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The Pixies ruined Everything

The combination of Black Francis, Kim Deal, Chris Bigg, Vaughan Oliver and 4AD changed my life. One morning I heard sounds from a whale-of-man that was standing front and center screaming into a microphone: singing songs about Surrealism, prostitution, sex, depression and the futility of it all. All of that timed under two minutes.

Circumferencing this homely group of musicians was the candy wrapper of a London design studio that would change the way I wanted to live my life. If in my fantasy world, I could walk around with exterior grace and charm of a Cary Grant then I would bloody my hands on the barbed brilliance of Vaughan Oliver and the combustive filament of v23 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and for more 7.)

As if nothing was suddenly something, I wanted to live life with my hands on the 3rd rail and my mind locked in a vault where orchestras piped colors and nothing but dreams came forth. As far as I was concerned, the world no longer needed another marine biologist.

Cartoonists, Illustrators, and Designers in the mid-80s touched the face of god in a way that hasn’t been displayed since. To some extent, the Emigre Rant book dismisses the 90s with a similar malaise. And it might suffice to say that ingenuity that rests solely on base technology of software has a long way in proving its magic — but that is perhaps its own thread.

Pioneering Art Directors: Fred Woodward (then at Rolling Stone), Brad Benedict (Heavan), Walter Bernard and Rudolf Hoglund (Time), and illustrators: Marshall Arisman , Matt Mahurin (1, 2), Brad Holland , Lou Brooks, Lou Beach, Georganne Deen (1, 2), Gary Panter, Mark Marek, Vivienne Flesher( 1, 2, 3, 4 ), all who were my heroes. Each crossed the threshold of consumerism and made a commercial art that was as much their own as the audience it was shilling to.

This was the time that visual culture was crossing over from sharp Pop iconography to allow for a more sophisticated viewer. In the case of some of the above it was a broad sweep from brooding expressionist styling to a Matissean lyricism. For all it was a concerted effort to push a more complicated styling and abstraction.

In the case of Vaughan Oliver and v23 the studio stood solitary, using photography for packaging in a completely new way opting for a softer palette of dense texture that took as much from abstract expressionism as it did from the largely ignored contemporary art scene of Schnabel, Richter, Kiefer, and Bleckner (1, 2.) And what better than to be of your time? Their seductive use of minimized palettes pitted against a sharp compliment, heavy saturation, or in trademark fashion a light metallic green was the definition of sublime. I bought posters, books, albums, singles, boxed sets� I bought everything and anything with passing acquaintance in order to hold onto these little jewels. Even with as out of place as the Pixies were in the 4ad catalogue at the time (This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, etc,) the v23 stamp brought it all together.

All art is a continuation of what came before it �shoulders of giants and all. A few years either way this could just as easily be about Marvin Gaye/ Pushpin Studios/ the Jam/ Blade Runner / Gang of Four / Art Chantry / John Zorn / Art Spiegelman / Dave McKean / the Jesus Lizard, ad infinitum.

Who broke you? The sweetest tangent of 4ad and Vaughan Oliver produced in me a life altering change.

Why does your compass point north?

Forgive me if we’ve covered the �why you do what you do’ ground, but I feel this is important to stop and give our heroes their due. If you must, focus on the design-crush (does someone have their Sagmeister manifesto at hand?) then do what you must

“got hips like Cinderella, must be having a good shame, talking sweet about nothing, cookie i think you’re� tame”

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ARCHIVE ID 1582 FILED UNDER Designer/Design Firm Profile
PUBLISHED ON Sep.04.2003 BY E. Tage Larsen
graham’s comment is:

standing in a record shop, looking at the label on the 12inch of the cocteau twins 'pearly dewdrops drops', was like peering through a window into another world-like dreaming mallarmes ideal, a room with a door open to the night, 7 stars reflected in a silver mirror.

23 envelope/v23 forever.

On Sep.04.2003 at 10:30 AM
Andrew Shurtz’s comment is:

Peter Fucking Saville.

On Sep.04.2003 at 10:37 AM
felix’s comment is:

Someones been diggin for fire this morning.

You sure said it, (come on) Pilgrim.

But alas, I am far greater a pixie fan than you.

_the debaser

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:19 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Meredith Monk, Nina Hagen, "Einstein on the Beach", and of course, the inimitable Karen Finley. Oh yeah, and Mike Kelley.

What a cool, beautiful intro, Eric.

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:29 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Totally off topic -- but where the hell is your bio, Eric? You too Darrel. For gods sake, Dave W and Bradley are done & posted, and they came on a month after you.

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:34 AM
eric’s comment is:

Put your mouth where your money is Felix. A man as cultured as yourself must surely be able to find some antecedents worth noting. this is a borderline 'illustration thread', for god's sake.

Andrew thanks for the mention of Saville. for some reason, though i love the work, it always falls off my radar.

Graham thanks for chiming in first. in many ways you kids at Tomato took that heritage and ran with it. No?

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:37 AM
eric’s comment is:

Millie: is it the Glass or Wilson part of Einstein that motivates you? unless of course it's the Dan Flavin nod on the cover, but i suspect you have a different agenda.

Tan: Re the bio, All good things take time. I'm waiting for the photos of me in my tigger-ears at disneyland to come in. it may alter much. And as long as you're sidetracking me, just saw Space Truckers yesterday on cable and can't wait to talk to you about it.

but more to the point, send me your Heroes, dammit!

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:47 AM
graham’s comment is:

peter saville is god too-he's talking this weekend in ny, by the way.

nothing we've (tomato) has done comes close (in terms of love and mystery) to vaughans work. his stuff has been an inspiration from very early on and still is.

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:53 AM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Millie: is it the Glass or Wilson part of Einstein that motivates you? unless of course it's the Dan Flavin nod on the cover, but i suspect you have a different agenda.

Definitely not the Flavin cover. I'll never forget sitting in the Brooklyn Academy of Music watching the opera. Blew my mind about what opera could do to your soul. The sets were incredible, the costumes...and the music. Ethereal. Hypnotic. Irritating. Long. So I guess the easy answer to your question: totally the combination of Wilson and Glass. After all these years, I still think it is their best collaboration.

On Sep.04.2003 at 11:57 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, ok...

My first "damn, who the fuck did this?" was a Why Not Associates piece. I also had a poster on my wall for years -- not till later did I realize it was Jonathan Barnbrook's. And I swear I'm not jumping on the bandwagon, but yes, Vaughan Oliver rocked my world. And lastly, (ugh.) David Carson.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:01 PM
eric’s comment is:

i don't have the patience for Glass but have really enjoyed Wilson's collaborations with Tom Waits at BAM.

Tan, i swore Armin to nakedly comit to the Stephan-crush. I think it's great that you love Carson. I probably would gush about him more save that i know people that have had really bad experiences working with him.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:20 PM
Khoi Vinh’s comment is:

History has been unkind to v23 and much of Vaughan Oliver's work, and I think with good reason. Aside from a few This Mortal Coil covers, the first two Pixies albums (and later "Bossa Nova"), much of it doesn't hold its own very well ~15 years on.

However, I have to agree (though in less florid terms than E. ) that the work they did at v23 was completely invigorating and one of the purest electric shocks that could jolt a young designer at the time.

Which is primarily their lasting legacy, I think -- not timeless, groundbreaking work, but a more modest legacy in which they provided a kickstart to a generation of designers.

As for me, reading Neville Brody's and Massimo Vignelli's monographs really convinced me that this would be my life's work.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:25 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Now, I don't have a man-crush on Carson like Armin and Sagmeister. But his work was the first instance where I realized that the intangibilities of emotions and the visceral could be expressed quite nicely through typography. I'd been spoonfed up to that point on Armin Hoffman, Weingart, and Brody -- and to me, Carson's work was an amalgam of much of what I'd come to revere.

Now, what he's really like to work with is of course, another story. But we all can't be saints, can we?

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:33 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Here goes.

Old timers:

four or five years ago (while I was still living in Mexico) I took a trip to NY with the family, went to MoMA (obviously) and was completely blown away by the work of Aleksandr Rodchenko. The power of his design and photography was/is very inspiring.

Bass, Glaser, Rand are a given.

Armin Hoffman. Amazing designer with an amazing name.

Not so old timers:

Malcolm Grear. Best use of line ever. Nobody can capture the forms he can.

Tibor. Nuff said.

New timers:

Yes, I have a crush on Sagmeister. But it's nothing serious, it's more like trying to hook up with the hottest girl in school but you know that it's going to lead to nothing serious. Just a really cool fling.

David Carson. Top of my list. I am not ashamed to admit it at all. He completely openend up my eyes to the possibilities of design and more importantly the posibilities that can come from following your intuition.

James Victore and Rick Valicenti. Biggest balls in the business.

Heller and Poynor. Wouldn't know shit about design if it weren't for them.

Honorable mentions: Scott Clum, Neville Brody, Charles Scwhabb and many many more that I can't remember right now.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:37 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Oh! Ed Fella. A hundred times over.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:38 PM
felix’s comment is:

this just in:

Pixie Chicks, a new motley Bostonian herd of "lez be" friends singing (yelling) the chorus on the corner of Obsolete and Miraculous.

tickets sold in advance of Entertainment Weekly cover.

- ashamed Texan

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:40 PM
felix’s comment is:


Ahem! (that was me coughing into my granny panties).

You lost me bud.

On Sep.04.2003 at 12:45 PM
kia’s comment is:

As a designer-turned-photographer I feel a little bad that Simon Larbalestier isn't being given his due.. Sure he wasn't the art director or anything, but I think he had a hand in defining the visual style of those 4AD releases and deserves a nod.

That said, I have a print of the photo from 'Monkey Gone to Heaven' framed on the wall next to my desk. He's been a great influence on my work.

On Sep.04.2003 at 01:00 PM
marian’s comment is:

Fred Tomaselli, islamic art, William Morris, Wayne Thiebaud, Medieval manuscripts, K10K, Gregory Crewdson (1, 2,) Takashi Murakami, countless calligraphers, grafitti artists, Antonio Gaudi, Hundertwasser, Jean Paul Gaultier, David Carson, Edward Tufte, Bill Cahan, Stephan Sagmeister,

on and on and on

On Sep.04.2003 at 01:09 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>You lost me bud.

I make no excuses about my choices Granny.

On Sep.04.2003 at 01:30 PM
Tan’s comment is:

If we're also talking about art -- then Mark Rothko.

There's a non-denominaitonal chapel in Houston that is covered with his work. It's a small building, all concrete, with only available lighting inside, with a few benches. His (huge) paintings are hung along the walls throughout.

I'm not very religious, but that chapel is one of the most spiritual places I've ever known. It made me understand the power of color, and scale, and context. Amazingly powerful, and a testament to Rothko's work.

But sadly, it's also where he ended his own life.

On Sep.04.2003 at 01:31 PM
eric’s comment is:

Tan, i think you are referring to rothko chapel. If you're a fan of the use of space and color then i recommend that you check out James Turrell's work, sadly the web can't do it justice but you should check out this and this.

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:21 PM
Andrew Shurtz’s comment is:

Eric, I think Saville slips off the radar because his work is so, for lack of a better word, 'perfect'. It just exists, it almost isn't really graphic design.

Tan — the Rothko chapel is easily the best thing about Houston, no question. A couple of years ago I was at some student advertising federation thing with my design class and managed to convince a few of my friends to skip the awards banquet at the end so we'd have time to see the chapel. I'll never forget the feeling of entering the building and seeing everyone just completely stunned — all of a sudden, total silence. It's like time completely stops when you're in there.

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:30 PM
Andrew Shurtz’s comment is:

heads up everyone: here's a great link off the bbc website on three of the best music-related design groups around now, Julian House @ Intro, ehquestionmark, and Non-Format.

Julian House's sleeve for the new Broadcast album is just fantastic, the sort of album cover you can stare at for hours.

wondering: where are the legendary american cover designers? am I forgetting someone?

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:43 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>It's like time completely stops when you're in there.

Very true. The only time I ever cried over a painting was seeing the Rothko's at the chapel in Houston. It is a magical, haunted place. The Tate also had an amazing retrospective of Rothko. I saw the book from the exhibit, it moved me so much I booked a trip to London to see the show in person. I went straight from Heathrow to the museum, bags and all, and when I got there I found out that the show had closed the week before. Got some great postcards, though.

Since we are talking about fine art that has rocked our worlds, we can not forget Jean-Michel Basquiat.

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:47 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

>where are the legendary american cover designers? am I forgetting someone?

Two words: Paula Scher

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:51 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

Vignelli, Paula Scher & "Michael B.," David Carson (well, maybe I just mean Ray Gun because I always liked Chris Ashworth and Robert Hales more) and


It was the first time I looked at something I simultaneously loved and hated. That's what I look for, something that polarizes. While I never had that reaction to anything from Vignelli or Pentagram, there was an apparent passion in the work that was fundamentally very uncompromising. And extraordinarily realistic and practical.

For me, the guys at CORE are the ballsiest around because they've perfected the art of creating one solution and standing by it...and sacrificing business if need be when the client tries to compromise the vision. Maybe that's stupid, but I admire it. I also admire the fact that they're willing to give anything a shot, unlike some designers who can only do stuff for clients they already like a lot or are familiar with.

And if we're talking about art, then Richard Serra, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Bruce Conner, and Douglas Gordon.

On Sep.04.2003 at 02:53 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Wow, I'm impressed at how many of you have heard of the Rothko chapel. Eric -- I actually interned at the Menil (as well as the MFA in Houston) while I was in college. And as Bradley said, the Menil and the Rothko chapel are the two most redeeming things about Houston.

And Debbie -- the paintings are extremely moving. It's easy to be moved to tears in that place (shut up Armin!). It's not uncommon seeing people leave the chapel weeping.

On Sep.04.2003 at 03:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>It's easy to be moved to tears in that place (shut up Armin!)

Hey, I cried with "Snoopy come home" so I will refrain from my usual "wuss" comment.

On Sep.04.2003 at 03:41 PM
eric’s comment is:

Tan... shut up! I've still never been. Did the Dallas and Ft. Worth museums on a bender but never made it to the de Menil collection. A black mark on art boy's record to be sure. The matron, Dominique only recently passed away. I believe that there is some question as to how stable things are... even though they had all the money in the world.

and isn't that blue Turrell room in your neck of the woods?

as long as we're talking transcendent, i know a lot of people who speak highly of the whole Chinati / Marfa experience.


Millie, i was going to offer up Paula Scher in my rogues gallery of mid-80s greats but thought that it might be a little duplicitous considering my recent history.

On Sep.04.2003 at 04:09 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Hmm...I can't say there were any specific graphic designers that I really felt influenced me in terms of sticking with (or diving into) graphic design as a profession. Carson was interesting at the time that I was in school. Colors and Wired magazines were perhaps big influences.

These days, it's just the proliferation of BAD design in all shapes and forms that keeps me going. (Damn, *I* could have designed this [insert pretty much any object] better than this!)

Oh...my bio...umm...yea...let me get on that...

On Sep.04.2003 at 04:14 PM
pk’s comment is:

v23's work was totally ravaged by the CD format. everything's way too small; the paper stocks are from hell. the later pieces, those for lush spring to mind, are made for compact disc and are blindingly beautiful. i paid about a hundred bucks for a limited-edition copy of spooky printed in gatefold with millions of gentle metallic pastels...and best of all, the design incorporated press sheets of the original edition.

i wanna make painted calligraphy like chris bigg when i grow up.

On Sep.04.2003 at 04:19 PM
graham’s comment is:

having a think, particularly about the things that i first noticed as design/design as something i wanted to do, rather than stuff loved as a kid or big names one is sposed to like but didn't-

jam album covers

2 tone stuff (specials/madnessetc.)

the who marquee poster, black and white with the arrows

i don't know who did the above.

film posters-jaws, 1st star wars

simple minds 'new gold dream' album cover-malcolm garrett/gary mouat

roxy music covers

god trying to be honest means digging up lots of memories-definitely the cocteau twins/1st this mortal coil albums. new order-power corruption lies and low-life. russell mills (although this gets a bit knowing now). japan exorcising ghosts.

i would boil it down to 2 though; 1st this mortal coil and simple minds new gold dream. anything before is blissful joy and anything after suffers a lack of that good old mystique. ho hum. anyway, mr. camus said something like 'life is a persons quest to recreate the first few images that made their heart open'. roughly.

On Sep.04.2003 at 04:38 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> and isn't that blue Turrell room in your neck of the woods?

Yes, his blue room is at a local museum -- but alas, I haven't had a chance to go.

As to the Menil -- here's a cool tidbit. The museum is located in the middle of an older neighborhood -- surrounded by a bunch of houses. Well the de Menil bought all of the houses and buildings that surrounds the museum and its grounds. They then sold it back to people, but with a stipulation that the houses can't be drastically altered, and that they must all be painted in shades of grey -- no trim colors, no nothing -- all grey. Yes, that's right, every house that faces the museum is painted in various shades of cool grey. So as a result, the museum building becomes a centerpoint. Most visitors don't notice until someone points it out. Those houses are highly valued as you can guess.

On Sep.04.2003 at 04:55 PM
Armin’s comment is:

You know, I've been to the Menil many times, I was a teenage punk who didn't give a shit about art, but my parents dragged me anyway. I didn't cry. Although the setting is indeed beautiful and the museum store (across the street in one of the gray houses) has the fattest, biggest cat in all of Texas.

On Sep.04.2003 at 05:14 PM
M Kingsley’s comment is:

Please forgive the philosophy, but a phrase from Nancy Mazzei's somewhat random screed yesterday touched on a point worth exploring -- i.e. "I feel like no one goes outside for inspiration anymore".

What I see in this thread and in last week's gush about music are lists of relatively common objects and people (Fela aside - he ruled, man). These lists act as a shorthand method to establish one's "cool" factor, and they may have a particular RESONANCE with whomever listed them; but were they truly part of a life-changing experience?

Such an experience could be known as ecstasy -- from the Greek "ekstasis": out of the body. This experience is a combination of fear, incomprehension, life and death. And I think it doesn't happen so often when listening to music or looking at other designers' work (unless it's the job you were bidding on, but didn't get).

As an example, I present two events which "broke" me:

1. Learning as a child that I was going to die.

2. A 2:00 AM performance by King Sunny Ade where he played the same song many times in a row over the course of 30-45 minutes. Each time the piece got slightly faster and faster; eventually reaching double time. Then they stopped and repeated at half the tempo of the original iteration. I realized that my respiration and heartbeat had increased with the music and I was in a kind of breathless freefall. My inner organs were weightless and the power of music was finally revealed.

Over time, I find myself listening to less and less music, going to fewer films, hitting fewer galleries; but I'm paying attention to crazy things like:

1. The sound of NYC buses (they have a particular harmonic).

2. Whether I can see humidity in the atmosphere.

3. Whether I can taste in cheese the grasses eaten by the sheep or cow.

All phenomena. Because my larger point is attention to such phenomena can make us better designers and communicators -- and raise our work above reference, irony, pastiche and other lower arts.

Hell! Now that was a reach.

Gotta go...

On Sep.04.2003 at 06:24 PM
Tan’s comment is:

I think the cat was named Nacogdoches or something like that.

> I didn't cry.

hey, I said shut up!

On Sep.04.2003 at 06:30 PM
Dan’s comment is:

M: Very daring post. thank you

A recent experience that seemed to say something to me (I'm not sure what yet):

Watching a show at a local jazz club and the band slowly joined in over the bass line in a loose jam. And the melody was there before I could hear it, and then I heard it, I knew the song, I was in. And you could hear the ripples of realization run through the crowd as they caught the melody.

Who knew "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" could be so powerful?

On Sep.04.2003 at 06:48 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Following on M's thoughts: you know what really "breaks me"?

Signs. I don't necessarily mean "signage" per se, although the occasional grafitti or poignantly timed poster often causes me to catch my breath.

I mean the snipets of conversations you hear as you pass people by, like, "she doesn't know what she's talking about" when I might be feeling particularly egotistical. Or seeing someone begging for money on when I am on the way to the bank. Or my battery-less watch that was supposed to last forever suddenly dying when I meet someone that changes my life.

These moments confound and challenge and thrill me. I feel their beauty and strength. And I fear them. But they pause me, or "break me" and I am afraid not to listen and heed them.

On Sep.04.2003 at 07:09 PM
graham’s comment is:

mkingsley: yes.

caught in the stillpoint between experience and observation the sheer joy of recalling those (many) first instances of catharsis (always that, for me) sometimes obscures that momentary glint of the greyest light on a single mote of dust as you stand in the spitting rain on a fire escape, smoking.

nothing is unimportant.

On Sep.04.2003 at 07:14 PM
eric’s comment is:

Khoi's comment earlier has bothered me all day, "History has been unkind to v23 and much of Vaughan Oliver's work"

is that true? obviously i stated my bias upfront.

i think you could look at something like the This Mortal Coil work from nearly 20 years ago and say that it fits into a specific visual dialogue from that time period. but it's still powerful and exquisite imagery.

The v23 experience has become somewhat comfortable in that we've seen it and its derivations for a couple of decades now, but the familiarity in no way cheapens the experience of many of the works in my opinion.

On Sep.04.2003 at 07:54 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Good shift Mark. I like this.

Although this may not be an event per se, I am always humbled by nature's gradients. From dusk 'til dawn and everything in between, the sky always "renders" the most perfect and humanly impossible gradients. No matter how advanced Photoshop or Illustrator get, there is no chance that we will ever be able to match nature's work. It's just a nice reminder that we are only "faking it" and are part of something bigger.

As far as events go, I'll have to think more about it.

On Sep.05.2003 at 08:40 AM
M. Capsule’s comment is:

Am I the only graphic designer who always found Vaughan Oliver/23envelope's's work, although gorgeous, to lose it's charm as 4AD expanded it's roster of bands beyond the dreamy likes of the Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses and (Clan of) Xymox?

When a fat man screaming about Brunel films, and a sweet-voiced girl singing about her boyfriend's huge cock backed by loud guitars (with no effects!) entered the 4AD landscape the lush (oh, let's not forget Lush) imagery seemed very "applied" as opposed to "influenced" by the sounds coming off the vinyl they encased. Yes, yes, I know - there's a MONKEY on the cover...big deal. Had I never seen any of those record covers or heard the bands before and someone had the Cocteau Twins' "Sunburst and Snowblind", Modern English's"After The Snow", the "Lonely Is An Eyesore" compilation and The Pixies'"Velouria" up on their wall, I would assume they're all the same band.....or at least sounded similar.

Personally, I feel like the Pixies is where the one trick pony jumped out of the bag over with Oliver and his pals. "Well, they don't sound etherial....but earthtones, textures and script look so good together!" (no argument there) The Wolfgang Press were actually the only 4AD band to demand they do their covers themselves for this reason back in the day (so I read in an interview with one of them back in the late 80's).

This realization was a big moment for me in my design life, actually. Even at a (relatively) tender young age, I realized there was more to this graphic design thing than just being able to make stuff look good - even if it is just a record cover.

(....and, yes, I played the shit out of all those records in my high school days....)


On Sep.05.2003 at 10:10 AM
graham’s comment is:

>The Wolfgang Press were actually the only 4AD band to demand they do their covers themselves

i don't think it was so much a question of demanding, but 23 envelope/v23 didn't always get involved in dead can dance's (best 4ad band ever) covers either, not until the later albums.

On Sep.05.2003 at 10:16 AM
michelle’s comment is:

M. Capsule has a great point - Wouldn't you all agree that it makes no sense for a Pixies album cover to look like a His Name is Alive album cover?

On Sep.05.2003 at 11:58 AM
eric’s comment is:

that's the same line of logic as saying that the Blue Note stuff shouldn't have a signature style unless you're arguing that all jazz is the same.

there isn't a problem with the v23 group not reinventing the wheel every time out. Nor is it unrealistic that a boutique label like 4AD wouldn't benefit from somebody recognizing a signature style and perhaps being interested in another artist on the label.

I may have never picked up the Lonely is an Eyesore album if i hadn't been able to pick it out across the room and identified it as a kindred spirit.

I don't have the benefit of having either of the Vaughan Oliver books in front of me at the moment but i think there is enough variation between the artists that you know the difference between looking at a This Mortal Coil and a Kristin Hersh album.

On Sep.05.2003 at 12:24 PM
graham’s comment is:

as far as i know, none of 4ad's artists had to work with 23 envelope/v23.

On Sep.05.2003 at 12:25 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

I've just had the first two days of Orientation at my new school here in Breda, Post St. Joost. And I know its early to say, but I think this place is going to change my life.

I feel as if I am in the Center of the Storm that is graphic design, or more poetically as they put it Graphische Vormgeving.

So cheers to all from the life-changing moment. Its a special thing.

On Sep.05.2003 at 01:07 PM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

Oh yeah, This monkey's going to Heaven...

On Sep.05.2003 at 01:08 PM
eric’s comment is:


welcome to hurricane Armin.

btw...the work on your site is beautiful.

On Sep.05.2003 at 01:38 PM
M. Capsule’s comment is:

I wasn't trying to argue whether Vaughn Oliver's work was beatiful (I've always thought it was), sold records (I personaly bought loads of them having never heard the bands, based on their packaging alone), or was mandatory for all 4AD artists (and, honestly, what band wouldn't want a beautiful record sleeve?). Nor was I trying to piss on someone who's work had an impact on me during my formative years. The question I was raising was:

Does the fact that bands so sonically different as Cocteau Twins and The Pixies were given such similar treatments by Oliver et all bother any of us?

I guess I'm still feeling a bit ripped off by the realization that this very specific and unique look that I felt so perfectly embodied the sound of bands like the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil was merely a "house style" to be applied to any and every band that ended up on 4AD, regardless of their sound. It worked great when all the bands on the label had a similar sound/approach, but lost a lot of it's impact when 4AD's sonic palette diversified (starting with The Pixies).

On Sep.05.2003 at 05:05 PM
eric’s comment is:


Vaughan had an extraordinary relationship with Ivo Watts-Russell (founder of 4AD). Enviable in every way. Not only was Vaughan incredibly talented but the client let him run with it.

From the Poynor book a quote from Ivo, “He made me realize that you can communicate with the packaging a record or cd comes in, both sympathetically and separately from the music� as a fan of the music, who enjoys beautiful things, that was a revelation. I love the idea that you’re buying a new album and it’s something you can love and cherish, not just for the music but also because of the packaging�. Funnily enough, I think that contributed heavily to the 4AD sound because it meant there was an identity, both visually and sometimes aurally, coming from this label.”

Poynor continues later with, “The idea that the graphic designer could function as a kind of “author”, using client-given work as the vehicle for a personal vision or message, has been implicit in the practice of some designers from the earliest days of the discipline�The discipline has now reached a point where many graduating designers take it for granted that a graphic communication should ideally include a measure of self-expression.”

The collaboration between v23 and 4AD was as much an artistic one as it was a business arrangement. I understand your desire for clarity that a specific branding of each artist might have created. However, The label and the design studio were both growing at the same time.

The earlier work consisting mainly of ,This Mortal Coil, XMAL, Cocteau Twins etc. showed a very romantic hand through the photography of Nigel Grierson. Sort of Post-pre-Raphaelite if there is such a thing. Very English. The solely Oliver work tends to be more softly expressionistic or high key blur. The Pixies stuff tends to fall predominantly under Larbalestier’s photography (including the Bossanova cover which seems atypical).

The branding seems to be consistently arrived at through typography. The Modern English stuff always sort of looked like, well “The Modern English”. And again, later, for the Muses the exquisite calligraphy (at least for the first few lps). It’ll be easy to find inconsistent examples but I feel that it was either logo or title treatment that was the key identifier.

I would love to have feedback on how critical the budget was on the earlier art work.

The imagery and participants seemed to vary on Oliver’s growth as a designer and what direction he wanted to push the work at the moment. And because he was at the wheel the covers reflect his desires and ambitions less so than corporate positioning. Part of it’s strength was that it was arty music and the packaging should be arty too. Stamping the same letter form, color palette, filter, grid on each artist sort of defeats the purpose of a house sound.

But I’ll bracket all this with the fact that I love incongruity.

How do the rest of you feel?

On Sep.05.2003 at 07:22 PM
Mr. Jones’s comment is:

Nick Knight

4AD, Neville Brody

The FACE magazine (1980-1990)

Fabien Baron

On Sep.05.2003 at 08:01 PM
Michael B.’s comment is:

I'm no expert on 4AD (my label of choice in those days was Sugarhill). It seems to me, though, that if you concede the argument that Vaughn Oliver did indeed create a "house style" that made the Pixies, the Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, et al., look more alike that different, this served to create a (ahem) "brand promise" for 4AD that was quite enviable. The implication was that if you liked

This Mortal Coil, you might also what to spend some money on Kristin Hersh. Every marketer's dream. The interesting lesson is that Oliver and Ivo Watts-Russell got to this state of marketing nirvana through passion, commitment and imagination. So many of my clients want the exact same thing, except they think that you get there with visioning sessions, mission statements, and Powerpoint presentations. (Sigh.)

I'm actually a little off-topic here, so: my life changed in a movie theatre in downtown Cleveland in 1968 at the exact moment the bone turns into the spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

On Sep.06.2003 at 06:53 AM
ben schicker’s comment is:

i wish i had been around last week. i would have done a hell of a lot more than lurk.

i remember loving rolling stone all the way through high school, thinking i wanted to grow up to work for them or some magazine. then i saw my first issue of raygun with al jourgensen on the cover. i remember thinking, 'you can fucking do this with type?!' -- the other guys on the newspaper and i discussed to no end where it worked & where it was just unreadable--masturbation on the page. i wanted to be david carson and then i didn't. [this was reinforced last year when he cancelled a visit to our local aiga chapter & lost a lot of fans]

the first issue of wired. i still have it. the column that they ran across the middle several pages with little arrows leading you on. i freaked out.

finding out that that kurt cobain was a big pixies fan and that the back of nevermind is a tribute to monkey gone to heaven/bossanova. this still makes me smile.

i remember being taken aback by they called her styrene by ed ruscha. probably not the most important in the history of art books, but it utterly charmed me. i had to buy it on the spot. the simple presentations, letting the images speak for themselves. i didn't even know ruscha [again no art/design history] my friend mike let his name drop in a conversation, so i gave him the book for his birthday.

finally, i'd just like to say that my extreme ignorance in graphic design history has been slowly worn away by the great discussions on this site. six months ago, i wouldn't have known peter saville or ed fella from peter sellers or ed norton. now, i get to nod along with everyone else when they come up. so, i guess finding this site ranks up there in terms of experiences. i've only realized this over time.

thanks everyone.

happy one year armin.

On Sep.07.2003 at 09:51 PM
ben schicker’s comment is:

anyone read boingboing.net?

pixies are getting back together.


On Sep.10.2003 at 03:58 PM
eric’s comment is:

oh my god, really? how did i miss that. i was there this morning...

ok, fan boy tucked back in the closet. i'm cool, calm.

how charming.

thanks Ben!

On Sep.10.2003 at 04:02 PM
Thomas O’s comment is:

Yep, I have it on good authority that they are definitely putting out a new album and are going to tour.

On Sep.10.2003 at 04:34 PM
eric’s comment is:

an online history of 4AD.


On Apr.13.2004 at 03:09 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

read the GQ piece on the plane yesterday.

anyone going to the NYC show gimme

a holler. its fuckin on, bitches

On Apr.13.2004 at 05:46 PM
eric’s comment is:

Dear Mockswell:

i still haven't seen anything on NYC. The girl and i have plans to see them in Los Angeles in the Fall but this preliminary thing still has me tied in knots.

we can either charter a flight to Minneapolis tonight or wait and see if Marian goes next week and gets back to us on the details.

On Apr.13.2004 at 06:35 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

ayt then



On Apr.13.2004 at 07:37 PM