As part of studio culture week, we visited Four Corners Books, a small independent art book publisher based near to our university. Company founders Richard Embray and Elinor Jansz do all of the publishing in-house whilst working with specific designers on specific books.
They walked us through some of the ins and outs of their jobs, talking about what factors govern the design decisions they make, from the choice of book cover to the materials used for the pages. Their body of work mostly falls into two categories: producing art history books and special illustrated editions of classic literature. They had examples of both present, ranging from a bright yellow edition of Dracula to an art book on nun-cum-graphic designer Sister Corita Kent.
Having been graciously allowed working space within a Grade 1 listed building, they set up their office with computers for both of them, a few shelves for pertinent books and a large area which they used to show us examples of their work.
When asked how the workspace effected their workflow, they commented that they felt most of their inspiration and driving focus came from all the time they spent outside of their workspace, interacting with fellow design enthusiasts.
Richard and Elinor both made reference to keeping costs in mind when making any design decisions, trying to negotiate the best balance between ambitious and expensive ideas from the designers with the realities of cost and market viability. Richard accentuated the point by adding “We try to allow ourselves one extravagance per project. The important thing is that the reader is aware that the thing is extravagant, otherwise, we’ve spent the money for nothing.”
In regards to looking at their workspace with a mind to consider our studio setup, I draw the following conclusions: practicality is important; make sure your space accommodates your daily needs. Don’t be overly concerned with having ‘inspirational’ things lying around. It’s best to find inspiration outside of your workspace and bring it in with you.
We were asked to visit the Imperial War Museum’s retrospective on Peter Kennard, presumably to see the work of an artist who clearly has a point he wishes to get across in his work. I should rephrase that, since every graphic designer should have a point they clearly want to get across in each and every piece of work they do. Kennard’s body of work is clearly political in nature and reflects his personal opinions on the world we live in.
In his early work, his tools of choice were photo-montage and manipulation. A good couple of decades before photoshop gave ten-year olds the power to equal the output of professionals, Kennard was making it look easy, and more importantly, was becoming the voice for those who wished to let their feelings be known when it came to war, nuclear (dis)armament and the like.
Kennard’s work is not difficult to grasp. When a missile erupts from the planet like a bullet shot through an apple, the meaning is clear. Again with an armed soldier kicking the planet like a football, you don’t need a master’s in art history to figure out where he’s going with that.
Having gone to the Font exhibition previously, and having found it to be difficult to decipher without assistance and a great deal of desire to do so, I found Kennard’s work to be more agreeable. Now, I don’t want everything in the world to be instantly understandable, just as I don’t want everything to be contrived and confusing; it’s always better to have options. That said, if you asked me which exhibition I’d go back to, it would be Kennard’s hands down and that’s not just because his exhibition had more stuff there.
Kennard’s work is a clear representation of his political views and is an excellent example of an artist defining himself through their work. This shows one way that we students, as we create our own manifestos, can show who we are through the work we make.
As time went on, Kennard moved away from photo-manipulation as the technology to make it easier came along. He then made some work of a decidedly subtler nature.
The Reading Room section shows financial times broadsheets covered with the smudged, blurry faces of people one may choose to describe as disillusioned, which would be leading, but there you go. These broadsheets are placed on lecterns reminiscent of the ones Kennard remembers from libraries, growing up, that gave the papers a sort of gravitas. The room is a recreation of the original exhibition that took place at the Gimpel Fils gallery in 1997.
It juxtaposes the individual with the ever present international financial markets and the faceless statistics that we’re so used to today.
I do tend to gravitate towards black and white graphic illustration like this. Is it because any work that predominantly uses black reminds me of the comic books I like, like Brian Bolland’s run on Judge Dredd, or Shogun Executioner by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima or because the simplicity is it’s strength, or because I think ‘Hey, I could do that, and not break the bank’? Who knows?
Irregardless, at the Peter Kennard exhibition I found some of the best use of photo montage I’ve ever seen (and am quite prepared to rethink my position that collage is for five-year-olds) and some great inspiration for how to go about defining myself through my work.
Now, there’s plenty of stuff that was there that I haven’t talked about, but guess what? Good news! The exhibition is still on (as I write. Don’t blame me if it isn’t when you read this. Just wait some more until someone invents a time machine and then come back and see it). You have until 30th of May 2016 to go see it. And it is free entry, so Check out all the details here then go get some Kennard son!
As part of our studio, we went to Fiona Banner’s Font exhibitionshowing at Frith Street Galley near Piccadilly Circus. Gallery display is a form of publishing also, so this fits into our focus on ‘publishing’ in all it’s forms. The body of the work was in one large room.
The problem with an exhibition like this is that they are showing ‘art’. It is very easy to make judgements based on what you see without the knowledge of the artists’ intention or the context of their work before. You could argue both ways about the validity of opinions formulated in a vacuum, but this was my initial situation when walking into the room.
The first major object in the room from the entrance is the titular ‘font’ ‘a found 19th century baptismal font… engraved with the word ‘font’ it creates a playful slippage between naming, language and object/image; a recurrent theme in Banner’s work’ according to the information provided at the gallery. It is a font with font inscribed into it with the typeface font that Banner created. This I get, so I move on.
Next up is Nose Art two graphite representations of harrier jump-jet nose cones provocatively placed side by side. The information supplied makes references to aircraft noses being ‘the most heroic part of an aircraft’ and a ‘military form of folk art where aircraft are graffitied with popular cultural icons’. And I just thought it was something to do with breasts. Does the ‘art’ fail if I don’t get it.Does the artistfail? Is it a failure on my part to comprehend the vast complexities and subtleties of the piece? Does it even matter? This is my problem with ‘art’. Like a good book, you must have an understanding of the vernacular the creator uses to fully appreciate the creation, but unlike a book, the vernacular in question isn’t something the everyman is taught in primary school,
so when I see a ‘chair’ leaning against a wall because it lacks the ability to stand by itself, that I cannot even test whilst against the wall, because you may not touch it, because it is ‘art’, I cannot help but be dismissive of the whole enterprise.
My current working definition of ‘art’ right now is ‘something of no inherent use which has had value attributed to it.’ The issues which ‘art’ can address and tackle, in its own way, are as long as a piece of string. This is too broad for my liking, so when I see Banner’s exhibition, I am not just judging it, I am using it to judge all ‘art’.
While I may not wish to emulate the works of Banner on display here, the eternal question of ‘what is art’ and ‘what makes good art’ continues to rage on inside me.
Following on from Blog Week was Studio Culture Week, where all students in the second and third year of their illustration or graphic design courses visited a couple of professional design studios. Students were split into small groups and went to varying places with varying philosophies.
As the student studio I will be working in has a focus on publishing work, we went to Ditto Press. While they do create original work from start to finish themselves, they do make most of their money from printing the work of others using their risograph printers.
Ben, one of the founders of Ditto Press was very straightforward as he walked us through the ins and outs of what he does. They have a store front to display work, a printing room hidden from view in the back and an area to discuss work with clients.
Ben imparted some excellent food for thought with comments such as ‘I can teach you to be good at typesetting, but I can’t teach you to be interesting’ when talking about people he would work with, academic grades versus strength of portfolio, and so on.
He said something about some art students doing really well in the education environment but not being able to turn that into actual success upon leaving. This is a poignant reminder that having a degree is not the same as having a job, and we all need to make opportunities for ourselves now, not wait until we’ve graduated.
Ditto Press offer a variety of printing options for the independent creative, offer workshops in printing techniques, work with education and more. Check them out at their website here.