Posts Tagged ‘Al McDowell’

Bang! When Barney Bubbles brought Berlewi to Generation X

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

One of the key works by Barney Bubbles is the 7″ 1977 sleeve  for Your Generation/Day By Day, the debut single by British punk band Generation X.

Left: 7" sleeve. Front cover, Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, 1977. Right: Composition In Red, Black And White, Henryk Berlewi, 1924. Lodz Museum of Art.

Designers such as Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett discuss the design’s importance in near-epiphanic terms. 

“We saw the sleeve and received a very clear signal,” says Peter in his essay in Reasons To Be Cheerful. “Mr Barney Bubbles – whose work we already knew from Hawkwind and Stiff – was saying: “‘Constructivism has my blessing.’ Our response was: ‘Yes,  this is the way’.”

Front cover, 7" sleeve. Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.

Here we discussed how the band’s co-manager Jonh Ingham’s chance encounter with Barney sparked the commission.  Barney was able to accomodate Jonh’s freshly acquired interest in constructivism and, at the same time, nod to the band’s self-designed t-shirts. 

Now the exact source of inspiration has been identified by Dutch writer and Barney fan Jan Vollaard and Doris Wintgens Hotte, curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Lakenhal, which is hosting the exhibition Theo van Doesburg And The International Avant-Garde.

It is a work entitled Composition In Red, Black And White, one of 12 by the Polish artist Henryk Berlewi to accompany his 1924 manifesto Mechano-Faktura, which proposed that painting be “designed” according to the principles of modern technology and mechanical reproduction.

Back cover, 7" sleeve. Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.

Berlewi was associated with many of the important figures of the post World War 1 Continental art movements and was later recognised as having pioneered op-art, the abstract geometric work adopted by the fashion industry as decoration in the 60s. In photographs by Edward Hartwig he is surrounded by models in op-art dresses.

Jan showed Doris the Generation X sleeve as part of his preparation for tomorrow’s presentation on Barney’s integration of the work of van Doesburg and his peers such as Berlewi.

Composition In Red, Black And White. Henryk Berlewi, 1924.

“Doris was surprised and intrigued,” says Jan. “Right away she took me to see Berlewi’s painting and explained  his manifesto of mechanical constructivism and the way in which he captured movement and form in abstract, square-cornered compositions.”

Generation X guitarist Tony James surrounded by self-designed t-shirts, 1977. To the left is his own version of Barney's "45". Photo: Ray Stevenson.

The Your Generation sleeve is one of the clearest examples of Barney’s distillation of art history references. Using Berlewi’s painting as a springboard, Barney reassembled the elements into a multi-layered  piece which accurately expressed the visual minimalism and energy of the punk period, led by the “45” pun on the rpm of the 7in single contained within, and the geometric representation of a record being played from above. 

Henryk Berlewi surround by his paintings and models in "op-art" dresses, 1966. Photo: E. Hartwig.

Berlewi is important as an exemplar of Eastern European Jewish graphic art, which would also have chimed with Barney’s Jewish roots. Yiddish scholar Seth L. Wolitz  has discussed how, under the influence of El Lissitzky in the early 20s, Berlewi  moved from expressionism to constructivism, meeting along the way Van Doesburg, Moholy Nagy and the German Dadaists.

His work was recognized by the avant-garde art dealer Herwarth Walden, who published the manifesto Mechano-Faktura in his publication Der Sturm in 1924.


Forty three years later, Barney recast Berlewi in the frenetic context of punk-rock. In the process he inspired not just Saville and Garrett but also Neville Brody, Al McDowell and successive waves of rock music-mad art students to delve into the art movements of the early 20th century and forge a new design aesthetic.

A Henryk Berlewi archive has recently been launched; Wolitz is among the board members. You can find out more here.

Meanwhile full details of Jan Vollaard’s presentation are here.

Found! Psychedelic Furs tribute AND rare artwork

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Signed promotional poster for Danger, 1982. (c) H. Thompson/Reasons 2009.

Credits, Mirror Moves, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS, 1984.

Barney Bubbles’ association with the great British post-punk band The Psychedelic Furs may not have lasted all that long yet it proved to be fertile, particularly when  it came to his friendship and working relationship with the group’s driving force and frontman Richard Butler.

Front cover, Forever Now, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

These days an exhibiting painter, Butler attended Epsom School of Art & Design and handled the group’s visuals, receiving a credit for the artwork for the group’s second album Talk Talk Talk along with the phrase “After Andy Warhol”. As noted in the comment below, the design was created by Julian Balme, who had started his career at Stiff Records in 1979.

The collusion with Barney on the band’s 1982 release Forever Now and it’s attendant singles paid dividends in the form of excellent and typographically challenging artwork which may have bamboozled the US record company but impressed and endeared Barney to the group: at that time Richard and his bass-playing brother Tim, guitarist John Ashton and ex-Birthday Party drummer Phil Calvert.

On 1984 album Mirror Moves, their first release after Barney’s death, the Furs – and young designer Al McDowell – tipped their hat to his memory in the credits with the words “After Barney Bubbles”.

Back and front, Forever Now, CBS Netherlands, 1982. Note hand-written band name and title added to front cover.

We’re indebted to A&R legend Howard Thompson – rightly lauded these days for his digital radio station North Fork Sound – for the back-story and some of these images, including the rare and never previously published promotional poster for the single Danger.

Barney Bubbles painting his portrait of Richard Butler 1983. (c) Reasons 2009.

“I met Barney four or five times; he seemed like a lovely, if some times troubled fellow,” says Howard. “When I was at Island Records in the mid 70s, I instigated the distribution deal for Stiff so I think that must be where we first came across each other.”

Back and front cover, Love My Way 7", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

Moving to CBS, Howard worked with the Furs on their first two albums, and then transferred to the US in early  1982.

Inner gatefold, Love My Way 7", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

Commissioned by Butler, Barney’s design for the front of Forever Now applied a greater sense of form to the Warhol-esque screens used on earlier Furs’ releases with an organised mosaic of tiles in flourescent green and pink.

Photgrapher Graeme Attwood’s dramatic monochrome band portrait is filtered through this prism and framed by Barney’s circular logo created from yellow stars.

On the back the song titles run into each other in imposing capitals decorated with tessellated pink rectangles.

Back and front cover, Love My Way 12", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

CBS’ enhanced budget, and the industry trend towards multi-format releases, enabled Barney to go to town on the singles.

Love My Way appeared with two 7″ sleeves – one a gatefold – and a 12″. The latter compiled Attwood’s head and shoulder shots on the front.

The B-side song is Aeroplane.”On the back is a ‘xerox’ of the parts to a model aeroplane kit; so Barney, isn’t it?” says Howard.

The Love My Way sleeves were subjected to a gelatin-silver process (which embeds metallic silver in the coating). These scans aren’t the best, but silver dots can be indentified as an element of the five tangent circle motifs which appear enlarged on the gatefold inner.

Motifs, Love My Way 7" gatefold, The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

The decorations – see also  the three interlocked circles which Barney added to certain FBeat releases – are also arranged in repeat as quasi-chemical structures which convey the more user-friendly name “The Furs” as well as accommodating lettering which spells out the band’s full name and the song titles.

The front cover of second single Danger is one of Barney’s paintings. Typical of his private work of this period, apparently random squiggles and abstract shapes deliver the physiognomy of the four musicians. Earlier covers are evoked – 1977’s Music For Pleasure by The Damned, 1981’s Me & The Boys by The Inmates – and references are made; for example the “paint-pot” ring also appeared on artwork and badges for Do it Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

Back and front cover, Danger 12", The Psychedelic Furs, CBS UK, 1982.

The Danger cover was printed as a poster for circulation to the media in an edition of just 90.  ‘I have number 18,” says Howard. “The signatures read: ‘Love Love Love Richard Butler (with a drawing of a heart) T. Butler Phillip Calvert xx John A$hton‘.”

Left: Front cover, US release of Forever Now, Columbia, 1982. Left: Inner, Mirror Moves, CBS, 1984.

Barney’s intricate artwork appears to have been too much for the US record label Columbia. “In their infinite wisdom, ‘marketing’ chose to use a different, non-BB cover for the album and, of course, they released the singles in generic bags,” says Howard. “Twats.”

Back and front, 4Star EP, Columbia, 1982.

Chasing the youth market (which picked up on the group when they re-recorded early track Pretty In Pink for the John Hughes movie of the same name) CBS appropriated and bowdlerised Barney’s artwork for the grab-bag 4 Star EP.

Butler was responsible for the design for 1984’s Mirror Moves in conjunction with Al McDowell, who has long proclaimed a debt to Barney’s work – his design company Rocking Russian was in part named after Barney’s demonstrations that contemporary design could be invigorated by engaging with the work of the Constructivists.

Back and front, Mirror Moves, Columbia, 1984.

McDowell formed offshoot record sleeve design company Da Gama with Tomato‘s John Warwicker and, with Butler, produced a sleeve which drew on the elements created by Barney: the circular album title logo and arrangements of stars which are overlaid with tiled portraits, again by Griffin.

The layout of the song titles and credits follows Barney’s back cover of Forever Now and, right at the end, there is the special tribute to their departed friend and design hero.

Study 2009, Richard Butler. Oil on canvas, 16in x 12in.

Richard Butler went on to greater success with the Furs before forming Love Spit Love in the 90s. The Psychedelic Furs reunited for a tour in 2000. Butler now concentrates on painting and recently held an exhibition of new work at Miami’s Kevin Bruk Gallery.