Posts Tagged ‘El Lissitzky’

Never published before: Rejected Barney Bubbles artwork for Generation X

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Gen X - reject 1007 copy

//Proof copy of unused front cover for single sleeve, Your Generation/Day By Day, Generation X, Chrysalis, 1977.//

Presented here for the first time in nearly 35 years, this is Barney Bubbles’ original artwork for the front cover of Your Generation, the 1977 debut single by Generation X.

The design was rejected because the photograph was considered too routine. What a shame. This is a typically high-impact Bubbles work  combining concise photographic presentation with audacious typography.

The quartet’s manager Jonh Ingham, the journalist who had been at the forefront of punk reportage, has dug it out from his archive exclusively for this blog.

“I cut, folded and glued it, so we could see what the sleeve would look like held in the hand,” says Ingham.

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Van Doesburg and the Dutch connection

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Next Sunday (December 6), as part of  the current exhibition Theo van Doesburg And The International Avant-Garde: Constructing A New World at Leiden’s Stedelijk Museum in Lakenhal,  music journalist Jan Vollaard will be investigating the influence of van Doesburg’s work on Barney Bubbles’ designs.

Cover. Exhibition catalogue edited by Gladys Fabre and Doris Wintgens Hotte.

Jan, who has also written this feature about Reasons To Be Cheerful in Dutch daily paper NRC Handelsblad, will be hosting the talk and q&a from 2pm at the Scheltema complex, which is a two-minute walk from the museum at Marktsteeg 1 and Oude Singel.

The exhibition has been mounted in co-operation with London’s Tate Modern, where it will be housed from February 4 to May 10 next year as the UK’s first major show devoted to the Dutch artist who was central to the foundation of the De Stijl movement and magazine. 

Dada At 45rpm by Jan Vollaard, NRC Handelsblad, November 27, 2009

The city of Leiden is appropriate; this is where De Stijl was founded and also where van Doesburg established his short-lived art review Mécano in 1924. Here, as editor, he assumed the name I.K.Bonset, which some have claimed is an anagrammatic pun for the Dutch phrase “Ik ben sot” – “I am drunk”  – or the phonetic joke “I’m crazy”. The pseudonymous Barney would surely have appreciated either. Van Doesburg was in fact born Christian Emil Marie Kupper.

It’s believed that van Doesburg used the Bonset name to distance his more rational work from the Dada-infused content of Mécano, which broke rules in favour of absurdity and spontaneity. The front cover of Mecano 3 was quoted for the sleeve for Nick Lowe’s 1978 single I Love the Sound Of Breaking Glass

Magazine cover, letterpress on paper, 6in x 5in. Mecano no 3 by Theo van Doesburg, 1923.

There are many other examples of Barney’s appreciation and reinterpretation of the work and practices of van Doesburg and his milieu.

Theo van Doesburg, 1883-1931.

As revealed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, a painting for Barney’s friend Diana Fawcett contains an axinometric projection similar to that created by the great modernist Gerrit Reitveld for the Schroder House in Utrecht.

Left: Axinometric projection for Schroder House, Gerrit Reitveld, 1924. Left: Diana Fawcett with Barney Bubbles 1981 painting, 2008.

Diana was instructed to hang the painting at a 45-degree tilt, reproducing the quadrant which recurs in van Doesburg’s work. Around this time it also appeared on sleeves for Blanket Of Secrecy and Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

7in sleeve, paper. Say You Will/Feather In My Hand, Blanket Of Secrecy, FBeat, 1982.

Among Reitveld’s furniture  at the Schroder House is a version of his Red Blue chair of 1917. This informed the “turbo” chair Barney designed  for Jake Riviera in 1981.

Left: Chair from Reitveld Schroder House, 1924. Right: Turbo chair designed by Barney Bubbles, Editions Riveira, 1981.

“Van Doesburg believed that the boundaries between painting, architecture, photography and other disciplines should be abolished and become part of a single, compressed, modernist worldview,” writes Jan. “Bubbles endorsed those principles and combined his work in magazines and record companies, furniture design, painting, advertising work and directing (primitive) video clips.”

7in sleeve. I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass/They Called It Rock, Nick Lowe, Radar, 1978.

With the focus on van Doesburg’s influence on the international avant-garde, there are more than 300 works by 80 artists, including paintings, sculpture, scale-models, furniture, posters, films, typography  and magazines to illustrate what Barney himself exemplified: versatility, tirelessness and the interweaving of various disciplines.

Artists whose works are on view include El Lissitzky, László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, Henryk Berlewi and Piet Mondrian

Full details of the exhibition can be found here; those interested in attending Jan’s presentation should visit this page.

Barney’s t-shirts from Alfalpha to Hawklords to Wangford

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Prompted by the forthcoming regrouping of Hawklords at Nik Turner’s Barney Bubbles Memorial Concert on Sunday November 29, here’s yet another exclusive: Barney Bubbles’ sketches for a front-and-back-printed t-shirt for the Hawkwind splinter group’s 1978 dystopian project 25 Years On.

Hawklord t-shirt design Barney Bubbles, 1978. (C) Reasons 2009.

These were drawn in the bottom right-hand corner of an otherwise blank sheet of one of his pads, and feature the heraldic/masonic symbols Barney  incorporated in the concept album’s design.

Hawklords booklet 1978. Design/Concept: Barney Bubbles. Photography/Concept: Chris Gabrin.

As detailed in Reasons To Be Cheerful, years before merchandise became an ancillary money-spinner for the music biz, Barney was integrating his Hawkwind approach by providing tees for the band and gig-goers based on his designs for X In Search Of Space, Space Ritual and Doremi Fasol Latido and the Hawkwind/Man 1999 Party US tour poster.

Lorry Sartorio 1964. Design/Concept/Photography: Barney Bubbles. (C) L. Sartorio/Reasons 2009.

As we’ve noted here, Barney first designed t-shirts in 1964, creating one worn by his girlfriend Lorry Sartorio for a poster he made for college band The Muleskinners (featuring his pal and Face Ian McLagan).

Alfalpha t-shirt detail, 1976. (C) Jeff Dexter.

In 1976 he supplied an amazing logo design for his friend Jeff Dexter, then co-managing Hawkwind with Tony Howard and also looking after an ill-fated combo Alfalpha. This logo appeared on badges Barney created in conjunction with his friend Joly McFie of Better Badges and t-shirts in fluorescent pink on black with a diamante in the text. “They were very kool – made by his other mate Alan Holden from Sunrise Studios,” says Jeff.  

Ian Dury t-shirt, 1978. (C) Ian Dury Family Estate/Reasons 2009.

And when punk and new wave took off, Barney provided many t-shirt designs for his friends, such as this Lissitzky-informed Ian Dury tee from 1978.

Back, Imperial Bedroom US tour t-shirt, 1982. (C) Reasons 2009.

By 1982 Barney was contributing not only his album covers but also detail from the artwork to t-shirts, such as the “bedbug”  which appeared on the back of the top fronted by his Imperial Bedroom painting for a US tour by Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

Front, Hank Wangford Band sweatshirt, 1983. (C) Reasons 2009.

When his friend from the 60s counterculture days Sam Hutt – aka Hank Wangford – started to make waves on the UK music scene around the same time, Barney not only supplied album artwork but also came up with a wonderful range of t-shirt designs which mixed Argyll knitwear and grey marl with cowpoke.

Back, Hank Wangford Jogging With Jesus t-shirt 1983. (C) Reasons 2009.

Tickets for the Barney Bubbles Memorial Concert at the 229 Club, London on Sunday November 29 are available here.

Peter York’s Grey Hopes

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Barney Bubbles credited one of the most creatively satisfying phases of his career to a prescient feature by marketing guru and cultural commentator Peter York published in the September 1978 issue of Harpers & Queen magazine.

York’s piece, headlined Grey Hopes, investigated the ageing demographic of the rock consumer and the concurrent wave of post-modernism pervading popular music. “The paradox of rock is that at precisely the time that a new rock sensibility is starting to invade the commercial heartland, the whole rock thing is uncomfortably coming of age,” wrote York, who also declared: “Rock & roll is the hamburger which ate the world.”

Extract from letter to Diane Fawcett, late 1978.

Extract from letter to Diana Fawcett, late 1979.

Presenting research which showed that 25- to 44-year-olds, not teens, had become the largest single group of record buyers, York pointed to the likes of Roxy Music as examples of art rockers who “consciously saw rock as a medium like any other”.

Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008

Reasons author Paul Gorman and Peter York, July 2008.

York cites the highly referential example of Generation X, which was apposite; Barney designed two of the group’s single sleeves, the El Lissitzy-quoting Your Generation and the symbol-strewn King Rocker (available in four variations denoting vinyl colours).

Tony James: Barney took our ideas an inspired step further.

Tony James: "Barney took our ideas an inspired step further."

Guitarist Tony James says that, during the planning stages of the sleeves, he and Gen X singer Billy Idol talked to Barney about t-shirts they had designed in a Constructivist style.  “Barney looked at our original ideas and took them a very inspired step further,” he adds.

In a letter to his assistant and friend Diana Fawcett late in 1979, Barney says that York’s article “gave me my orders for the year” regarding “technology, urban environment, rock, etc”. He also says that he had carried out “everything I wanted to. It was a great, successful year”.

 

Inner sleeve, labour Of Lust, 1979

Inner sleeve, Labour Of Lust, 1979. (c) Riviera Global

This is true; the previous 12 months had been an extraordinarily fruitful period. Notwithstanding the advertising and promotional material which formed the bedrock of his business, Barney had also executed such triumphs as the redesign of the NME and creation of the paper’s Book Of Modern Music as well as sleeves for albums such as Armed Forces by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, 25 Years On by Hawklords (including the integrated stage show set), Do It Yourself by Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Labour Of Lust by Nick Lowe and Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs And Krauts by The Rumour.

In addition Barney completed the catalogue for the Lives exhibition at The Hayward (in which he also participated) as well as Brian Griffin’s Copyright, The Ian Dury Songbook and The John Cooper Clarke Directory. We shall be exploring all of these and more over the coming months.

Artwork for advert for Splash by Clive Langer & The Boxes 1980. (c) Riviera Global

Barney also tells Diana he has “had his orders” for 1980, the coming year. Since this was to witness advances into video-direction, painting, the realisation of the ambitious visual identity for the new F-Beat label AND a slew of releases by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Carlene Carter, Clive Langer & The Boxes, Rockpile, Inner City Unit,  Dirty Looks and many more, it can safely be assumed the instructions came from as rich a source as York’s Grey Hopes.

The radical redesign of the NME

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

One of the greatest examples of Barney Bubbles’ ability to fast-track cutting-edge ideas into the mainstream occurred in 1978 with his redesign of best-selling weekly paper the New Musical Express.

As detailed in Chapter 4 of REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, at this time the NME’s sales regularly surpassed 200,000 copies.

NME Alphabet

Artwork for The NME Book Of Modern Music alphabet. (c) Neil Spencer/Reasons 2009

And the recently-appointed editor Neil Spencer was an ardent Barney fan. “I loved the way Barney quoted Lissitzky for Generation X and Kandinsky for The Damned,” he says. “At the same time he sculpted the images of  unique characters like Ian Dury and Elvis Costello.

“Barney was head-and-shoulders above everyone else, and perfect for the job because he’d worked at Oz, Friends, Town and Nova.”

Barney’s first move was to de-clutter the layout. “There was so much going on in terms of images and info,” says Neil. “He also sorted out the presentation of the charts. I don’t think they’ve changed materially since then.”

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Spread from The NME Book of Modern Music

Part of the brief was production of a free supplement to mark the relaunch: The NME Book Of Modern Music, which was compiled by readers from a series of collect-and-keep inserts.

With his assistant Diana Fawcett and contributions from freelancers such as Andy Martin, Barney whipped art and design references into a mélange evoking the inventive chaos of the immediate post-punk period.

The NME Book of Modern Music

Front cover of The NME Book of Modern Music

Barney’s alphabet for the Book Of Modern Music “borrowed from 20s Russia, 60s Britain and beyond”, says Neil. “He was so wily technically, and yet he always conjured unexpected colours and effects.”

The redesign was unveiled with the issue of October 14, 1978, though the NME’s owners IPC refused to allow the new masthead for another six weeks, when sales confirmed that readers were content with the new visual direction.

NME launch issue

Redesign launch issue. The new masthead was introduced six weeks later.

And so it was the December 2 issue which introduced Barney’s stencil block NME logo (promoted via a campaign shot by Barney’s collaborator Brian Griffin).

NME logo

NME logo campaign shot by Brian Griffin

The inspiration for the font was a company name on industrial premises in City Road, just around the corner from the site of Barney’s warehouse studio in Paul Street (he was two decades ahead of his time by occupying the western edge of what is now London’s achingly trendy Shoreditch area).

And Barney’s legacy at the paper lingers; despite the management’s worries, his NME logo is still used in adapted form more than 30 years later.