Bubbles (then Colin Fulcher) worked as an assistant between 1963 and 1965 as part of a small team servicing such clients as Pirelli.

And soon I unravelled the whole story, one which has never been published before.

A star graduate of the London College Of Printing, Michael Tucker began his professional life working for British industrial designer Ian Bradbury in the late 50s.

meet2Cover, Meet Yourself As You Really Are, Michael Tucker, Penguin, 1962.

tuckercreditDesign credit, 1962.

tucker-srinner12″ sq inner sleeve, Space Ritual, Hawkwind, UA, 1973.

In 1962, Tucker, then in his early 20s, designed the jacket to Penguin’s reissue of 30s self-help book Meet Yourself As You Really Are.

The geometric arrangement and use of colour aren’t so far removed from Bubbles’ later work, such as the inner sleeve of Hawkwind’s 1973 album Space Ritual.

Around the time of the Penguin book cover, Tucker set up his own practice on the fourth floor of Artists House, at 14-15 Manette Street, the thoroughfare alongside Foyles which connects Charing Cross Road to Greek Street in London’s West End.

ArtistsHouseArtists House, Manette Street, late 60s.

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Artists House adorned by JR, 2008.

Tucker was a stickler, insisting assistants use Graphos architecture pens rather than Rotrings and was dead set against the on-the-rise Helvetica, preferring for the house font the original manifestation, Neue Haas Grotesk, on a German-size body.

“There was also an unspoken rule that we had to wear American button-down shirts,” says Brian Webb, who began his career at Tucker’s in the mid-60s. “Anything not Ivy League was frowned upon.”

Webb – later of Trickett & Webb and now Webb & Webb – remembers Bubbles returning to MT+A from his job at Conran Design for occasional freelance commissions, including the lettering for the poster for director Hugh Hudson‘s 1966 Pirelli-sponsored promotional short The Tortoise & The Hare.

Brownjohn’s credit sequence starts at 1.00.

The film was produced by the powerhouse commercials company operated by Hudson in conjunction with Donald Cammell and Robert Brownjohn (famed for his typographic excellence and design audacity with such triumphs as the title sequence for Goldfinger and the sleeve of The Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed).

The Tortoise & The Hare is notable for the opening credits, which Brownjohn designed to appear on moving vehicles.

MikeTucker-D&ADannualdesignD&AD ’66 Annual designed by Michael Tucker. Cover: Aldridge/Klein.

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Feature on MT+A’s Chubb booklet, Design, 1971.

Also in 1966, Tucker designed the D&AD Annual (the cover was contributed by Alan Aldridge and Lou Klein), and went on to produce such commercial designs as vinyl labels for Plastic Coatings Ltd as well as logos and booklets for security clients Chubb and Minerva.

Tucker’s work appeared the Graphis Annual 1968-69, Top Symbols And Trademarks Of The World (1973) and World Of Logotypes Vol 2 (1978). By the early 80s he was teaching graphic design at Hong Kong Polytechnic before retiring to focus on his hobby, sailing.

For full details of this and the many other fresh elements in the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful – including 60 new images – click here or on one of the ‘buy now’ buttons below for a personalised signed copy at just £18.99 + P&P.


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Top ranking new book about the art of the sticker

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

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Stickers, a top-ranking new book about the enduring art of the most immediate of rock & roll ephemera, provides an opportunity to show a selection of Barney Bubbles’ forays into this area of design.

Stickers is compiled by expat Brit DB Burkeman, who, pausing only to publish one of his rare shots of the Sex Pistols live in 1977, mentions in his introduction that a chance encounter with Reasons To Be Cheerful enabled him to trace Barney Bubbles as the link between the visual audacity of Hawkwind and the new wave/post-punk scene.

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Burkeman’s tome covers the waterfront, from Bubbles, Jamie Reid, Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville to  Fresh Jive, Fuct, Shephard Fairey and beyond.

A great feature at the back of the book are the pages of contemporary stickers just waiting to adorn a clean surface.

Buy your copy of Stickers here.

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Barney Bubbles: “Definitive designer”

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

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Along with the new edition of Reasons To Be Cheerful, there are a host of books out this autumn which doff their hats to the design legacy of Barney Bubbles.

Volume, the new collection of writings by Kenneth FitzGerald, is an entertaining, erudite and accessible account of the the US design critic’s abiding interest in the relationship between graphic design, music and art.

The essays, which muse on such subjects as the impact of the writings of Lester Bangs and Brian Eno’s view of culture as a series of intersecting axes, range from the self-published to those which originally appeared in Emigre and Eye.

“It’s unavoidable to include music when considering many of the prominent figures and movements in graphic design,” writes FitzGerald in his introduction.

“Design for music has set trends in the field for decades. Reid Miles‘ album covers for Blue Note created a form language that suffuses all areas of design production.”

A peroration on the passing of vinyl represents a mis-step; obituaries such as this look distinctly premature in the light of the reappraisal of the format now gathering pace.

FitzGerald is back on-the-money when he points out that recent years have revealed certain “masters of the form” to be overall exemplars of graphic design, describing Barney Bubbles as “the definitive album cover designer, endlessly inventive and astoundingly prolific”.

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Volume: Writings On Graphic Design, Music, Art & Culture by Kenneth FitzGerald is available here.