In the early 80s an opportunity arose for Barney Bubbles to spread his creativity into designing rugs.
As detailed in REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time Barney was already investigating many areas of the visual arts outside of providing commercial art for the record industry: painting, videos, mixed media, collage, mobiles, furniture design and even glass sculptures during a trip to Australia.
12" inner sleeve. Musical Shapes, Carlene Carter, F-Beat, 1980.
Barney’s friend and patron Jake Riviera explains in Chapter 5 of REASONS that in 1980 the pair encountered an invidual working in the carpet business “who could realise anything we came up with”.
Rug design artwork, 1982. (c) REASONS 2009. Courtesy: Riviera Global.
Barney designed a circular rug like a giant single featuring Riviera’s F-Beat label for the company’s offices in Acton, west London. This appears on the inner sleeve of Carlene Carter‘s album Musical Shapes.
“Then Barney started to produce original designs,” adds Jake. “By that stage he was taking any opportunity he could to create in other media.”
But there was one rug which was based on a design of Barney’s which he didn’t commission. To explain: in the final year of his life – 1983 – Barney was working as the designer for new indie label Go! Discs, whose priority act was Billy Bragg.
Billy and Barney shared an admiration for Flemish Expressionist artist Frans Masereel.
“I mentioned to Barney that I loved the guy’s work and of course he got it immediately,” says Billy.
Book illustrations, Charles de Coster's The Legend Of The Glorious Adventures Of Tyl Ulenspeigel. Frans Masereel, 1943.
For the cover design of Billy’s debut album Brewing Up With…Barney recreated Masereel’s signature woodcut technique.
Front covers, 12" albums. Left: Ersatz, Imperial Pompadours, Pompadour, 1982. Right: Punkadelic, Inner City Unit, Flicknife, 1982.
This was realised in the same way as the sleeve designs for his own album Ersatz (in the guise of The Imperial Pompadours) and Inner City Unit’s Punkadelic – Barney used black paper on white.
Front cover, 12" album. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, Go! Discs, 1984.
In the event Brewing Up was released in October 1984, nearly a year after Barney’s death. The cover depicts two scenes: in one, a light radiates from a house over an industrial cityscape, in the other a contemplative figure sits at a window, lit from overhead.
Poster, 30in x 20in. For Billy Bragg live dates, 1983.
Barney’s design was also used for Billy’s residency at London venue The Captain’s Cabin.
Rug, 8ft x 2.5ft. (c) REASONS 2009. Courtesy: Billy Bragg.
On Barney’s death, his one-time assistant Caramel Crunch took over designing for Billy, and in the mid-80s commissioned a rug rendition of one part of the Brewing Up artwork.
“My business partner Colin did some stationary for a rug-maker and she made us both rugs as payment,” explains Caramel, who these days goes by her real name, Pauline Kennedy.
“I supplied her with Barney’s album illustration and she made me the rug from that. Then I gave it to Billy as a ‘thank you’ for letting me design for him.”
And a quarter of a century later, it is still going strong, having made the leap to another domestic object, appearing appropriately on tea mugs available from Billy’s site.